I don’t have a picture of breakfast on day 7, but as you can imagine, it was delicious. After breakfast, we went downstairs to a conference room for a presentation and Q&A with a local physician. One of our fellow travelers asked about the motivation to become a doctor. In Cuba, doctors do get paid more than unskilled laborers, but the difference is not substantial. So why would someone work so hard in school to enjoy pay essentially equal to those who did not. The answer was twofold. First, many find medicine to be a calling, and its what they love to do. Also, its the family business for many, and they come from a long line of doctors. Second, many are banking on the embargo lifting, at which time, they expect Cuba to become a huge destination for medical tourism. Another factor that may be a motivation is that due to Cuba’s oil for doctors agreement with Venezuela, medicine creates an opportunity for travel that most Cubans do not have. After the presentation, we headed into the suburbs of Havana to hospital, the next tier up from the local community doctor in Cuba’s healthcare system.
The hospital was an interesting visit. Since they don’t have the privacy laws we do, we basically were led around the hospital while consultations and treatments were going on. We got to see checkups, physical therapy, etc. This particular hospital seemed pretty modern. My mom had been to Cuba previously with a medical conference, and she got to see many hospitals like this, so I guess they’re not uncommon.
After the hospital, we visited a daycare center. The center is for children who’s parents struggle with addiction, are imprisoned, etc. It was very much like a daycare center in the US, movies, crafts, snack time, nap time. The highlight for me was one of the kids who performed a fairly long and intricate Michael Jackson routine. We left some gifts and headed to lunch.
The meal at Divino was quite good, but the dessert was outstanding. The ice cream tasted like it was 50% fruit, and 50% ice cream. I’m not sure if I liked the coconut or pineapple better. The restaurant was owned by a couple. The Husband is Italian, and the wife Cuban. They had a large collection of Cuban nicknacks in their wine cellar.
After a great meal, and a fun look around in the cellar, we snapped a few pictures of some cars outside, and headed to Finca La Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba were he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The house is also featured in Island’s in the Stream.
I’m a huge Hemingway fan, so I loved this stop. As a hunter, traveler, avid reader, and on rare occasion, fisherman, I was drinking it all in. The house was fairly minimalist, despite being decorated with bullfighting posters, taxidermy, and book and magazines. It was clearly decorated and setup for a purpose. The decorations would remind Hemingway of his travels and happy times, while the furnishings were clearly for work. Literature and booze were everywhere, and there was very little else that could be considered a distraction. I’ve been to Malaga and Rhonda, Kenya and Tanzania, and I loved the Finca. The interior decorator on our trip asked if I was taking notes, and I definitely was. I wouldn’t want my primary residence too influenced by Finca La Vigia, but for a hunting lodge, etc, it would be perfect. The tower you see above was built by his wife for him to write in, but he hated it. The boat is the Pilar which he used to hunt uboats during WWII. The cemetery was for his dogs, which was interesting as he was more of a cat person. The pool is where Hemingways wife, and on occasion, Ava Gardner often skinny dipped. I’m about 60% through Island’s in the Stream, and Hemingway, and a beauty from the USO are in route to Finca La Vigia, so perhaps the pool will be in the book.
After Hemingway’s house, we went back to the hotel, and had some free time. My wife was feeling tired from the trip, and her pregnancy, so she took a nap. I headed down to the beach and found a hammock. After relaxing, we headed to dinner.
We had an amazing dinner. After dinner (and dessert), I was surprised with a birthday cake. What a way to celebrate your 30th. Despite being quite full, I ate a fair amount of cake as it was tres leches, and quite delectable. One couple on the trip had heard about the show at the Tropicana. Its a 50s style revue show with a lot of the original choreography from its heyday. We were offered cigars as we walked in, and given bottle service at the tables. The show was incredible.
The show was great. The cigars and drinks too. Most of our group took cigars, and since they did not smoke them, gave them to me, which meant I had way too many cigars for how many days we had left. I got to dance with a showgirl. The whole experience was unforgettable. This was not part of our itinerary, but what a show. We all had a great time, were exhausted, and pretty sleepy on the short ride home. I kept wonder how the next day could possibly live up to the previous. Cuba never failed to delight us.by rsiv with
Today we headed to Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, that was once stripped of trees for farming, but is now reforested and rich in biodiversity. We were greeted with a welcome cocktail, and some fantastic music. These guys were jamming out for just us, at say 9am-ish.
Our Cuban guide showed us a rationing card, and then we visited a bodega. In Cuba, supplies are still rationed, but a lot of what they need is now purchased in the free/black market. At this bodega, one shelf has regulated products, while the other has released/freed products. Sugar is an example of a regulated product, or one that is still rationed, while beer is available, but at cost. The rationed items did have a, “symbolic cost” (very low), which basically is the government’s way of telling its people that the items have value and cost, while still making them available to all. There was a time when rum and tobacco were rationed, but now its pretty much the bare necessities. As you can see on the card, you can get fish and eggs too.
The we got to visit Las Terrazas’ community pharmacy, dentist, and doctor. Cuba has a multi-tiered medical system, and this local doctor would more than likely be one’s first stop.
We also got to visit the local daycare/preschool, and leave some gifts for the children.
At Cafe de Maria, we were given several exotic choices of coffee drinks, and seating in a beautiful venue. I had a coffee with a local liquor, while my wife had an iced coffee with local spices. Both were amazing. A fellow traveler asked for, “descafeinado.” The waiter looked at her incredulously, smiled, and said, “Only good coffee in Cuba.” I was amused, I don’t think she was.
We got to see Lester Campos’s art studio, and the home of Polo Montanez. Then we enjoyed a nice lunch and some music.
My wife played the pregnancy card and got two desserts. Then we headed back to the hotel in Havana. We had a little free time, so I lit up a Hoyo Epicure No. 2, and then we decided to get some sun. The cigar was the perfect pool and pool bar smoke, and we enjoyed a short respite from our busy itinerary.
That evening we went up the road to the home and studio of Jose Fuster, the world renowned Cuban painter and ceramicist. He and his son gave us a tour of the property. Then we sat down to dinner at Fuster’s house, and were serenaded by Fuster himself. He also predicted that my first child will be a masculine child…
We got back to the hotel happy, full, but exhausted. An a cappella group that had just got back from a tour ending in San Francisco was performing, and they were quite good. I lit up a Partagas serie D No. 4. It was a rich, spicy, and flavorful way to end the night. We managed to call a few friends on facetime via the hotel wifi. I nubbed the cigar, finished my Cuba libre, and we called it a night. What an amazing day.by rsiv with
Today we explored Pinar Del Rio and Vinales. The day started out just like any other, amazing breakfast, packed the essentials (rum and cigars), and headed down. However, I did wake to a nice birthday note from our guide. It was very thoughtful, and got the day off on the right note.
We got on the bus and headed out through Miramar, which has lots of beautiful old houses, embassies, and ambassadors’ homes. We had a quick pit stop.
Then we continued into the countryside, and on to the Donatien cigar factory. Photography was not allowed inside. I assume this is because the trained eye might be able to ascertain too much information about brand specific blends, etc. Fortunately, a fellow A&K traveler, Lynn, snapped a few outside and in their cigar store.
I asked about some Trinidad Fundadores, but they were out. I figured you only live once, so I asked about their Behike’s. The joy you see on my face is mostly about the price. I think it was about 20 CUCs per. I was shocked. I picked up a few. You can see another of my selections in my hand, HU Mag 46. After stocking up, we headed out to the country, and had one more pit stop.
After the respite, we headed to Casa de Confianza in Vinales. Its an organic farm and restaurant perched high on a hill overlooking the landscape. We had a truely epic lunch on a trip full of amazing lunches. I expected mostly vegatables, but it turned out to be a full pig roast. Words don’t begin to do this lunch justice, and the pictures barely begin to tell the story.
I pulled out my trusty SpanishDict app, and then said, “Senior, la oreja, por favor.” He cut me the fattiest most delicious piece of meat. I had already had some cheek, and this might have been better. Crispy, oily, fatty, and amazing. The Cubans thought it was awesome that a gringo ate the ear. My fellow traveling companions were less impressed. After a huge and amazing meal, way too much rum, and a great time, we checked out the kitchen. How they got all that incredible food out of that sparse kitchen is beyond me. Very impressive. Then we took a tour of the organic farm. It was an interesting tour. They said that organic farming used to be the only option available. Now its more of a tourism decision, as Cubans care more about size and cost when it comes to produce.
Then it was time for the tobacco farm. We got to meet Benito and his family. He was quite a character. The tobacco had already been harvested, and corn was in its place, so we went into the barn.
Benito asked if there were any cigar smokers in the group. The group yelled my name in unison (guess I had a reputation). Benito rolled me the pure ligero cigars he enjoys, and I lit up. Very flavorful, and very intense. Also, very young tasting, but a great experience none the less. Then he passed out some more home rolled cigars to the rest of the group that had some more age. I had one of these later, and it was also very enjoyable. Benito put out some drinks, and we got to talk. I showed him a picture of my tobacco on my phone, and he was very excited to talk tobacco with me. It was a great stop, and while most people probably had their fill, I could have stayed all day. Back on the bus, we got a surprise for the long ride home.
Havana Club Anejo Especial was first. This was what A&K/the Melia gave us as a welcome gift, and I was carrying around. It was quite good, but it was no HC 7, which was next. Then we moved on to my favorite HC Seleccion de Maestros. After that, Santiago de Cuba as the grand finale. Very very good. But not my favorite (but my 2nd favorite). The rum tasting was a great idea, and made the time fly. I had already been over served at lunch (by yours truly), and notice the amount of rum in my cup in the pictures. Apparently, I was drinking for three, since our guide knew my pregnant wife was not imbibing, and my cup always seemed to be fullest (thanks again Ridlon). We enjoyed the scenery going into Havana (including the double rainbow), and soon, we were back (thanks again, Havi).
I was in a frat. I’ve been known to enjoy a drink or two. After La Floridita, I was feeling it. Not so much drunk, but worn out and exhausted. The promoters trying to entice you into their paladars did not help while we took a beautiful walk down Calle Obispo. I’ve heard Hemingway still holds the record for Papa Doble’s, 17 in one night, corroborated by his letters to Harvey Breit, letters of those that were with him, and several articles that can be found online. The modern doble reportedly contains 2 jiggers, or 3 ounces of rum. At the time, Hemingway says it was 4 ounces, and that he had 68 ounces total that day. I like to imagine Hemingway had felt about the way I did wandering down Obispo, which he also loved to do. It was a great moment, and a lovely walk (for more info, and the papa doble recipe, check out to have and have another). After dinner, we hoped an old cab and headed to La Zorra Y El Cuervo, a highly recommended jazz bar.
After finding the old phone booth, which is its entrance, we descended into the smokey lounge, paid a cover, and got a table. I lit up a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1, and my dad lit up a No. 2 (my current favorite cigar, bar none). It was an unforgettable day, and an unforgettable night. This was easily one of the best days of my life.by rsiv with
Day 4 in Cuba started out with a buffet, and amazing cafe. After a great meal, we headed down to a conference room in the hotel. We met with a former Cuban Foreign Services Scholar, who brought the group up to date on Cuba – US relations from the colonial period to present times. I had just read Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba, which is as much a history of Cuba as the Bacardi family and company, but from a capitalist perspective, so it was interesting to notice the discrepancies between the two accounts. For instance, the speaker implied that business owners fled the country out of guilt/fear prior to the revolution, and failed to talk about the confiscation of their assets. However, when directly asked, he provided an account that was more inline with what I had read in the book. There was lots of talk about, “Terrorist groups in Florida.” He also said that Cuba was not changing from Socialism to Capitalism, but something new. He said, “Cuba has to adapt.” He thought that it would be a slow process, but Cuba has to change. A member of our group suggested that when the embargo is lifted, people will get rich, everything socially and otherwise will change. He presenter said, “we accept this challenge…we have been preparing for this.” Later he added, “Cubans need to work harder to have more.” “We are going to face new realities, and I’m optimistic.” The presenter kept talking about Cuba embracing at least some degree of capitalism, but he never once used the word capitalism unless someone else used said word in their question. I got the impression that Cuba will try to hold on to its socialist ideals for quite some time. I think that longer term, it will likely look more like Canada, or perhaps a Sweden. Controlled capitalist, but with strong social concern, for instance socialized medicine, nationalized industries, etc. That said, it may be hard to resist the fast money that American tourism will offer.
After the foreign services presentation, we got on the bus. After hearing that we had another giant of a day, our American guide introduced our Cuban guide. “She’s your guide, shes our guide, shes Ms. Cu-baaa!” Nilda told us about the day’s activities as we headed to the Muraleando neighborhood community project. The manager of this project was very genuine and very enthusiastic. His passion was contagious. He described some of their art as, “tangible poetry.” He definitely did not need a translator. The project is called El Tanque, because they petitioned the government to take an old water tank in a trash heap, and turn it into an art gallery. They cleared out a junkyard, and now they have a beautiful community center. They’ve also beautified and improved the entire neighborhood. The female singer pictured below had just won a caribbean talent show. I have her CD, so I’ll try to update this post with more details about her later. The statue is of a local character, who we got to meet. The teeth are real dentures. The bench is dedicated to an old woman who used to sit there daily, waiting on her love (it is assumed that she was referring to a potential future love).
After saying our goodbyes, we took a walking tour though Old Havana with a local architect. Both he, and his wife, were architects in Havana trying to save and restore old buildings, so it was a very enjoyable and informative walk. It was also our first chance to wander the streets, so even without the great commentary, it would have been a great time. I don’t recall the architect’s name, but I thought of him as a Javier (Bardem), perhaps you can see why.
First, notice the box of Virginia apples. I do know that they don’t grow apples on Cuba, so perhaps it was some kind of aid? I didn’t get to ask about it, as that pic was taken during our free time wandering. Next, notice the shotguns. Does your grandpa ever tell you that Obama/Clinton/etc is going to take away your guns? In Cuba, they really did. This museum displays the shotguns confiscated by the government. I saw a bunch of Browning A-5s. I was with our Cuban guide at this point, who is from Pinar Del Rio (the country), which makes her a guajira (country girl). I thought she might know about hunting. She said that it is difficult to get a permit to own a shotgun, but some Cubans do. However, most harvesting, of say boars, is done by trapping. The interwebs shows me that there is quail hunting in Cuba, but I couldn’t tell you if Cubans are allowed to do it. The architect was particularly candid about his thoughts on Cuba. He said his grandparents were for the revolution, when it was still about getting rid of Batista. When it became communist later, they regretted it, as they were a wealthy family. Eventually, his grandfather took his own life. The architect also said that he would not be able to live as well as he does without his two brothers sending clothes and money from Miami. He was a very interesting guy, and I wish we had more time with him. The picture of stone above is so you can see the coral in it. The cigar is a Romeo y Julieta #2. These were my walking around sticks while I was in Cuba, as they were 3.4 CUCs (less than $4 American), and easily found in Tubos for portability. I never had a draw or construction problem, and the flavor was great. Maybe a little one dimensional, but they were prefect for my purposes. I really just grabbed a few by chance, but ended up having one whenever I had 30-45 minutes.
We hit Cafe Del Oriente for lunch. Apparently, its the place to see and be seen, as the Castros can often be seen there, and other high level officials. The welcome cocktails and food were great, but the atmosphere and music were just incredible. It was a nice respite from the heat and the walk.
After lunch, we had a tour of Casa De Africa, with an Afro-Cuban religions specialist, and then saw a show. The actors were excellent, and as always, we were blown away by the quality of the production, and that it was just for our small group. However, some school children wandered over, as the museum is right on the street, and they joined in the dancing. The dancer in blue is the Yorùbán/Santerían orisha Yemaja. I thought she stole the show. She pulled me up to dance with her. My wife thought it was fitting as she is the patron deity of women, especially pregnant women. After Casa De Africa, we headed to a hotel for lessons in making mojitos, and dancing salsa.
I lost the mojito contest, but I had lots of rum, and maybe instead of the loser, we can say I was runner up. Then we learned Cuban style salsa, which involves a different count and a post. Or at least thats what I remember. I’m not a great dancer, but I learned the basics, and had a great time.
We drove back to the hotel along the Malecon, and with a few hours to burn, I opted for another Romeo y Julieta #2. I also tried Bucanero Malta, which at first I thought was malt liquor, but when I saw our bus driver Havi drinking it, inquired, and found out its more like sugarcane root beer. It had an interesting and very unique flavor I can’t quite describe. I thought it went well with the cigar, and was a welcome change of pace from the 14 or so rum drinks I had that day. I also threw in a bonus bathroom cigar selfie. How often does one get to enjoy a bathroom cigar?
We had dinner at Cafe Espanola. It was a good meal in a very interesting place. Afterwards, we enjoyed some jazz in the lobby, and called it a night.by rsiv with
Tomorrow I’m headed to RIR for the busch series. A bunch of the guys still get together for one or both of the Richmond races each year. The shorter, cheaper, busch race is always an easier sell, and if you haven’t been, its usually crazier too. Here is a playlist I’ll be listening to on the way down and at the tailgate:
My wife got a new app called timehop. It sends you pictures from years pasts on the same day the pictures were taken. She just sent me these two from the race two years ago. If you have seen my followup post (the next one), Bobby Light, CW, and Bolt won best dressed this year. BL and CW would have won two years ago as well. I’m going to have to download timehop. Pretty cool.by rsiv with
Met the wife at Clare and Don’s for lunch, and we sat outside. The meal was good as usual, but the weather was fantastic and they had some reggae bumpin. Put me in the mood for some more spring music:
I borrowed my mom’s convertible while she was out of town recently, and found out that 99.5 HD2 is pride radio. Its basically gay club music. Probably not mosts’ cup of tea, but it makes for great top down music:
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I’m ready for warm weather. I already got some new boat shoes and linen in anticipation. Unfortunately, there is still snow on the ground. I do like having seasons, but I’m about done with this winter.
The hidden gem in that playlist is Pipe by Patch. I was on vacation in, lets say the bahamas, and this DJ in his late teens, early 20s played this song every 15 minutes at the pool. This was not a hotel for young singles, as I recollect, it was a normal chain hotel. There were old couples and families around, and he played party music, particularly pipe, and danced by himself in front of the speaker, presumably, tripping balls.by rsiv with
I got an email today, which proved to constitute some excellent marketing. Ledbury is a clothing company headed up by Paul Trible. I have shirt made by them, which I very much like. Its a Virginia based company, and the shirt I have is the Goshen, which I like to believe is named after the Scout Camp here in VA. Paul is the son of another Paul Trible, the president of CNU, my alma mater. I concur that Ledbury’s button stance is superior to Brooks Brothers, but most of the shirts in my closet are still Brooks Bros. Thats primarily because the majority were purchased before Ledbury was around, but also because I like a button down collar, which is too rarely offered by Ledbury. I know sartorialists will deride my predilection for the button down, but it just looks the best without a tie. I only really wear a tie at events or important meetings, so most days I’m in a button down. I digress. Ledbury sent out an email with a great Mardi Gras playlist, so I thought I’d share it. Its so good, it got me to post this, and think about their shirts. Well played Ledbury.
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Swimsuit season will quickly be upon us. House of Cards season two was just released on netflix. What better time for a post about rowing. This time, I’ll focus on indoor rowing, but once the Potomac’s water temp reaches 55 degrees, I’ll be on the water.
Frank Underwood likes the natural feel of water resistance, but I prefer the model I grew up using, the Concept 2. I would definitely recommend trying a rowing machine out at the gym before purchasing one. I rowed in high school, but as a coxswain, my technique didn’t need to be all that great. Add a decade of not rowing, and then jump back into it, and you’ve got a recipe for injury. I managed to tweak my back last season, but I’m easing myself back into it. To be clear, I believe I hurt my back rowing an actual boat, not training. I don’t think that the rowing machine is any more or less dangerous than any other machine at the gym. I do believe that the potential benefits of rowing certainly outweigh the risks. My friend that learned to row last year loves it, and fully intends to join me on the water again this year.
If you’re looking to get into the sport, Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown has a great learn to row program that gets you on the water the second day of class. I did this class last year with a friend (pictured below), and it was a blast. Upon graduation, you qualify to rent sculls and go out on your own.
If you do decide to give indoor rowing a try, make sure you get someone at your gym to explain proper technique to you, and this video won’t hurt either (***Update, my back has healed, and is good to go):
If you’ve rowed before, then you may know the basics, but its always good to have a refresher on what not to do. This may have helped me last season:
When I was rowing in high school, rage against the machine was pretty popular. It also made for great workout music. I’ll leave y’all with a video that I find quite apropos, and a short playlist to get you in the workout mood.
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First has a little of everything, second is for business time:
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