Tag Archives: Cuba

CBC News Story – “Communist stalwart Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes Cuba’s president, ending decades of Castro rule”…

Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.

“Communist stalwart Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes Cuba’s president, ending decades of Castro rule”

Fingers crossed for them.  I say that (new boss / old boss), as that’s just what simply comes to mind.  But I dunno.  I hope for more positive changes.  I’ve seen the benefit since the 2008 transfer from Fidel to Raul, and then the Obama détente, and in last November’s trip, the DEFINITE pall that’s been cast since Trump rolled back some of those benefits.  As a few fellow travelling friends said then, Cubans have seen the benefit economically of having American tourism dollars roll in unabated, and now they’ve “had a taste”, so there’s a definite depressive feeling since it’s disappeared a bit again.

And as the CBC News story mentions, there is also the concern of removing the two-peso-system in place there (with both the CUC and CPE pesos in use), and the worry among some of us cigar travelers that we could wake up with our pocketed CUCs (sometimes said as the “C-U-C” letters, or stating CUCs in plural such as “cooks”, or more jokingly “cookies”) suddenly unusable overnight.  Though “the rules” on the island state that the CUC money is not to leave the island, and should be exchanged back-and-forth when arriving and leaving, there’s quite a few of us that pocket a few hundred bucks in hand when we leave, so that we have ready cash available for our next return to Cuba.  To simply have readily-available funds to grab a taxi at 3am from the airport, or something like that.  Some moolah on hand for hitting a restaurant or bar that first evening on the island, to be able to not fret about needing to hit a cadeca (money exchange) until later the next day or as needed.

So that is something that’s been talked about for 2 or 3 years now at least, about a perhaps overnight transition of their financial system, with some of us worried about any personally-held CUCs to be potentially worthless.  And the sounds back when a lot of it was first mentioned, a few years back, and discussed then was that the two-peso-system would remain until a Castro wasn’t in power.  So there’s a lot of chance that it will be one of the first things to change under Diaz-Canel, perhaps.  It’ll be interesting to see what he decides to do to pick up the economy, so to speak, with the current funk that things appear to be in from many accounts.

But, alas…first world problems there on us travelers losing out on a few CUCs.

There’s the definite note that Raul will still chair the party until 2022 or something like that, so Diaz-Canel will likely be leading while also being led himself.  So that’s where the “new boss/old boss” thought and comment popped into my head.  But, he definitely is of a different leadership ilk and generation than the Castro brothers, so I do hope for more positivity for Cubans with this.  Fingers (and toes) crossed.

Cheers all.

Encuentro Partagas 2018 anyone???

So, a friend on the FOH forum recently shared a picture of the general program poster for the Encuentro (de la yada y a yada) Partagas for this upcoming November 2018, and said no issues to share it here.

And fuck, I know I still have to update posts and such from my Partagas Fest trips to Havana from both November 2017 and even 2016 still, but I figured I’d get this up here ASAP for any wondering about the dates…


Apparently, this was on display back at the start of March, during the Habanos Festival.

Time to confirm and book my tickets, if they’re actually being that much in advance, and confirming again the move to the 2nd week of November instead (they’ve done that for the past year or so, as opposed to the 3rd week during previous years).  Weather’s turned out not too bad during the last few years, so…fingers crossed!

Cheers all.


Trump Hits Reset on Obama’s Cuba Policy…

Is anyone surprised at this really?  As much as it does suck for fellow cigar fans and Cuba buffs out of the U.S., I think that most of us felt this was inevitable…

Trump hits reset on Obama’s Cuba policy, challenges Castro

Most notable bits, in my opinion:

  • “Announcing the rollback of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic opening during a speech in Miami, Trump said Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the U.S. in the “misguided” deal but “now those days are over.””  [Really?!?!  The U.S. gave up too many concessions?  From a brutal policy that they enacted almost 60 years ago?!?!  LOL.]
  • “More details about the changes are expected to be released Friday, when the new policy is set to take effect. But none of the changes will become effective until the Treasury Department issues new regulations, which could take months. That means that any U.S. traveler currently booked on a flight to Cuba in the next few weeks, or even months, could go ahead and make the trip.”  [Dear gawd, I hope that travelers don’t get screwed over this.  As we’ve all seen with the Trump White House’s implementation of the Muslim travel ban, one minute things are one way and the next minute it’s different.  I hope that travelers that are currently booked for something, already “approved”, don’t end up showing up to an airport and getting stuck in limbo.]
  • “But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other such trips to ensure there’s a tour group representative along making sure travelers are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.””  [Wait, what?!?!  So, you’re cancelling out some aspects of the détente, because you don’t like the undemocratic military-state, but you’re adding layers of bureaucratic policing?  Pot, meet kettle.]

It’s just unfortunately another shitty situation for the Cuban people.  The Castro regime(s) definitely aren’t a piece-of-cake for the citizens there, and changes need to be made.  But on the surface, this appears like it may hurt those local-people more, than any government entity.  (Not that the détente has overly assisted those same people either, but something’s better than nothing.)

And frankly, as a longtime Canadian traveler to Cuba…

I must be honest and say that a part of me is happy for this too, for purely selfish reasons, I may add.

Many of my fellow American cigar compatriots know how to get to Cuba, one way or another, before/during/after this détente bullshit.  Whether the U.S. government “allows” them to travel is of moot difference really.  However, since the Obama-Raul détente, the sheer number of American travelers (not necessarily those brethren cigar aficionados either) have overwhelmed damn near everyone.  Cuba is building additional hotel rooms in shudderingly terrifying numbers (especially if one is aware of construction “norms” in Cuba).  Availability still continues to drop disproportionately, and prices have been skyrocketing.

Fuck, I remember when we did one of the first bigger Canuck group-trips to Havana for the Friends Of Partagas festival in November 2012.  Airfare from Toronto, transfers, taxes all-in, and double-occupancy room bookings at the Hotel Nacional in Havana was just under $1200 CAD then.  We’re just looking in the past month for a few different options for this November’s Encuentros again (probably doing the same casas again as last year’s big FOH / AmiCigar group trip, which were AWESOME).  Anywho, looking at doing the same thing as we did in Nov. 2012, Toronto airfare, Nacional hotel, all-in, and the current pricing is just over $5600 CAD per person now!

So, frankly, once the “standard American tourist” is banned from the island, I can’t say I’ll honestly be upset from my own personal perspective.  That said, I definitely doubt that hotel prices will ever drop to what they were for us before (but shit, if they drop into the $2k range, it’d almost be a steal again.)

But I still hope for the best for some Cuban friends – some have put some hard work into the current small-business atmosphere.  I hope these changes don’t see worsening conditions for them.  It scares me what some foreign government’s can do to another’s country, just with the swipe of a pen.  Without an appreciation for the people on the ground, who are these people to make those choices?

Cheers all.


Wow, WTF happened here???

So, its been months and months since I’ve even been on here.  My last post was way back on November 20th of last year. Holy fuck, where the HELL did the better part of the last six months go?!?!

That last post was my wrap-up after last November’s trip down to Havana for the Friends of Partagas Festival.  I know, I know – like so many other things on here from the past year plus, I know I still need to do further updates.  Your text messages and emails have reminded me of such, lol!  I still have to publish a number of posts on some work stuff, some TASO missions, and other goodies.  And yes, further on that last Havana trip, as well as oodles of cigar reviews and tastings from last year.  I’ve got a SHIT-TON of this stuff to catch up on, as well as getting to some emails and other things.  Hell, I haven’t even been on the FOH forum in just about as long, and I opened up my email the other day (for the first time in about four-and-a-half weeks) to find 1189 emails wating for me!  Lol.

Actually, it was a text message / pic sent from a former co-worker that reminded me I need to get stuff caught up on here.  A picture of me porning-out over street-meat when we were in Germany doing the Syrian refugee flights in Nov/Dec 2015:

So his message reminded me to get going on here again.

Likewise though, I could also post photographic proof that shows that black men have apt skills when it comes to deep-throating pork products.  So, c’est la vie.  Lol

In all fairness though, it’s been a busy if not productive chunk of time for me.  My wife and I basically gutted our house and refinished it, all except for the kitchen itself.  Main bathroom refinished, downstairs bathroom completed, new carpets and specialty flooring throughout, some upgraded electrical and Cat6 and “smart home” stuff, reclaimed wide-plank hardwood flooring, all-new baseboards and trim throughout, rebuilt front foyer and custom wrought-iron balusters and railings, new LED lighting throughout, etc., etc.  All with fresh coats of paint top-to-bottom, refinished kids’ rooms, and a redone master.  This “jack-of-all-trades” definitely had his hands full, and I was especially grateful when I had two local specialty-contractors (good family friends) come help me out with two tricky things.  Lots of pictures were taken (even of the Mrs. in yoga pants and smashing out flooring tiles!), so I’ll do some posts on that series of projects too I guess.

We’re in the home stretch finally though.  About two weeks of relatively minor finishing touches to get done.  My schedule is going to be freeing up more after this week and upcoming holiday weekend.  I’ve got lots of rough sketches in place for blog posts, so it all will definitely (and finally) be coming down the pipeline shortly.

In the meantime, how about this???…….

I looked back on some notes, and I’ve nary even smoked any cigars since the last Havana trip ended back on Nov 19th or so.  A fucking travesty, I know!  Some of those cigars make up my last actual notes on cigars smoked.  I do remember I had a fairly good custom “robusto largos” (from Jorgito at the Club Habana LCDH [of “Monsdales” fame], Nov 2016 rolled) back at the tail-end of March for my birthday while soaking up a starry evening and hanky-panky in the hot tub, but I’ve got no detailed tasting notes or general info on that one (lol).

So, while your tardy scribe has been sitting here compiling this, he’s been enjoying a Ramon Allones EL 2011 Allones Extra.  Short review?  “Mmmmmmm – YUM!”

I do believe ithis stick was from an “RAE, Ago 2011” box (which has generally been a great box code, for what it’s worth, be it with these or any other Partagas/Ramon Allones/associated cigars).  Start was at 2:00 pm, enjoyed with the remnants of a bottle of Burmester 10-yr Tawny Porto (that I bought in either Prestwick, Scotland or Lages, Azores , Portugal early last year), and followed up with big cupfulls of blended strawberry daiquiris with what can only be described as way-too-much Bacardi white and Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos rum (hindsight being 20/20….hiccup!)  A hot, breezy day (27 degrees Celsius, 54 % RH, and 37 kph winds) that honestly reminded me of smoking cigars in Cuba, but a just reward for nearly wrapping up on the home remodel stuff, and getting the “great outdoors” / yards-and-back-deck all ready for spring and summer enjoyment.

The cigar started off with a kick to the nuts.  Powerhouse flavours from the get-go; dried cranberries, raisins, nutmeg, sweet molasses, all wrapped in heavy-/rich-and-oily tobacco essences.  Smoke volume wasn’t overly impressive, nor was it particularly viscous on the mouth-feel.  That said, the flavours definitely let me know I was in for a treat.  Strength and flavoursome all wrapped up together, with a bit of faint aged-elegantness starting to come into play now with nearly six years on them (coupled onto the two-plus years of age that the EL cigar tobaccos have to start with).  A few relights (due to winds and such, though I was relatively sheltered on the back deck).

I’ve generally always been a fan of this cigar.  I’ve had some lackluster boxes, and some stellar ones.  I know it’s one of those polarizing cigars that people either like or don’t.  I’ve even bought some boxes from others who weren’t fans, and those have turned out to be wonderful boxes for me.  But these are performing so consistently for me over the years, and are starting to hit such a finessed stride now, that it’s hard for me to not recommend them to anyone and everyone willing to give Ramon Allones / stronger / Limited Edition cigars a try.  A great brand, a wonderful retro band, classic RA box styling, an EL cigar at a reasonable price point (boxes initially sold for $279 USD, I believe, for a 25-box of corona-sized stick), and great burn and flavours…what’s not to love?  If you can still get any, I’d say to jump on it – even for upwards of $400-470 USD at this point, at least, if you can still find them anywhere.  I’ll definitely be savouring my five-plus boxes remaining.

An easy 94 – maybe even upwards of a 96 (but points deducted for heavy booze on the palate affecting the informal scoring, lol).  Finished at 3:25 pm.  And savoured well.

Here’s to many more!

Cheers all.

Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Cigars Smoked (Part 1 of 2)…

For some of the previous posts on this trip to the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica, please use the following hyperlinks:

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: A Beautiful Escape in Montego Bay…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Fun In The Sun…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Food Fit For a King…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Pirate Beach Party and Local Flair…”

So, as I’ve done with previous trips, instead of doing full-on reviews, here’s a bit of an abridged version of what cigars smoked well, and where they were seeming to perform for me when on this trip last spring to Jamaica.  The smoking weather was comparatively perfect at a slight plus-or-minus variance of 28 degrees Celsius and 74% RH right at the mid-afternoon point daily almost.  And, as an added plus, the resort itself was a smoking-friendly resort (which I worry about a bit, when looking at resorts or hotels in “Americanized” locations in the Caribbean), and I smoked on our room’s terrace relaxingly, as well as quite a number of cigars being smoked poolside, with ashtrays supplied by staff, and no funny looks or questions about the “stinky cigar smoke” from either staff or other resort guests.  Frankly, when I did puff away, most were intrigued, and not a single nasty look or comment was noted (nicely enough).

1.  Quai d’Orsay Imperiales.  Oct 2012 “MUR” coded.  Enjoyed this with a Bacardi 8 & Coke, then with some Red Stripe beers.  Smoked well.  Lots of light cedar wood, cream, loads of vanilla bean, almost a hint of sweet almond nuttiness, and a heaping of refreshing citrus zest.  Delicious, with a wonky curve too.  Solid 94.  What a start!

2.  La Gloria Cubana Medaille d’Or No. 2.  Ago 2008 “TEB”.  Light black tea base tones.  Light herbal / floral essences waving in and out.  Rosemary with roses.  Then, carnations and dill almost (wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating in the heat or not, LOL).  Very fragrant combos.  Waves of dried cut grass in there.  EXACTLY what I love about nicely aged LGC sticks – like a spring breeze a day after the lawn was cut, and the yard work was satisfyingly done.

Excellent draw.  The ash held on in one-inch groups, but was very lightly compresses and easy to flick off.  Razor-sharp burn, no need for relights aside from one cosmetic touch-up.  A solid 93-point smoke.  Not an overly “filling” cigar, per say, or potently flavourful in an overpowering style, but an extremely nuanced and mature-tasting smoke, with a subdued finesse…PERFECT to start that particular day off.

3.  Ramon Allones Superiores LCDH Release.  May 2012 “MUR”.  An awesome mid-day smoke.  This one seemed a bit more muted than previous I’ve had, but I have high hopes for this particular box code.

4.  QdO Corona.  Ago 2008 “TEB” coded.  Like most of these cigars, another one of Czar’s HQ / PSP offerings.  This one was slightly tight with a restrictive draw – due, in part I think, to me accidentally leaving it out of my travel humidor during the evening before, and sucking up a bit more humidity than I like to store my sticks at (62% RH).  That said, potent flavours of leather, orange zest, and rich demerara sugar.

Mild burn issues throughout (again, like the slightly tight draw, something that’s tied in with over-humidifying it), and needed multiple touch-ups and relights.  Could have been better and was a bit unfortunate.  An 86.

5.  Cohiba Siglo IV.  Oct 2013 “POU”.  Wow – what an ugly cap this thing had.  This was enjoyed wholeheartedly with several piña coladas with double-shots of Appleton 12-year dark rum…and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Unfortunately, this cigar was one with another slightly tight and restrictive draw, and thin whispy smoke therefore.

That said, it had STRONG flavours of smokey honey and lemongrass tea, damp hay, and some buttered toast.  Rich flavours, but a bit of a paradox in that there’s just slightly closed-in about them.

I was thinking this may also be because this cigar is just not quite ready yet (just over a year-and-a-half old; baby-aged for Cohiba almost).  Will be amazed to see what these are like at 3- and 5-years, and how they may develop then.

More to come on this…

Cheers all.

Travelling Again to the “Island-South-Of-Miami”…

So, I’m off once again to Havana, Cuba, for the Encuentros Partagas.  No doubt, I’ll have lots of pictures and updates to come here upon my return, and some nice new reviews and tastings too hopefully.

Fingers crossed – let’s keep my jail-free streak going!!!!

Nov 2015 Encuentros Partagas poster

Cheers all.


Wicked “Iroda Micro-Jet” Butane Torch Travel Lighter…

I can’t remember if I’ve covered it specifically, but I didn’t find a specific post about it, so I’ll do so here.

Some have asked about the lighter that occasionally pops up in the background of some of my review pics.  It’s actually a small soldering torch by Iroda called the Micro-Jet.  It’s awesome, and something that a great BOTL turned a bunch of us onto during a November 2012 trip to Havana.  They can be found on sale occasionally through the Canadian Tire chain of department stores in Canada, and through some various online vendors as well, one of which is through good buddy Lou’s shop at Canada Humidor.  I’ll include a pic here for those that need / want an item number on it:


These Iroda torches are awesome.  As those of us out of Canada and other countries know, the travel restrictions in recent years for items that can be carried on airplanes is getting tighter and tighter.  As butane cigar torches are generally not allowed, this unique little item makes it awesome to travel as a cigar smoker with a decent quality torch.

Take the separate pieces apart, and the fuel reservoir is simply a “standard” soft-flame, Bic-style lighter, and allowed to be carried within your shorts / pants pocket.  But, inserted within the outer casing once you get to your travel destination, and special valves and jets turn that simple soft-flame lighter into a kick ass butane torch.  And, at a very reasonable cost, compared to the not-to-be-travelled-with-lest-they-be-lost-or-confiscated S.T. Duponts, Colibris, KGM / Vectors, etc., etc.  The fuel cells on these Iroda torches also have a refill valve at the bottom of them, so you can refill with your choice of quality butane at home.  And, you can even use the outer torch shell with a standard lighter if you wish, just by simply getting rid of the flint wheel installed on them.  Also, being able to pick up spare fuel cells, and pack them in your additional luggage (where / if allowed) makes it very nice, and more feasible for most people travelling (especially into Cuba), as you don’t have to worry about finding good quality butane to refill your torch.

So there we go.  Thanks again Marc!

Cheers all.

Rum Vertical-Slash-Horizontal Tasting (Part 4 of 4)…

So, here’s the last of my rum tastings.  If you want to read up on the previous ones, go here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

As with previous tastings, these five rums are sampled straight up, about an ounce of each, with no mixers, ice cubes, or chilling, and enjoyed at room temperature.  These were all enjoyed last night, after a honey-glazed ham dinner with scalloped potatoes and fixin’s.

Here goes…


14.  Dictador 12.  (42% alc/vol, Columbia)  This rum from Columbia is an “ultra premium reserve” rum that’s made using the solera system (similar to my favourite sipping rum, Ron Zacapa).  Funny thing is, the label itself says 40% alcohol by volume, but then there’s an amendment sticker affixed to the reverse-side label that shows it at 42% instead.  This particular bottle was won at auction at one of the Toronto MegaHerf events, and it’s be a slow-use rum for me.

In the glass, this stuff is a bit lighter than similar 12-years.  It’s a fair bit thinner in viscosity as well, and doesn’t so much leave legs in the glass compared to just a slight oily coating.  This rum is made using virgin sugar cane as well (rather than molasses or Demerara sugar), and it shows.  The aroma is fairly bland and light, with slight floral tones, brown sugar, and buttered roasted almonds, and then perhaps some overlapping caramel fringes.  Once sipped, flavours of butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweet carmelized sugar remind me of pancakes and syrup, or French toast and syrup – quite nice.  However, it seems to be somewhat overpowered by the alcohol heat, which really takes over the other flavours, and lingers long after.  This rum for me isn’t so much as a good sipper as it perhaps is something that’s best cut with a bit of Coke.


15.  Ron Santiago de Cuba Extra Anejo 12 Anos.  (40% alc/vol, Cuba)  This 12-year-old rum has a rich, dark copper colour, and coats the inside of the glass well, and has very nice, long-holding legs.  The bottle for this is only slightly distinguishable from the standard Anejo (one has a brown-background on the label, the other has the black background), but the price and the quality still do set it aside.  That said, this one is fairly excellent value, being picked up for $40 CUC down in Cuba.

On the nose, slight lemon zest is there, along with an almost sour-but-sweet aroma – I’d almost say a slightly sweet malt vinegar tinge; yes, while it may seem a bit crazy it seems to work.  Everything on the nose is blended well with a molasses tinge.  Once sipped though, a slight sourness is initially apparent.  Butterscotch, honey, and fresh dough (like that for fresh and soft white dinner rolls) are most apparent, with the alcohol heat really only hitting at the back of the palate and back of the throat.  Everything is evened off of each other quite well, and though that sourness is a bit off-putting at first, it does seem to make this rum pair up quite nicely with lighter cigars (think aged Trinis, Cohiba, and LGC fare).  If the sourness is too much for you, some ice cubes in the glass with it alone do wonders for this rum.


16.  Ron Flor de Cana Centenario 18.  (40% alc/vol, Nicaragua)  This bottle was a kindly gift from BOTL Rob / “Freefallguy”, he of the Nicaraguan Children’s Feeding Mission, and grabbed for me as a kind gesture during one of his trips down there.  He frequently gets a chance to visit my home and family during trips up here to the Frozen North, and my kids enjoy when Uncle Rob brings bubblegum for them, and then coffee and booze for Mommy and Daddy.  This rum in particular is a slow-aged, single-estate sugar plantation rum, and has a fair bit of fans out there.

The rum is a lighter golden colour in the glass, a bit surprising being that it’s a slow-aged traditional rum that’s 18-years-old, and being a lighter hue than other younger and solera-aged rums.  That said, once it’s in the glass, it’s all old hat.  Long slender legs are aplenty in the glass, and strong banana, caramel, and lemon-honey-tea tones are readily scented.  Tasting it, the creme brulee and caramelized-sugar sweetness hits you first, and then WHAMMO!, get’s overran by the alcohol heat, which travels front to back on your tongue and then even hits you in the nasal cavity.  After the burn subsides a slight bit after a second or so, background flavours of prunes, bread, and pears round it out.  A wonderful sipper that would be a sacrilege to cut with anything aside from a handsome cube or two of ice.


17.  Ron Zacapa 23.  (40% alc/vol, Guatemala)  What can I say – this is my absolute favourite sipper.  This Ron Zacapa 23 (as well as the following Ron Zacapa XO) is made from “first-crush virgin sugar cane honey” (that’s a mouthful) and then aged in the mountains of Guatemala at an altitude of 2300 meters.  The location above the clouds allow for a unique warming and cooling process of the barrel houses throughout the course of a day, and accelerate and accentuate the aging process of this rum.  The Zacapa 23 particularly contains rums with a minimum of six-years of age, and a maximum of 23-years, and is matured in a mixture of barrels that previously held American whiskeys, sherries, and Pedro Ximenez wines.  The packaging of this rum is also top-notch as well, with its black, red, gold, and tan outer-packaging, and then the very distinguishable bottle with the rattan weave around the circumference of it.

In the glass, this is one of the richer copper-coloured rums I have, and has wonderful long-holding legs in the glass.  The aroma is loaded with caramel right from the get-go, and then even some marshmallow and sweet apple pie notes.  Upon sipping, a buttery softness and caramel breadiness makes me a very happy man, and the alcohol heat slowly steps into the fold with some sweet fruits and savoury spices, notably some allspice.  This rum definitely has set the bar for me as a sipper, and is my overall favourite, and though the availability seems to be getting harder to find, and the pricing seems to be getting higher, this is still a must-have.


18.  Ron Zacapa XO.  (40% alc/vol, Guatemala; bottle # T465143)  Like the Zacapa 23, this XO has a lot of the same production aspects.  However, what sets this one aside is that the rum ages are from six-years to 25-years (rather than only 23), and then the rum is finished in French oak casks that previously aged cognac.  The packaging on this one is stellar as well, and a very elegant bottle is contained within a well-protecting outer box; that said, I almost like the Zacapa 23’s bottle better, in that it just fits into a cabinet more neatly!

This rum, almost identical to the Zacapa 23, is such a dark brown colour it’s wonderful to behold in the glass.  Again, long legs in the glass when swirled, and beautiful aromas of caramel, this time accented with breadfruit and nectarines, with a cinnamon and nutmeg tinge.  On the palate, tastes of caramel and whipped cream are helped along right from the get-go with an alcohol warmth, and continue on with a hit of banana and coconut-cream pie.  This is a very sweet rum, caramel laden, and not overly distinguishable from the Zacapa 23.  Both are excellent rums, and at the top of most rum lovers’ wish lists, and are equally well-paired with any cigar but the lightest (I avoid long-aged LCG and Trinidad with these).

So, there we go.  Eighteen rums, two evenings, zero bottles or glasses broken, one whole dishwasher load of shot glasses and rocks glasses, and only two Aspirin used (for a completely different issue altogether).  Glad I went through these – some in here that I haven’t delved into too much lately, and this was a nice refresher on what to start drinking down for this upcoming holiday season.

Cheers all.

Rum Vertical-Slash-Horizontal Tasting (Part 3 of 4)…

Continuing still from my first and then second posts on this rum tasting, here’s number three.  These five were enjoyed two nights ago as well (right after those in Part 1 and Part 2), but I’m just unfortunately posting it here early today, as the inability to see my computer straight later that night, LOL, and then family stuff yesterday, all led me to be unable to post until now.

Also, after supper that night was enjoyed before the last groupings of rum, these five were then enjoyed along with a quite nice H. Upmann No. 2 from 2008 that I was given in trade from good brother Emil (Oct 2008, “USE” coded stick), and after a nice sunset-filled sky that evening.  The dense, creamy rich smoke from that cigar, and the bold power it still had in a nice balance profile, meshed well with these rums below.

Again, these five rums are sampled straight up, about an ounce of each, with no mixers, ice cubes, or chilling, and enjoyed at room temperature.

And so…


9.  Bacardi Ron 8 Anos.  (40% alc/vol, Puerto Rico)  This one is aged for a minimum of eight years in oak casks, and then finished apparently in sherry oak barrels.  While Bacardi Superior white is simply a mixer only, this stuff is different.  From the box packaging, this is a special blend originally created in Cuba by Facundo Bacardi Masso, and was the “private family reserve blend” for over five generations.

This stuff has a nice aroma to it.  On the nose, there’s molasses sweetness, honey, and almost a saltwater taffy tinge.  Legs are fairly nice in the glass, very long and coating within the glass, and the golden copper colour is pretty good too.  Very balanced in the mouth, with a lemony sweetness, and a smoky woodiness to it.  The oaking is quite apparent with this, and helps meld it very nicely.  An excellent and well-balanced sipper, I was also getting hints of sweet spice (nutmeg or cinnamon on the fringes perhaps), with a sweet stonefruit ripeness to it.


10.  Havana Club Cuban Barrel Proof.  (45% alc/vol, Cuba)  This lovely rich-copper-coloured rum, from the packaging notes, is aged in specially selected fresh white oak barrels, and then polished off in unique “finishing casks”, and then bottled straight from the cask directly at 45% alcohol by volume.  This is the rum that, apparently, was discontinued and then reintroduced under a slightly changed recipe and different packaging under the Seleccion de Maestros label.  This particular bottle of rum is my last of this type, from a 2011 trip to Cuba, and from one of the last production runs I believe.  The rum in this is a minimum of seven-years-old (rather than a blend with seven years being the maximum, such as with the Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos), with it generally being referred to as a 10-year-old for the majority of the rum within it.

On the nose, some fresh nuts (cashew or brazil nuts?), some smoky honey, and almost like a rich black tea.  Very distinct and slowly moving legs to this rum in the glass, with almost a negative attraction of the rum and the glass together (the rum doesn’t coat the inside of the glass so much as it pools itself into little droplets to “avoid” contact with the glass).  Flavours of rich dark honey, caramel, some smoky woodiness on the back of the palate even, and then a full-bore heavy alcohol heat to hit on the backend of the flavour profile.  With the heavy flavour profile and alcohol heat, it’s a very thin and lightweight feeling rum on the mouthfeel.  A very nice rum to pair with nearly any cigar.


11.  Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros.  (45% alc/vol, Cuba)  This is apparently the updated / newer version of the Barrel Proof.  Again, being a 10-year-rum, the only real difference is that this rum is triple barrel aged (whereas the Barrel Proof only went through two caskings), and then the Seleccion de Maestros apparently does two sets of maturation in the old oak barrels first, and then does the finishing in new fresh white oak casks (opposite of the Barrel Proof style).  Again, this is apparently the only real difference, in that the rest of the actual rum recipe is the exact same between the two.

I must say also that the packaging on this one is awesome.  A cedar-look outer package, a lovely tapered crystal-clear bottle, and then the rich copper colour of the rum and the lovely cedar-look outer package all contrasted and accented heavily by the rich blue, gold, and red labelling.

Rich caramel notes and smokiness are on the nose, with a hint of lemon peel and fresh bread dough.  Wavy legs are noted in the glass, within a heavy coating of rum when sloshed around in the glass.  Flavours of sweet and savory spices are noted, accented by a buttery toffee and creme brulee profile.  The heat aftertaste is very balanced throughout the mouth (not biting in any one area to hard), and meshes well with the profile.  There’s even hints of tobacco and cedar essences in there (perhaps if one dreams and imagines hard enough, LOL).  Again, another nice rum to pair with just about any cigar, but this is one I really enjoy paired off of dense and rich Ramon Allones or Montecristo sticks.


12.  Kirk and Sweeney 12 Year Dominican Rum.  (40% alc/vol, Dominican Republic; batch # 002, bottle # S1878)  This rum is made in the D.R., and imported and created by a company out of California called 35 Maple Street.  The packaging of this one is unique, being in a giant apple-shaped bottle, and with very elegant and tasteful white silk-screening on the bottle showing of the history of the brand’s namesake (a rum-running schooner than ran from the Caribbean to the northeastern U.S. seaboard, before it was captured and turned into a U.S. Coast Guard instructional ship).  This was an awesome gift sent to me by great BOTL Alex, part of a few trades and whatnot he and I did back and forth, and a rum I had not heard of nor seen before.

However, and especially for a 12-year-old rum, the packaging unfortunately is the best part of this rum, and while it’s nowhere near a bad rum, it’s not quite the best sipper.  It has a rich copper colour, but the legs in the glass are a bit broken up and spotty.  The nose is of heavy vanilla and oakiness.  The mouthfeel of this rum is very watery, with no viscosity to it at all.  The heat is almost overpowering on this rum compared to any flavours – one would almost think this is a barrel proof or 50%+ rum due to the heavy alcohol tones.  There’s some nice caramel and butteriness there, but again, the heat overpowers it.  If I drink this one as a sipper, it’s generally chilled/frozen (does this rum a world of good), or, more often than not, I’m cutting this one with a bit of Coke.


13.  El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum.  (40% alc/vol, Guyana)  This is one of my favourite sippers.  This rum is made in Guyana and is a “Demerara” rum, using Demerara sugar (a darker brown sugar than normal, containing a high level of molasses), which results in a strong and bold flavour profile.  This rum contains a blend with a minimum age of 12-years (some rums upwards of 16-years apparently), and comes from a company making this stuff for 345 years now.  Some find this rum too sweet and caramel-laden (attributed to its demerara sugar manufacture), but I tend to love that in good rums.

In the glass, a good consistent copper colour, and with noted wrinkly-looking and zig-zagging legs in the glass.  Very strong butter and caramel aromas on the nose.  On the palate, any heat is rounded and well-ascentuates the flavour profile, consisting of vanilla, toffee and caramel, and some sweet fruitiness (perhaps of dates or prunes?)  Some sweet spices of allspice and nutmeg are around the fringes as well.   I love this one as a sipper.  Mixing with Coke is okay too, but I find the caramel sweetness of this one can almost be overpowering and too sweet if mixed with Coke.  A bit of ice to chill this one does wonders.

Well, that’s where I left things off the other night.  Didn’t get a chance to finish off the last five yesterday due to family commitments, but will be trying to get the rest finished off this evening though.  More to come shortly to finish this off then…

Go here for Part 1here for Part 2, and here for the Part 4 conclusion of this series.

Cheers all.

Rum Vertical-Slash-Horizontal Tasting (Part 2 of 4)…

So, continuing on from my previous on this ascending rum tasting, here’s the next five rums or so.  Supper was had prior to these rums – pork chops, green beans, and rice, enjoyed with the Mrs and the Rugrats.  Again, these are sampled straight up, about an ounce of each, with no mixers, ice cubes, or chilling, and enjoyed at room temperature.

And so…


4.  Nutz ‘N Rum Peanut Punch.  (14% alc/vol, St. Lucia)  This stuff is actually in a nine-year-old bottle from when my wife and I had our honeymoon in St. Lucia and we did a rum factory tour there, and I just recently found again during a liquor cabinet clean-out.  Essentially, this stuff is one-third creamy peanut butter, and two-thirds amber/gold rum (three-year-old approximately).  Sounds horrendous, but it’s wunder-bar!!!  As the label says, it’s best when chilled.  As for tasting notes – it tastes like nuts.  With rum.  LOL.


5.  Captain Morgan Tattoo.  (35% alc/vol, Puerto Rico)  As I mentioned before, most Captain Morgan rum I find to be sacrilegious to the good name of rum.  However, along with the overproof spiced rum of their I like for eggnog drinks, I also like this stuff.  I first found this in fall 2007, when my wife and I were on a golf and shopping vacation to Myrtle Beach.  Found this at a liquor store there, and was told at the time it was a special offering for around the eastern seaboard / Gulf-shores states, but in the past few years it’s been right up to Michigan and Ohio now too (haven’t seen it in Canada yet).  Apparently, it’s made with a two- to three-year-old rum, depending on who you ask.

This stuff is very heavily infused with flavourings and such, and is a distinctly darker colour.  In the glass, though it’s a darker rum, it’s very watery in appearance, and with no legs on the glass at all.  On the nose, black cherry notes and faint allspice, some sweet nutmeg and cloves – almost even an aroma of flat Pepsi.  Tasting it, it’s heavy with molasses, cloves, and black cherry, and the heat ramps up on the aftertaste.  Also, with all the myriad of spices they add into this rum, it almost reminds me a bit of that Jagermeister feeling in the back of your throat afterwards, almost like a tinge of NyQuil is mixed in there too.  LOL.  Even though that flavour is around the edges, this is one that can be sipped, but I’ve enjoyed it most on a 50/50 splitting with some classic Coke.


6.  Ron  Santiago de Cuba Anejo.  (38% alc/vol, Cuba)  Now we’re starting to get into what I like for going either as sippers or mixers.  This one is a bit harsh for the former, but mixed 50/50 with Coke, it’s pretty nice.  Cuban rum I find is a bit harsher compared to others (ie – a Cuban 7-year-old is sometimes not as good as a 5-year from somewhere else), but Cuban rums just seem to pair so well with Habanos cigars (whether it’s a mindset thing or not, I dunno).  This stuff (Anejo) is the five-year variant.

A faint bit of legs in the glass, I’m always amazed at how this one shrugs off any residual water to the inside of the glass – kinda like oil and water.  On the nose, there’s a light caramel nuttiness, but very strong hits of banana actually, and a smokey woodiness.  Tastes of ripened fruit, some candy sweetness, and a bit of citrus (orange peel?) and slight bitterness/sourness, are followed up with a bit of heat and a slightly harsh bite on the sides of the tongue.  The flavours overall aren’t abundant or apparent in a good mix to have me enjoying this rum as a sipper only – as mentioned before, it’s best as a mixer, as I personally think it meshes well with caramel-heavy Coke.


7.  Legendario Elixir de Cuba.  (34% alc/vol, Cuba)  This stuff is always a treat.  It’s a liqueur that’s made from seven-year-old Cuban rum.  Yup, that’s right…it’s booze that’s made from other booze.  LOL.  This stuff is an amazingly sweet and delicious concoction, it’s best as a sipping dessert aperitif after a nice long Cuban seafood dinner, and enjoyed with a post-dinner cigar.  Glorious.  And that, coupled with small production batches, are usually why it’s so damn hard to find on trips down to the island usually.

In the glass, this stuff has really nice legs actually, and has a bit of sediment in it usually (usually attributed to the pulverized raisins used to make this concoction).  While noticeably darker in colour for a seven-year-old, it sticks to the sides of the glass and coats it well.  Aromas are of lemon, light leather, and a vanilla-honey sweetness, and even with a decent raisin and even banana air to it.  In the mouth, flavours of dark smoky honeyed caramel hit you front in the face.  This shit is swweeeeeettt.  The heat of the alcohol is around the edges somewhat, but really covered by the smoky honey and sweet raisin layered flavours.  There’s a bit of an herbal background to it too, accenting the honey and lemon.  Reminds me of a white port, but with a heavier smokiness to it, and a more tropical palate accentuating it.


8.  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos.  (40% alc/vol, Cuba)  This is my everyday rum-and-Coke rum.  While some seven-year-rums may be good enough for everyday sipping, I generally don’t think most Cuban rums fit the bill, and especially not the younger Havana Club stuff.  That said, it pairs too damn well with a Cuban cigar when in a 50/50 mix with Coke.  It’s fair to say I go through a healthy amount of this rum compared to all others in my cupboard.

This particular bottle is a Pernod Ricard produced bottle, purchased in Canada, and not direct in Cuba (though for this hemisphere, it is produced there).  Also notable is that the Havana Club product line used to be the Bacardi’s, before the Cuban Revolution and such, and recently Bacardi has apparently introduced a “Havana Club” product into the U.S.  But this stuff here is the Cuban production stuff sold worldwide by Pernod.

Lighter in colour than what I like to see, legs in the glass are faint.  Light aromas on the nose of caramel, buttered toffee, and a coffee mocha element, but they’re overpowered by the harsh alcohol ethers.  Harsh on the palate, flavours of nectarines and cedar with a butter and caramel edge are washed away by acidic and harsh alcohol layers.  It’s good, but not for sipping really.  Just soooo much better as a general-use dark rum for rum-and-Cokes and even stellar pina coladas.

Hic.  Okay.  Things are rolling along smoothly now.  Hic.

More to come shortly…

Go here for Part 1, here for Part 3, and here for the Part 4 conclusion of this series.

Cheers all.


Cigar Review – Ramon Allones Specially Selected, Jun 2011 “ROA” box code; Final Score – 89

Ramon Allones is definitely in my top three favourite brands, if not my favourite.  With my love for robusto-sized cigars especially, a good RASS is in my top five for sure.  RA, as a brand, just generally has a nice dark and sweet tone – that dense, heavy, rich Christmas-cake lusciousness to it.  Stewed fruit – think of cooked dark cherries and such, boysenberries, perhaps mulberries – dark, cooked cherry-pie-filling, but without the heavy sugar added.  Mixed with molasses and rum, some brown sugar and walnuts in there too, heavy butter and cream.

Damn, I’m getting hungry.

This particular smoke was from a trade with a fellow member on the FOH forum, my last stick of a 5-stick or so swap with him from back in 2012 or so.

Reviewed Cigar:  Ramon Allones Specially Selected

Box Date:  Jun 2011

Factory / Manufacture Code:  ROA

Packaging:  25-count dress-box

Price per cigar:  Traded stick (approx. $22.70 CDN value per stick)

Length:  4 7/8″, or 124 mm

Ring Gauge:  50

Format:  Robusto

Weight:  11 grams / 0.4 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was a fairly nice stick.  Decently thin and supple wrappers, with a healthy oily sheen.  Not quite as dark and rich as I like to see from RASS, but pretty damn nice overall, and not too far off.  No prominent veins to the wrapper, nice construction.  Fairly good aromas, if not a slight bit muted.

Good weight and construction overall.  Cap was perfect, and the bunch on the foot had nice colouring (a good blend of seco, volado, and ligero leaves), but just a bit lopsided and slightly overbunched it seemed.

After cutting the cigar and tasting at cold…not bad.  Fairly present RA flavours there, but with a tinge of dryness.  Perhaps hay and a grassiness there.

Opening Impressions:  Ahhhh.  RASS.  Such a consistent performer.  Such a consistent go-to stick.

First Third:  Into the first third, the experience was pretty nice.  Some RA Christmas-fruit-cake was right there in the forefront, but with some leather and hay tones added in.

Smoke volumes were nice.  Not a huge amount when “at idle”, but nice slightly viscous smoke on the palate when puffed on.  Definitely a cigar that you know you’re smoking – grabs your attention just enough to remind you what’s going on.

Into the hot tub…

Second Third:  …and into the second third.  Fairly flaky ash (not holding for 1/2″ plus), and somewhat wonky burn at times.  Smoke and flavours right where they should be though.  Leather backing off a bit, perhaps with an ever-so-slight backing of a dark chocolate / dry cocoa tone there.

The band was noticeably loosened from the cigar, a fairly consistent sign of a cigar with some age on it, especially with the larger ring gauges (comes from the cigar slowly “shrinking” over time compared to when rolled).

Final Third:  Into the final third, still consistent RA fruitcake tones.  The leather came back in front, with a slight citrus tanginess / sourness to it, but not in a way that was a put-off.

Not quite a full nubber (it definitely absorbed some of the hot tub’s humidity, and started to slow down and sour up near the tail end).  But finished well.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  Some slight burn and construction issues didn’t really hurt this stick.  The flavour profile was pretty much spot on, and kept me attentive just enough.

This RASS, to me anyways, was distinctly noticeable though in that ever-so-slight difference between dress-box RASS and cabinet RASS.  Aside from two partial RASS dress boxes, all my own RASS are from 50 cabs.  There’s just such a slight, but yet ironically enough distinct, difference to the cigars taken from these two packaging methods (though they’re the same essential cigars from the ground up), that I’m a cab-cigar convert.  While it may not be a “blind” tasting decision, I would definitely say that quality cab RASS have a general 2-3 point difference minimum in extra enjoyment for me.  Something about the difference of a perfectly-round and artisan-intended original robusto, compared to the slightly box-pressed versions, just make enough of a difference to the burn, combustion, smoke development, etc.

All that said, these are generally always consistent for me and enjoyable.  I can count on them to give me an 86-93 point performance each time and every time.  If you can’t find or afford a 50-cab of these, much less fit them into your humidor or other cigar storage means, a 25-count dress-box of these should definitely be within everyone’s top 10 list of cigars to keep in stock.  Obviously, with this blend, the darker and richer and oilier the sticks, and the more pungent the barnyard aroma, the better.

Final Score:  89

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 10 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  May 23rd, 2015; lit up at 9:35 pm, done at 10:45 pm

Paired Beverage:  Blended margaritas

Last Meal:  Domino’s Pizza and italian cheese bread,  6:30 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, 14 degrees Celsius and 46% RH outside, with an 11 kph light breeze.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – SCDLH La Fuerza, Mar 2014 “EML” box code; Final Score – 90

SCDLH is a bit of a sweet-tooth favourite of mine.  I find they just hit the spot nicely every now and again.  To me, they have that nice dark and sweet touch, similar to a Ramon Allones (but without the boldness and mongrel that I love in that brand), or even similar to well-aged Por Laranaga with their caramel tinge.

As I described in my last review about the SCDLH Oficios LCDH release, San Cristobal De La Habana is a very recent brand in the Habanos S.A. portfolio, only being born in 1999, and made to commemorate Christopher Columbus, using the original name for Havana itself.  Also, the unique little historical part (which I love when it comes to Cuba and Cuban cigars) is that all of the brand’s main cigars are named after the old forts that guard the harbour entrance into Havana – El Morro, La Fuerza, La Punta, and El Principe.  I always try to have a nice quality box of La Fuerza around, as the gorditos / robusto extra format works just so well with so many blends, and is one that both enthusiasts and relative newbies alike all can smoke without too much concern for smoking styles or techniques.

This particular box is a brand new and gorgeous one that I found on my Nov 2014 Havana trip, and was able to snag it up when box browsing at the LCDH shop at the Partagas factory.  A couple of us snagged some gorgeous boxes of these, and that hectic afternoon also included being able to help Hamlet Jaime Paredes pick through some stellar boxes of Sir Winnies for other travelling companions and store customers as well.

After trying a few fresh in Cuba on that trip, as well as gifting a few out, this particular cigar I smoked way back in December, specifically for this review.  Unfortunately, it’s another one that got lost in the shuffle and I simply neglected to get published prior to now.

Reviewed Cigar:  San Cristobal De La Habana La Fuerza

Box Date:  Mar 2014

Factory / Manufacture Code:  EML

Packaging:  25-count dressed box

Price per cigar:  $212.50 CUC (Partagas LCDH in Havana, Cuba)

Length:  5 5/8″, or 141 mm

Ring Gauge:  50

Format:  Gorditos / Robusto extra

Weight:  12 grams / 0.4 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was from a really dark, oily, and pungent box that I picked up in Havana in November.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  Thin, supple, marbled in colours and oily (two favourite characteristics of mine to see), with very strong “barnyard” aromas.  Love it.

This particular stick had good construction and weight to it.  The cap and wrapper were perfect looking, and the bunch on the foot was just wonderful – though it seemed to be a slight bit too open (I like to see lots of tobacco there), it was just the right firmness, and the colour lapping between the different tobacco types was present, with no one-sidedness apparent.

After cutting the cigar and tasting at cold….CRAP!!!!  A wind tunnel at cold!  But the cigar felt good in construction, with no hollow / soft spots, yet it was just a complete breeze moving through it on the cold draw.  However, a massive and definitive flavour at cold of gingerbread (what I always love to see in my SCDLH’s), so this one was getting lit anyways – well worth the test.

Opening Impressions:  Boom.  Warm gingerbread cookies and rich, dense, toasted tobacco.  Awesome.  A bit firmer on the draw once lit, and not off-putting anymore.  Quite a copious amount of smoke when puffed.

First Third:  Into the first third, the experience was pretty damn good.  The gingerbread and tobacco flavours were there in rich heapings.  Some wet leather coming into the fold.

The smoke progression and burn on this was great.  For such a damn young cigar, and being made with such rich and oily tobacco, I was having no burn problems.  I made one small cosmetic touch-up with my torch in the first third, but throughout the whole first half of the cigar, the burn was relatively sharp and even.

Second Third:  Into the second third, I noticed that the ash, while holding on in decent clumps, was fairly flaky.  Almost like the wrapper and binder leaf, once burnt, was “peeling” away from the inner core tobacco, almost like petals on a flower begin to open up and spread out.  It wasn’t a detriment to the smoke, but it was curious with how this ash was holding minimally like that.

The core gingerbread and rich tobacco tones continued to build in intensity.  Some dark old leather coming in there, joined by a bit of wet hay perhaps.  Some ginger root tucked on the fringes.

Final Third:  Into the final third, a little bit of change from the building stature of this cigar.  Some of the flavours, notably the gingerbread and leather, receded.  Coming to the forefront instead was a strong peppery tone.  The draw began to firm right up, and a completely wonky and “canoeing” burn began to occur.  A heavy touch-up relight to solve this, and it continued with the peppery tinge, with a bit of an anise root coming into play, and perhaps with some bland dark chocolate.  The pepper hint really put the other flavours in the background.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  Even though this cigar wasn’t the most well-behaved and had some notable draw and burn issues, it was still pretty damn good.

The gingerbread and leather hits were there in spades.  Amazing overall flavour profile, and was just bold enough.  Hell, this cigar was only 9 months old, fresh from a Cuba trip, and this was the worst-performing one out of that box that I’ve had so far, to the best of my recollection.  And – I was still satisfied with this smoke.  To me, that’s a big thing on a cigar’s onus there – that it leaves you satisfied.  That it was time well spent.  And, all things considered, even the negatives of this one particular stick, it definitely was.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the box holds in store for me, as this stick’s brethren get more and more aging time under their belts.

Final Score:  90

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 8 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  December 15th, 2014; lit up at 9:20 pm, done at 10:28 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Big Smoke artisan burger, 4:20 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, 6 degrees Celsius and 93% RH outside, with a 16 kph breeze.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Obama all but lifting certain items in the Cuban Embargo – a huge step!!!

HOLY CRAP (on so many levels)!!!!


Of note:

  • normalizing relations for first time since 1961
  • exchange of people and money to be normalized
  • American banks and credit cards allowed to process transactions from Cuba
  • America re-opening Embassy in Cuba / Havana
  • “…licensed American travellers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.”
  • Canada hosted the majority of the meetings working towards this (time will tell if the world and/or Americans specifically need to thank us Canucks, or if something happens to screw this all up!)

Living as the elderly in Cuba…

Living (if you can call it that lately) as the elderly in Cuba is getting harder and harder – hell, living as a young Cuban isn’t much better at times.  We saw that especially with our recent visit to the Lung Kong Society in Havana last month.  It’s been getting noticeably harder and harder for people in Cuba’s economy over the past few years, and it’s getting more and more noticeable every time I / we go down.  And so, I have a video to share here.

One of the people I enjoy meeting up with is Nino, who invited us in with the Lung Kong visits (previously and this past trip).  Nino put up his own report on our recent Lung Kong group visit, with some great pics from fellow Canadian traveller John Reiner.  This support to Lung Kong is close to Nino’s heart as a fellow elderly person (sorry Nino – had to get that one in there! LOL.)  While I may joke with that, his passion has rubbed off on many of us, and re-kindled our own desires to help.  For example – the effort is close to Tom’s and Edward’s hearts; I began missionary work and volunteering in high school in the mid-90’s, and I have lost so many of my elders lately (only 1 grandparent remaining); so many others just have an urge to help.

Sometimes, turning around a new-to-us street corner in Cuba gives you a proverbial bitch-slap-in-the-face.  Here we are, a bunch of privileged foreigners, on a trip to indulge in cigars, rum, and food at restaurants that most Cubans can’t even dream of eating at, and then we run into the sometimes-hard-to-comprehend realities of modern life in Cuba.  You see it everywhere, that the disparities in modern Cuba illustrate the gross realities of the “haves” and “have-nots”.  Those that have access to tourist dollars – be it through the cigar industry, hotels and tourism, nightclubs, prostitution, etc. – have a good standard of living, supplementing their monthly “allotments” from the State, and hopefully are sourcing enough additional revenue to help support the rest of their family.  Sometimes, families that don’t have access to this are left on the sidelines, living in near- or abject-poverty, while the State is becoming more and more powerless to assist (for various political and economic factors that I’m not going to delve into here).  Unfortunately, sometimes these elderly people are left on the sidelines.

And yet, all of them, the Cuban people as a whole, have this bittersweet zest for life that infects us all, and continues to pull us back.  They have this heartwarming openness that makes us all feel like long-lost members of a larger family, gladly welcomed home.

A while ago, Nino shared with me a documentary made in 2011 about life for the elderly and pensioners in Cuba.  The reality they face is living off of about 200 Cuban pesos a month (not CUC’s, but CUP’s) – that’s only about $8 US currently!  From grocery store staff, to former commanders in Castro’s revolution, they get pennies a day to survive.  Not enough money to pay the bills at least.  The video, called “At The End of The Road” can be found here, in Spanish but subtitled in English:

Not much has changed since the making of that video.  In fact, it’s my understanding and observations that things have progressively got worse.  Prices get higher.  In-demand items are harder to obtain.  Salaries/pensions stay the same.  Tourism (a huge source of generalized income across the nation) continues to wax and wane in the post-2008-recession world.

Hopefully this video will help illustrate some abject realities of modern Cuban life to those new to Cuba, either thinking about travelling there for a first time, or going back and staying away from all the resort and cigar festival hub-bub.  That’s why many of us, when we can, overload our luggage with gifts and donations for whomever we can (careful – donations is a dirty word to Cuban customs!)

If you go down, don’t bring the pencil crayons and toiletries and such for your maids.  While that’s a nice gesture, it’s not what’s most needed – everyone brings that stuff.  Do something different.  Bring a nice bottle of wine or two, step out of the resorts, and give it to someone who you know likely hasn’t had a drop of a nice libation in a year or more.  Bring some cooking or baking goods, and give it to someone in need (I love to bring maple syrup, cliche I know, and Aunt Jemima’s just-add-water pancake mix).  Bring a horde of chocolates or candies, little everyday-to-us delicacies, and donate it to an overlooked school to use as treats / rewards for the students (mini Mars bars or Cadbury Creme Eggs, Canadian-centric goodies that are certified nut-free are good ideas).  Bring some everyday items, and give it to a social club or a church group.  Bring car parts, bicycle tires, OTC medicines, home reno items.  Since we’re all linked through cigars, visit a finca, visit the countryside (something I admit I don’t do enough), get out of the resorts and such – tip well when out in these outlying areas, as sometimes the financial support doesn’t flow too well outside of Varadero and Havana.

It’s a flawed system, no doubt about that.  The Cuban government has to figure out a solution.  And no one says that what myself or others are doing is the right measure anyways.  But in the meantime, we can do what we can.

Cheers all.