One of the things cruise passengers have to do to enter Cuba is to sign up for some shore excursions for the days they spend in the city. Our group of 24 family members chose “The Best Of Havana” for our first day’s tour. This took us to all the important natural and historical attractions of the city.
We were breaking our heads over which shore excursion to take for the second day of our visit. After much deliberation, we decided on “Havana’s Aromas” simply because its “come on” assured us that it would be the best way to experience what “guilty pleasures” Havana is known for. Now, who wouldn’t be lured by an invitation like that?
Right at the start, our tour leader immediately shared with us something interesting: In Cuba, “marriage” is what a person has when he holds a jigger of Havana Club Rum, a Cohiba cigar, and a demitasse of Cafe Serrano, the best brands of each.
I asked our tour leader why these items put one into that “status,” and he casually replied that one is better off having these three items at hand than having a spouse. In hindsight, should I have applauded him for having a terrific sense of humor or for telling the truth?
The five-hour tour gave us a chance to enjoy the world-famous Cuban cigar, rum, and coffee. It was a most enjoyable experience. It made me appreciate cigar-smoking. Cigar smoke, as it swirls inside my mouth, is quite pleasurable, after all. In fact, since I came back from my Cuban holiday, every chance I get, I stay outside my front door and puff on a Cuban cigar, a good supply of which I brought home from my trip.
We were brought to the biggest tobacco factory in the city where an expert tabaquero (cigar dealer) walked us around the different manufacturing sections while explaining to us how they grow, harvest, and process tobacco for Cuba’s famous cigars. The best tobacco leaves come from Pinar del Rio in Western Cuba which has the most ideal weather and soil conditions for tobacco farming.
We watched up close how a cigar is made. Five different dried and fermented tobacco leaves are hand-rolled to make one cigar. The four inner leaves—three fillers and one binder—must be of the highest grade, as they determine the quality of the cigar, while the fifth outer leaf must be the best looking and the smoothest, for aesthetic reasons.
To ensure its quality, each cigar-maker must do the cigar from start to finish, then it is placed inside a wooden press for 30 minutes, after which it is trimmed in both ends then packed for sale. The factory workers are paid for every cigar they make, and each of them can produce anywhere from 100 to 150 cigars per day. In the factory we visited, as their bonus, each worker is allowed to take home a maximum of five cigars per day, theirs to smoke or to sell in the blackmarket.
Although it is not the only cigar-producing country in the world, Cuba exports worldwide 80 million cigars annually. We also discovered something interesting: All the cigar brands produced in Cuba are made by this same cigar factory we visited. The tabaquero clarified that the factory just follows each cigar brand’s respective grade specifications of the tobacco leaves, thus resulting in the quality and pricing difference.
Havana Club Rum, more popularly known as El Ron de Cuba (The Rum of Cuba), is the fifth largest rum brand in the world and sells about five million cases annually in 120 countries worldwide. It is the most popular souvenir purchase by Americans returning from Cuba. I liked the smoky oak flavor of the smooth liquid as it rolled over my tongue so, just like other tourists, I also brought home some bottles with me to give as gifts to friends.
Cafe Serrano’s pleasant aroma and exquisite flavor make it the finest and most sought-after coffee in the world. It is 100 percent organic, grown from Arabica beans of Sierra Maestra in Southwest Cuba, and is known for its intense, full-bodied, and aromatic flavor. It also has double the strength of regular standard coffee, that is why it is usually served in a demitasse.
How did we get to try out these Cuban “guilty pleasures?” Our day tour was capped by a visit to the Palacio de la Familia Pedroso, a 238-year-old castle that has been turned into a commercial establishment with an al fresco restaurant in the courtyard and some souvenir shops on the ground floor.
There, we were treated to a taste of these “Cuban Aromas,” the elements of a happy “marriage” that our tour guide explained to us at the start of the day. Everyone enjoyed the treat, even the ladies in our family who also gulped down the shot of Havana Club Rum, puffed on the Cohiba cigar, and finished the Cafe Serrano in a demitasse.
Now, that’s living it up, the Cuban way. So, if you want to partake of and enjoy some pleasures in life, guilty pleasures they may be, I suggest you head off to Autentica Cuba (the country’s new tourism tagline) and treat yourself to a perfect “marriage.”
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YOUR weekend CHUCKLE
WIFE: Honey, what will you give me for our 25th anniversary?
HUSBAND: A trip to Scandinavia.
WIFE: Oh, how sweet! Finally, I can watch the awesome Northern Lights. And, what about for our 50th anniversary?
HUSBAND: Then I’ll pick you up from there.
The husband is now on his third month of rehab for shoulder, hip, and leg replacement.