Havana's Cigar Festival

Havana's Cigar Festival, Continued
Then there were the Chicago businessmen out for some bonefishing. They asked me a few questions about the Cuban economy as we rode the bus from the plane to the terminal. "I heard Cuba has a lot of nickel," said one. "Sounds like a business opportunity."

Finally, there were five lads from New York out for a five-day diving trip. I wasn't sure what type of diving they were actually planning on doing -- I didn't see any scuba gear with them. They said that they were going to the Isla de la Juventud in the morning. One was particularly chatty, boasting loudly so everyone on the plane could hear that he came to Cuba regularly. "This island has long been a wonderful conservation area for diving," he said. "There is nothing better." I guess he didn't know that it had been a penal colony for a very long time.

I am not sure how many of these fellow American travelers will be returning for February's festival, but if they do, here's what is planned. "III Festival del Habano" is divided into two programs (which seems to be asking for organization problems but I wish them the best), one called "senior program" and the other "junior program."

You can sign up for the junior program, which I assume is for people who have not experienced the Cuban cigar world before. This includes a welcome cocktail party, trade fair, lunch, visits to tobacco fields in Pinar del Río and a Habana factory, as well as a gala dinner. That's all for $900. You can skip the gala dinner and have the rest for $460. Or you can simply go to the gala dinner for $500.

The senior program is basically the same, but you visit a cigar factory in Villa Clara (including accommodation in Varadero) and a Havana factory for machine-made mini-cigars instead of the fields of the Vuelta Abajo and a handmade cigar factory. It's $1,000 rather than $900. Minus the gala dinner, it's $560.

For me, the most fun during the festival is hanging out in Havana for the week, visiting cigar shops and spending time with cigar merchants and aficionados from around the world. The gala dinner is also amusing in a kitsch sort of way. There's usually good smoke abound as well as adequate drink -- too bad about the food. Yet, there's a good buzz to the event that only a room full of cigar aficionados can create. Even Fidel Castro normally shows up, although he no longer smokes.

Contact Habanos S.A. for more information. You can reach the company by telephone at (53) 7-339509 or fax (53) 7-338946. It also has e-mail (although I have never had any luck getting through that way this year): habanos@habanos.cu.

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