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James Suckling

Cuban Trips

Posted: Feb 18, 2009 2:02pm ET
My back is still in pain. If I move the wrong way, I have a sharp pain spike through my lower back. Maybe I should try some Santiago 11-year-old rum? The Bolivar Belicoso did not remedy the situation, but it sure was a lovely smoke.

Another friend is considering organizing a santero to get rid of the pain and evil spirits. This is the Afro-Caribbean religion practiced by many in Cuba. Some of the rituals include making sacrifices of animals and drinking strange things. Cigars are also used a lot. I THINK I WILL KEEP THAT FOR MY LAST RESORT!

A friend of mine is arriving from Cancún in a few hours. I will meet him at the José Martí Airport VIP lounge where you can smoke cigars as you wait for your baggage to arrive. I love the idea of smoking a cigar in an airport. That seems so civilized. It makes me think when I used to travel in business class on Pan Am in the early 1970s to the Bahamas with my father, who was an international tax attorney. There was something so sophisticated and urbane about those days of high-class air travel. It doesn’t have much to do with how most people travel now.

I am going to bring to the airport a couple of Ramon Allones Special Selection robustos from a cedar cabinet of 50. I have been totally en amor with those smokes. I love the subtle spicy, cappuccino character of the cigars, and they draw beautifully.

I think that most Americans traveling to Cuba come through Mexico or Canada. The Bahamas is not a good place. Immigrations and customs are actually done in the Bahamas before passengers board their planes for the U.S. And the officers there are very unfriendly. I remember getting grilled by one following a trip to Havana during the Pope’s visit to the island in 1998. Christiane Amanpour was on the same plane, and she walked right past immigration and customs. I think they asked her for her autograph. Meanwhile, I had to unload all my bags and talk about travel licenses from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Makes me laugh now that I think about it, but I was pissed off then!

I went to dinner last night at Doctor Café, which I think is one of the best small restaurants in Havana at the moment. As I have wrote, it is not chichi. It’s just serves fresh, clean and well-prepared food. We even had delicious braised oxtail in tomato sauce. We smoked cigars, of course, at the end, and the owner handed out a few “robusto para la casa.” I didn’t smoke the house smoke but it looked good.

To be honest, I am not a fan of these cigars made in chinchales, the slang for small clandestine cigar factories on the island. They may roll the cigars well, but it’s highly unlikely that their smokes will be any good. They just don’t have the quality tobacco as well as the knowledge of blending.

There are a number of cigar aficionados who come to Cuba regularly who boast about “their own blended” cigars. But I think they for the most part are poco inteligente. They can believe what they want, but their cigars are not very good on a whole. I remember smoking many cigars from rollers in various cigar shops in Havana, who say that this is a Cohiba blend or this is the Paratagas blend. But they are not even close. It’s just a silly ego trip.


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