Cigar Aficionado

Off to Experience Cuba's Sweet Tobacco of Change

I am buying a few extra things today, like medicine and photo equipment, getting ready for an extended trip to Cuba. Simple things like vitamins or camera batteries can be hard to find on the island, even in the best of times. I leave tomorrow on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Havana. I am excited to get back to Cuba's capital. A lot has happened since I was last there in the autumn. We have a new president who has openly stated that he is going to change the U.S. policy towards Cuba, and the island is celebrating 50 years of its revolution. It's an important point in Cuba's history in many ways.

Just what will happen nobody knows, but I want to be on the island now to listen and to feel whats going down on the streets and in the fields. I want to smell the sweet tobacco of change.  I want to experience the new, like the flavors of a freshly rolled robusto.

It seems that the U.S. policy for travel to Cuba will be relaxed in the not too distant future. I am sure that Cuban-Americans will be able to visit the island more often, as well as send more money to their relatives. The change in policy, which cut visits as well as monetary transfers to the island a few years ago, was cruel and unnecessary and achieved nothing but suffering on both sides of the Florida Straits. Whether any of you will finally be able to legally visit Cuba remains to be seen, but I think a very good possibility exists. Theres nothing more I would like to see then all of you on the island smoking a cigar, enjoying the ambiance of Havana, and making new Cuban friends. Thats the way it should be. And thats the way our two countries will grow closer together.

As for the revolution, the triumphs and disappointments are more than evident after the island's bold, half-century experiment in socialism. The most obvious is the good education and health care for all, but the rest is less apparent. Changes are badly needed on the island, just like the millions of tons of fresh cement and paint to renovate the thousands of facades of crumbling Spanish colonial buildings in the center of Havana. Last year's catastrophic twin hurricanes in the fall only exacerbated the situation, not to mention the global economic meltdown.

Yet, even with all these imminent changes and problems, the one truth most of us know is that Cuba grows the greatest tobacco in the world. And the islands cigars enrich our lives and bring many people closer together, much like peace pipes of the Indians who lived in both of our countries hundreds of years ago.

For the moment, Cuba is still making some of the greatest cigars on earth, from the ubiquitous Partagas Serie D No. 4 to the rare regional cigars of Hong Kong or Italy and the limited edition smokes such as the flavor packed Cuaba Piramides and Montecristo Sublimes from 2008. I am certainly going to be smoking my share of great Havanas over the next few weeks.

So, stay tuned to this blog for daily reports on my experiences in Havana, and the rest of the island, as well as up-to-date reports on the latest in cigars from whats really happening in factories to the trials and tribulations in the plantations. I will be walking the floors of the cigar-rolling rooms and rubbing my hands through the soil of the tobacco fields and talking and smoking with Cubans and foreigners who have an understanding and passion for cigars.  It's what I do best. It's what I love.

"James,hope you have a nice trip, when you are at Partagas give my regards to Deborah and Bichot, ask if they have some filler from a new seed called vuelta arriba, smoke it pure grade and let me know what you think, take care." —January 27, 2009 16:12 PM
"You're a lucky man, and please think of all the folks who can only wish up here in the states when you light up your first habano in Havana. Have a safe trip." —January 27, 2009 16:50 PM
"James, I can't help but envy you for going to Cuba...again!!! As you said in your blog, we have a new president who is geared to possibly opening up some trade between our two countries. My brother-in-law and I were talking if we can ever legally visit Cuba, then we will be on the first plane trip over there. The thought of sitting on the beach smoking a fine Cuban cigar is only a dream for me. So while you are there, light up a Montecristo #2 for me, hold a glass a wine in the air, and make a toast to us non-Cuban smoking friends in the United States. Peter" —January 28, 2009 03:44 AM