So, my voyage La Havana has come to a close again. Got back yesterday, relatively trouble free. This trip was overall quite wonderful – no stomach issues, the ability to put more faces to names, and many more good times shared with other BOTL’s/SOTL’s from around the globe. As always, some interesting news tidbits and a very few nice finds (though the latter is definitely getting to be less and less prevalent).
More posts will come in the following days detailing some of the below, but here are some of my highlights…
- As is the current trend in Cuban cigar shops, tons of availability of the “big stuff” for tourists especially (Montecristo, especially the Open line, Partagas, tons of RyJ, HdM, fair amount of Trinidad, LOADS of Cohiba Maduro 5 line-up, etc.)
- Almost nothing found of outside-of-the-norm or vintage stuff, aside from a few special boxes.
- No evidence of recent tobacco beetle infestations continuing. Looks like it’s calmed down a bit, and/or being taken better care of. Did notice especially that at the Melia Habana LCDH walk-in humidor, they had a very prevalent tobacco-beetle capture “pest-strip” sitting out in the open.
- A fair amount of newer LE’s were to be found. Lots of availability and push for the Partagas Seleccion Privada EL’s. A couple spots had the Cohiba Robusto Supremos available in mild quantity. Fair amount of LCDH specialty releases to be found also.
- Big push with the Anejados releases, RyJ Piramides and the Montecristo Churchills. A number of conversations were had about these – opinions vary, but most are fairly negative, and nearly all tastings were blunt: they’re un-brand-related shit.
- Tobacco availabilty to custom rollers appears to be levelling off, and perhaps improving a bit. Jorge at Club Habana and Yolanda at Melia Habana both had their hands full with multiple large orders. Other rollers (Alex at Commodoro, Reynaldo at Conde de Villanueva, Juanita at Melia Cohiba, etc., etc.) all had a decent availability and selection of their custom rolls available.
- Loads of rum to be found everywhere – lots of Legendario Elixir to be found this time, and even a new elixir rum coming from Santiago I think it was (I’ll have to check over my pictures and report later)
- Cubita coffee and Cafe Serrano were found here and there, but only in the vaccuum-packed pre-ground variants, and none of the big bags of whole beans were seen anywhere.
- Another wonderful visit to see Graciela and others at the Sociedad Lung Kong there in Havana, with more gift items brought to them from Canada and as well from Hong Kong.
- Prototype jars from San Ramon Producciones as announced here previously were not available for either the Baire or the La Patrona jars. Arrangements were made to get pictures once they’re ready, so that they can be shared here. Nearly all of the La Patrona jars are pre-sold already (at about 100 of the 120 jars spoken for).
- Yolanda, the custom roller at the LCDH at the Melia Habana hotel, has her own “custom jar” soon to be released. She went over the details with me, and more on that will be coming here soon.
- I finally had the chance to meet a few international friends in person, rather than simply electronically through e-mail or the forums (Andy Ryan and Gino / Mr Japan are perfect examples of this). Great relationships were formed or solidified. The overall Fox clan is becoming more and more cursed by allowing me into their fold. Glad to still claim being able to out-drink the Irish so far.
- Was invited to a relatively new “after-hours” bar that’s apparently only available to the waitstaff, bartenders, and security staff that work at other bars/restaurants in the city – only OPENS at 4 am, and runs to 9 am. Very cool place with a giant tree growing right up through the center of the palatial mansion that houses it. Wild to be walking out of there at 7:30 am, blinded by the sun, and seeing everyone else get on buses to go to school or work. There was nary enough Tylenol in my luggage for that day.
- Exchanged money at many places this trip – Varadero airport, Hotel Nacional front desk and cambio/money-exchange, money exchange at the business center near the Melia Habana, and even at the cadeca exchange in the Melia Cohiba. Not even a single attempt at the money exchange scam was observed or heard to be attempted during this timeline.
- Great times shared again as always with Simon, Nino, Yannick, Amir, Yiorgos, as well as some other Euro and American travellers that have passed each others paths on FOH or other cigar forums, or met somehow through the industry. I was again able to share some great times with Punch Joe, La China, and other H S.A. and industry personnel, such as Luka and Michel.
- Yet again, everyone’s favourite “one-eyed cat” jazz club, otherwise known as the “Irish Embassy”, continued to be made into the “Commonwealth Consulate”. Great times were had – drunken limbo, ghostly photo-bombing, etc.
- While down in Havana, I heard on Wed/Thurs that Obama had announced that the U.S. Special Interests building would be getting re-commissioned / re-opened next week as the formal U.S. Embassy. On the Mon/Tues, we did see work being done to either install a new one, or repair the current foundation, for the flag pole in the northwest facing corner of the building’s grounds, adjacent to the Malecon. So, while I haven’t seen any media reports on this continuing movement, there was noted activity there.
So, more will be forthcoming later on over the next week or so about some of the above.
Obviously also, there’s the news of Hamlet’s departure / defection to the U.S., with him now in Naples, Florida, working for Rocky Patel. Needless to say, many there in Havana were shocked and saddened by the occurrence of this, but many also understanding and wishing nothing but the best for him and his family. We all only found out about it on the Thursday night / Friday during the tail-end of the festival itself (with it being the talk of the town prior to the gala dinner), after his resignation letter was brought in to the Partagas shop by a third party after his departure. Something that had been in the works for quite a time apparently, and some of his best friends and childhood amigos there in Havana not even aware of it prior to (understood, but heartbreakingly so).
My own thoughts are very conflicted on it, but I can only hope for great things in the future for him.
And, by the above attached photos, I did find enough to fill my luggage again, LOL. Going through Customs on this end was fine, with no additional taxes levied surprisingly. A selection of some of the goods found during this trip:
- Some more Hotel Nacional ashtrays for myself and some friends
- Some Cafe Serrano packets of the pre-ground coffee
- Three wonderfully dark, oily and rich boxes of Ramon Allones Superiores LCDH releases (Dic 2014 ULA codes) as well as one box of Ramon Allones Gigantes (Nov 2013 MUL) that was one of three boxes of these wonderful goodies that I found hiding out at two different locations
- A fairly nice-smelling box of the new Trinidad Vigias, as well as a really nice box of the new Por Larranaga Picadores also
- Two bundles each of Jorgito’s Monsdales and his new robusto largos (both with closed foot and a pigtail cap), which everyone was gleefully indulging in all week. Should have got much more, but even he was saying he’s 3 to 4 weeks behind in his orders. The wrappers also looked much better than what was available to the rollers back in November – some of the wrappers were gloriously dark and oily. If the wrapper quality is there, I’ll likely go for 2 more bundles of the robusto largos in November, and 3 or 4 for the Monsdales – simply one of the best customs coming out of Havana in the last number of years
- A bundle of Yolanda’s piramides
- Some of Juanita’s coronas and Churchills
- Couple bottles of Legendario Anejo rum for friends
- Couple of the classic Cuban licence plates
- A couple of other choice customs from other miscellaneous rollers as gifts and trades
- Various cigars smoked from current / new release stuff, EL’s and Anejado’s included. All pretty much meh, except for the Partagas Seleccion Privada – had a few of those, and they were quite nice, and packaged well in 10-boxes too
- Two custom jars picked up for some buddies
My liver is aching, my lungs are tired, and my throat is sore. Gonna be on a greens and fruit diet for the next little bit (my new joke – the only thing that makes Caesar salad shitty is those green leafy things they include with all the cheese, bacon and chicken sometimes, LOL).
But, it was another wonderful visit to the island and crazy little city. Definitely better for me relaxing and getting “into the vibe” compared to November, when I was “herding cats with a ladder” as some like to say.
Glad to be back home (need family time again), even though the weather’s crap here still (going from plus 30 C to -20 C always sucks). Miss the island a bit already, and will definitely be looking forward to the next trip again!