Robaina's plantation

Sunday 31 March 2013

From Pinar to Havana...a Ride in a Classic Taxi

                    Last November a routine return bus trip from Pinar del Rio to Havana turned out to be a new adventure. It's not that it was anything terribly dangerous or exciting, it was just different than my usual norm. We had planned to take the ViaAzul bus back to Havana from the bus terminal in the city of Pinar del Rio but when we got there discovered that the bus would actually leave in three hours. I was ready to go back to Havana and had no intention of staying all that time in Pinar waiting for a bus so I decided to try something new and take a 'Particular Taxi' back instead. It wasn't a money thing, although the Taxi would cost 5cuc per person rather than the 12cuc that the bus cost, I just wanted to get back to the big city sooner rather than later.
                    Every time I've taken a bus from a terminal in Cuba I've had to negotiate my way through a maze of offers from individuals who own cars and use then to taxi people to other main terminals throughout the country for a fraction of the cost of a bus ticket. I never really paid attention, I had always used the bus if I didn't have private transportation. This time I took notice and had the seller take me to the car headed for Havana. Next to the Bus Terminal, in a good sized Parking Lot, a fair number of Classic Cars were parked waiting for passengers going mostly to Havana or nearby Vinales. They would fill their seats with the help of this person who would lure would-be customers out to the parking lot to show the various cars that were first in line to got to your destination. It's all very organized with the taxis waiting their turn as they would at any other Taxi stand. We were shown 2 cars that were going to Havana, we chose the one that would leave first. The two of us were the last people needed to fill this car that was going to Havana. It was a 1948 Dodge Coronet with a couple of modifications both to the outside of the car as well as inside, starting with the Toyota steering wheel. With 3 rows of seats, the driver was able to take 7 of us comfortably.
                     So here we were 20 minutes later on our way to Havana for 5cuc each. What made the decision to take this mode of transportation easy was the fact that it was a perfect day. Not too hot or humid, when we hit the highway the air coming into the car was refreshing. Rain, at night, on a hot day, wouldn't be a good time to take one of these cars. The car seemed sturdy enough as it clipped along at about 100kmh. I had to guess the speed, the speedometer was broken as were most other things inside the car. Stopping only once for 5 minutes, we made good time. The driver was very professional uttering hardly a word throughout the trip. As we got to the outer rim of Havana the driver let people off one by one but never went off course to his final destination which was ours as well. From the Bus Terminal in Havana we would choose one of many taxis to take us to our apartment. We arrived at the terminal in just under 2 hours, the bus takes almost 3.
                      Everything turned out great and I was happy for both the experience and the speed in which I was able to get back to Havana. If the circumstances arise some other time, I would definitely do it again. I would recommend it as far as it being safe but I can't speak for the condition of any vehicle chosen. Like anything out of the norm, it's a risk. Having said that, a ViaAzul bus I took from Pinar once, broke down and got me back to Havana 2 hours late.


Saturday 30 March 2013

Salvador Carbajal Rodriguez (Tobacco Grower) San Luis, Pinar del Rio

                 I met Salvador in April of 2008 and have been friends with him ever since. Once he established that I was just an aficionado with a hunger for knowledge of what life was like for the ordinary Cuban in this part of the country, he opened his arms and invited me and whoever I was with into his home and life. He and his wife have always been gracious hosts and it's been a delight to have been able to watch his family expand and grow through the years. It has been an honor to call him a friend and hope I can for many more years.
                  Salvador is 64 years old and his farm has been in the family's hands for generations, it will go to his son when he retires. He has two children, a boy and a girl, a third child, another boy, died 6 months prior to this conversation, about a year ago, in an accident. He's been married to the same woman since 1967. He has an interest in mechanics but only insomuch as he uses the knowledge to help him on the farm and keep his mind occupied. He has 4 Curing Barns with a capacity of approx 3,850,000 leaves which house the approx. 9000 kilos of tobacco he produces per year for the government and allowing him to keep a portion for personal consumption. However, this past year he's given back a piece of his property to the government. He says he's tired and doesn't need to work so hard any more, the land he has left is more than sufficient. This visit was in November so the plants had only been in the ground a few weeks. Salvador only grows wrapper now so these plants would all be covered a few weeks after this. Salvador planted his 10 hectares with "Havana 2000" this year, a strain being planted in the 90's when the Blue Mold hit the tobacco plants in Cuba. It was originally engineered to combat Blue Mold but hasn't been planted in years. The character of this leaf is it's wider as opposed to longer as the previous one was, excellent for wrapper.
                  Although Salvador was nominated in 2002 for the 'Habano's Man of The Year' award, he's never let the idea of fame enter his mind. He only wishes to tend to his farm and support his now extended family. He is as humble as they come, considering the quality of leaf he produces. With the loss of his son recently, I found Salvador has aged a lot since my last visit. I was saddened to see him this way, hopefully things will be better for him the next time I return for a visit.

Salvador and I (November 2008)

Salvador with his Right-Hand man and House Roller this past November

One of 4 Curing Barns (April 2008)

Curing Barn (November 2012)

Salvador (November 2012)

What a Curing Barn looks like in November

What a Curing Barn looks like in April

Bails of Tobacco ready for pick-up in April 2008

Ancient instrument handed down through the years used to clean in-between plants

November 2012

November 2012

November 2008

November 2010

November 2012

April 2008

November 2012

Salvador with his wife at a Partagas Reception (November 2008)

Friday 29 March 2013

Conde de Villanueva LCDH Custom Roll (cigar review)

                   This shaggy foot monster was rolled at the Conde de Villanueva La Casa del Habano in Old Havana. Almost everyone assumes that every cigar they buy from there is rolled by Reynaldo, store manager and master roller, himself. Truth is I rarely see him rolling cigars nowadays, unless for show, and would guess most of them are rolled by his disciple. Regardless, as always the construction of the cigars that come out of this shop are some of the best I've seen. The only issue I've ever had with a cigar from Conde is that sometimes, actually most of the time, they're too strong for my taste. He has toned down the strength of his cigars lately, creating a milder version of a couple of the vitolas.
                     Looking at this cigar, I didn't think it was going to be one of the milder ones but I couldn't resist. It was about 5mm longer than a RyJ Wide Churchill and just shy of a 60 gauge. It had a smooth, shiny, oily, maduro coloured wrapper with a bumpy cap and no prominent veins. It was simply a beautiful looking cigar that was hard to the touch, I didn't know what to expect. The pre-light draw gave me light cedar.
                     Once lit, the first puff was big, bold and full of floral notes. I've mentioned before how much I hate a floral cigar so I hoped it would change. The draw was absolutely perfect. The burn started a bit on an angle due to the loose leaf at the foot and not to far into the cigar it was already burning hot through the middle. Had to keep touching it up through to the first quarter. The flavour was just over the top floral. I absolutely hated it up to this point.
                      Passing the first quarter and a bit of earth starts to creep in....not enough for my tastes. This smoke started out as mild to medium but is stronger than a medium at this point. As far as strength goes, it was a perfect balance for my tastes, not too strong and not too mild. It seemed to burning hot through the middle again and after flicking the ash I discovered I was correct so I touched it up with my torch again.
                      Nearing the second half and the floral bouquet is toning down to the point that past the half it's barely there. Now the cigar is getting stronger and some bitterness is coming through. This is the typical Reynaldo cigar that I can't smoke much past the of these days I gotta age me some.
                       Have to keep touching it up getting to the last quarter. It's a bit of a fight for me as it keeps getting stronger and stronger. It's all earth and wood now as I get to the last quarter but way too strong for me. I had to put it down at this point.
                       In conclusion: the burn on this cigar, both inside and out, made it a lot of work to smoke so I have to say it scored poorly in the construction department. As far as flavour goes, for my taste, I hated it. If you like floral, this is a great cigar for you but if you're like me and don't like it, stay away. It wasn't even a fluke, I gave the person I smoked with one of these cigars to smoke as well and as far as flavour went he found it to be identical. As I said, I should age some one day and see how they taste with some time. I hope this doesn't stop you from buying cigars from the Conde de Villanueva shop but you should at least try a couple before you buy in quantity. Some people I know swear by these cigars so as everything in life, it's all about your personal tastes. Besides, the blends that come out of these cigar shops can be inconsistent at times.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe 2012 LCDH Exclusivo (cigar review)

                  This cigar was released in Oct.2012 as a 'La Casa del Habanos' exclusive release and sold only in LCDH stores around the world. This particular one was gifted to me by a friend who just got back from Cuba. This 52 x 115 (4.5") size cigar is known as a 'Magico' or Petit Robusto and comes in boxes of 10 selling for about $80cnd (70cuc) in Cuba.
                   The wrapper on this cigar was a little on the darker side, void of larger veins and not so smooth but it wasn't horrible looking. It was hard to the touch and looked pretty tightly rolled. The pre-light draw however seemed to be good with faint wood and left me with pepper on my lips. Once I sparked it up the taste was quite dry and big with an earth and wood combo and hints of nutmeg. I hadn't had anything to drink yet and this cigar was doing a number on my taste buds feeling like a medium to strong smoke. A sip of port settled things down in my mouth and took the edge of the flavours. The burn was just slightly off at the first 1/2" and the flavours had shifted to wood and cedar. It was mellowing just a bit and becoming very smooth, a solid medium at this point.
                    At about the end of the first 1/3 of this smoke it seemed to be burning hot through the middle. I was tasting a bit of bitterness so I flicked the ash....I was wrong, it was burning fine. I backed of a bit and slowed down my smoking. The bitterness went away but the cigar began to pick up strength and then actually did begin to burn hot through the middle so I touched it up with my torch.
                     Getting past the first half the burn was fine with earth and wood flavours coming through. So that's how it went for the last half of this smoke...sometimes good, sometimes bad, burning hot and then fine with the flavours not changing much at this point with bitterness creeping in now and again. It all settled down by the time I reached the last quarter. However, I couldn't get to far into that last quarter, the flavours had gotten bitter and stayed that way, that's usually when I give it up.
                     In conclusion: it promises to become a great little robusto. It was very obviously young and needed some time to mature, 1 to 2 years at least. I'm going back to Havana in less than 6 weeks and after smoking this cigar have put it on my list of goodies to bring back. I recommend it.