This is the 10th and final post of a 10 part series on my adventure in Cuba. I’ve provided navigation below so you can read it in chronological order, as opposed to reverse order, if thats your preference. Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or shoot me an email if you’re so inclined.
Cuba Trip Navigation (scroll down for day 10 content) (Suggested reading method, open each post in a new tab, start the playlist provided in day 1, light a cigar, pour some rum, enjoy):
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=1912 (intro, flight, children’s theater company, Cayo de Santa Maria, wow)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=1964 (print shop, Proyecto de Arte Por la Costa, sugar museum, steam train, bicitaxi, beach)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=2170 (Baseball, senior center, danzon compeititon, Havana, Vistamar paladar)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=2300 (foreign services presentation, Muraleando neighborhood community project, architectural walking tour, Casa de Africa, mojito and salsa lesson)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=2451 (cigar factory, tobacco farm, jazz club)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=2694 (Las Terrazas, Dinner at Fuster’s house)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=2997 (Hospital, Finca La Vigia (Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba), Tropicana revue show)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=3155 (cemetery, Almacenes de San José, Sloppy Joe’s, Yank Tanks, Hotel Nacional, Jazz Club)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=3366 (cigars, flight to Miami, Little Havana)
http://bonvivantva.com/?p=3483 (flight home, souvenirs, wrap up)
On day 10, we woke up in Miami, and flew home to DC.
On the decent, we saw some familiar sights, like the boathouse where I row. When we got home, we unpacked and looked at all the souvenirs we brought home. Despite only being able to bring home handicrafts, art, and music, we ended up with more this trip than just about any other.
Later, we brought the painting we’d bought as a thank you for my parents over to their house. They loved it.
Final thoughts? This was the trip of a lifetime. I can’t thank my parents enough. My wife did great there, and her being pregnant didn’t slow anyone down at all. I was very proud of her. A&K was great. Their guide, and our Cuban guide, were amazing. I really don’t believe we could have had better guides. The itinerary was exceptional, and even the parts I thought would just be OK were spectacular. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I made a lot of new friends, and had experiences I’ll never forget. If you’re considering going on a Cuban P2P trip, go, and go now. If you’re thinking about going with A&K, I highly recommend them. I can’t wait to go back.by rsiv with no comments yet
We had an afternoon flight, so after a great breakfast, I hit the sauce and the stogies.
I was able to get my mom to try a puff of the Behike.
I started with another Mag 50, and read a little Hemingway. After I smoked it down to about the size of the Behike, I did a side by side comparison. I like both, but the draw and flavor of the Behike were significantly better than the H Upmann. I took the HU to about the band, and then hit the beach with the Behike and the HC 7.
With one R&J cigar left and two half-full bottles of rum, I ran out of time. I gave the bottles to our driver for the week, Havi, as well as a few cigars I had leftover (mostly Guantanameras from the Tropicana show). Then we headed to the Jose Marti Airport for the flight home.
I enjoyed one last cigar in the VIP lounge, and one last Cuba Libre. I reflected on the amazing time we had in Cuba, and hoped I’d be back soon. We said goodbye to the friends we’d made, and got on the plane.
Back at the Hilton in Miami, I found these at the gift shop. Its like they were adding insult to injury. However, our vacation was not yet over. My family has missed many international connections though Miami over the years, so we decided to spend a night in Miami to make sure we made our flight. After checking in, we took a taxi to Little Havana, and to a restaurant recommended by our first P2P speaker back on the first night in Miami.
A lot of other P2P trips do an excursion in Little Havana. Its too bad a lot of people on our trip didn’t get the opportunity, but we made the most of ours. After what my dad said was the best sandwich he’d ever had, he asked the owner of the restaurant about Cuba. The owner was Cuban-American, and had a candid talk with us about his thoughts. After dinner, we took a walk down Calle Ocho.
After our walk, we had some ice cream, and went back to the hotel to get some sleep.by rsiv with no comments yet
On the morning of day 8, we took a guided walk through the Colon Cemetery. We got to see the graves of some famous and important people, and we saw some Santería rituals. At one grave, people come to pray, some daily, leave an offering, and the back away from the gravesite, not turning their back on the dead.
Then we had a quick stop for pictures at the Plaza de la Revolución. There were some really cool cars parked nearby.
Then we visited the Callejon de Hamel, an alley that has become an art installation, created by Salvador Gonzalez. We learned a lot about Afro-Cuban religions, and toured Gonzalez’s residence.
Next we went to Almacenes de San José, a market where we did some shopping. I’m not usually a big shopper on vacation, but this was not your typical Chinese-made tchotkes emporium. It was mostly art and handicrafts, but with some junk mixed in. Our guide led us to a stand where they sell handmade humidors. These were super high quality cedar humidors with hydrometers and pinned joints, perfect alignment and fit. I bought myself one, and we got one for my uncle. I also bought a painting for my parents, and one for my office. I really wish we’d had more time here, as the value of these items was incredible, and the quality was outstanding. Notice in the second picture below, there was a red bull high dive competition going on nearby.
While we shopped and negotiated fair prices, I enjoyed an H Upmann Mag 50. It was a great cigar, but as for the particulars, I couldn’t really say. Having such a great cigar, in such a cool place was an overwhelming experience. I was also on a high after getting such a great humidor at such a reasonable price. Its something I’ll cherish forever. After shopping, we ate at Sloppy Joe’s. Earlier in the week when I was talking to my Canadian friends at LCDH, they recommended Sloppy Joe’s. Then they proceeded to describe what a sloppy joe actuallly is. When I told them that I had them as part of my school lunch program growing up, they made some cute quip about thats whats wrong with America. I diplomatically held my tongue.
After lunch, I asked for directions to the Bacardi building, and we walked over. Afterwards, we had some time to wander around Havana on our own. It was nice to get a little lost and take our time for once.
The Conde Villanueva is a hotel with a LCDH that was featured in the Cuban documentary by James Suckling that I watched before the trip. I got a few sticks there. We mostly just strolled around and took in the city. After a quick break at the hotel, we went back out for the night. We knew that something special was planned since it was our last full day in Cuba.
The yank tank ride from our hotel to the hotel Nacional was one of the best parts of the trip. I took a lot of video, and while posing for multiple pictures, ended up drinking a lot more of that Havana Club (the bottle was from the Tropicana show) than I sat out to consume. Our car had a keypad that played different notes on the horn. What an experience. After the ride, we got a tour of the historic Hotel Nacional.
The hotel was beautiful. One of the most interesting part of the tour was the response to a question about why we didn’t stay at the Hotel Nacional. Our guide told us that the Hotel Nacional has issues with power outtages, hot water, and the rooms are very small. Its very telling about our current culture that rooms used to be small, and public spaces grand, but now its the opposite. People are more private, and less social. While thats pretty much true of me, its sad, and I hope to change that about myself after thinking on it. Its also one of the cool parts about the A&K trip. Generally, one travels with family, and doesn’t meet many others. With A&K, you meet a lot of different people, but they’re all well traveled and interesting. You end up spending a lot of time with your fellow travelers. I really like that about our trip. Its something I usually don’t get to experience when I travel. After the tour, we were treated to a private concert.
The appetizers, mojitos, cigar, and music was incredible. I’m generally not a superlative person, but on this trip you really just couldn’t imagine how the next musicians could be better, but they were. My dad got up and danced with the performer who was visibly impressed by his dancing. I have a lot of video from this part of the trip I hope to put up soon. After a great time at the Hotel Nacional, we went to our farewell dinner.
We had another amazing dinner. After dinner, they brought out a box of cigars that looked to be someone’s personal collection. There was a huge variety. I went with a limited edition Punch. After dinner we went back to La Zorra Y el Cuervo, since we did not want the evening, or the trip to end. After we enjoyed both drinks included in our two drink minimum and I had smoked my cigar, we found a cab. After a quick negotiation, and about 10 minutes of mechanical tinkering, we were on the road headed back to the hotel.
Behike, Cuba Libre, Jazz. What a combo. There was a really good trumpeter at the club that night (which is why we didn’t check out the other popular jazz club). We were exhausted, but I’m so glad we went out. If you could only have one experience in Cuba to get the gist of what Cuba is all about, this would be it. An amazing cigar, a good rum drink, and some of the best musicians in the world jamming out. Another giant of a day, and one I’ll never forget. We headed home late, and I wondered how I’d ever have an experience like this again, and how I was going to drink all the rum and smoke all the cigars I still had with just a morning in Cuba left.by rsiv with no comments yet
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 no comments yet
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 no comments yet
I’ve gotten a little behind on the blog since we got back from Cuba.
We went to the quarterdeck in Arlington (my favorite restaurant) to tell our friends that HB is pregnant. They were excited for us, and the crabs and beer was delicious.
My business partner was honored at a gala, and it had a bourbon tasting. I felt pretty confident with my rating.
I went to a company picnic, but this was the only pic I took. Very artistic?
I lost some money on the Preakness, but my black eyed susans were a hit.
We watched the nats, and had some bbq. I also installed a new kitchen faucet. Fixed the drip, and enjoyed my accomplishment.by rsiv with no comments yet
Every Memorial Day we head down to our friend’s parents’ place in Fredericksburg. They have an amazing deal on a lake, with a pool, and the company and food is even better.
When we got down, we whipped up some papa dobles, and lit up some cigars. I chose a Fuente Anejo that has been aging in my humidor for about 6 years.
For breakfast the next day, Winn-Dixie whipped up my favorite: biscuits and gravy. Delicious.
I don’t feel like summer starts until I’m in the pool, hat on, beer tipped. The fried jalapenos were delicious, but my tum-tum was not too happy with me later… The pimento cheese was from my parents home town. Pretty wild.
After a paddle, we had some steak and cheese. Winn-Dixie used to be a short order cook, so he has some serious cooking skills. You gotta love a steak and cheese with lots of meat.
After lunch we played some shoes. I took the kayak out in between rounds. That evening we made a batch of Death in the Afternoon. I’m not a huge Absinthe fan, but I did see the appeal. Its not something I think I’ll make again soon, but it was a fun experience none the less. My buddy Marteen on the other hand was a big fan that night. Not so much the next morning.
The next morning we woke up to another amazing breakfast, and then lounged around with friends, while enjoying the resort-like atmosphere.
I mixed up some Hemingway-style Tom Collins, which turned out to be very good, especially for the summer. The addition of coconut water was a stroke of genius, but then again, he was quite the rummy. We enjoyed the drinks and snacked on some homemade guac.
Later, I made some more papa dobles (you can see why Hemingway compared them to the ocean as the Pilar motored through it), Marteen hit the brown, we watched the 500 and played some cornhole.
Our hosts always put a huge spread together for Memorial day. Everything was great (not sure why that brat looks green in the picture).
After lunch we threw some more shoes, went back out on the water, and just enjoyed the company, cigars, and view.
Another day, another spectacular breakfast (this time featuring homemade apple butter the host’s neighbor makes in a big cauldron during an apple butter party). Later on, I tried a traditional Tom Collins (I prefer the Hemingway version), Thom hit the brown, and Marteen recovered with some coffee.
The rest of the day consisted of sriracha wings, manwork, and pool volleyball. We had some great weather this year. The company was amazing as always, and I can’t wait for the 4th.
In the spirit of the holiday, check this out:
I thought it was a pretty cool and unique way to support the troops. Also, if you’d like to know about a not so well known hero, check out the following two links:by rsiv with no comments yet
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 no comments yet
I like island scotch. I’m a regular Ardbeg drinker, an occasional Laphroaig drinker, and I just recently got a bottle of Lagavulin. Since all three are together on the southeastern coast, I figured I’d taste the them together and see what I thought. I threw in a bottle of Bowmore as a control (also an Islay), and a bottle of Talisker (Isle of Skye) as I consider it to be the gold standard, the scotch by which all others should be judged. Some bottles are, and some aren’t, the most common bottlings. I’ve had all the standard ones, so hopefully this will make things even more interesting. Its warming up, so I knew the sooner I got to these drams the better (summer is bourbon season for me). I had three Mad Men’s on the DVR, so I figured that theres no time like the present.
I got a glass, and began my tasting.
I started with the Bowmore to get my palate accustomed to drink. I enjoyed the sweet peaty nose. I found the mouthfeel to be fairly light, but it did have the rich smokey finish of island scotch.
Next I tried the Lagavulin. It had sweet caramel on the nose, but it was tighter on the peat. The flavor was thick and rich iodine. I found this one very enjoyable, and can’t remember the last time I had it. I’ll have to put it back into regular rotation.
I drink a lot of Ardbeg 10, but this was my first corryvreckan. This pour had the most pleasant nose of all the whiskies I had tonight. Very sweet and lots of fruit. I got sweet, and nutty flavors. Also something kind of like coal tar soap smells like. It was very complex, but to be honest, I missed the strong salt character of the 10 year. I added a few drops of spring water to this to open it up, and right at the end, got it about where I wanted it.
For the Laphroaig, on the nose, I got mostly peat. On the tongue, mostly peat. I wouldn’t say its one dimensional, but the peat definitely stands out; The Laphroaig really has that quintessential scotch taste and smell. I enjoy the quarter cast, but I think the standard bottling is my preference.
Ah, my old friend. A sweet iodine nose. A complexity of flavors, with a strong salty profile. Still the king.
All in all, I had a great night. I think Don may have had a better one.by rsiv with no comments yet
I know she doesn’t look particularly embarazada in these pictures, but you can see it more in some of the others. We just recently told our friends, and now the world. We’re excited!by rsiv with no comments yet