CARS AND CIGARS
Two classic icons that draw tourists from around the world to the Caribbean island of Cuba.
Havana, Cuba is a mere hour from the coast of the US but once you’re there, you will feel worlds away. Cuba has remained fairly isolated since Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Not only did the US cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba but Castro banned imports of many foreign goods, including cars. This is why many Western tourists describe travelling to Cuba like travelling back in time.
It feels more to me like stepping into the Twilight Zone. The locals roam the streets of Havana in modern clothing and glued to their smartphones, just like most students I see walking around USC. But at USC my ears are not filled with the sound of rumbling engines and 1950s car horns. These are sounds you will not be escaping if you have the fantastic chance to get down to Havana.
It’s one thing to admire these colourful cars from the uneven sidewalks, it’s another thing to get in the back seat of one for a few hours and really get the immersive experience.
Three friends and I were in Cuba for just a week so we were packing in everything we could - including a day trip to Viñales to tour a tobacco farm and see how true Cuban cigars are made. Viñales is about 2.5 hours outside of Havana by car.
Around 7:30 in the morning our purple Dodge rolls up dawned with Cuban flags and all! Up until now we were walking everywhere (one of the great things about being in Havana!), but we were dying to get in one of these classic cars.
15 minutes in we are having a blast chatting it up with our driver and getting to practice our Spanish skills. 15 more minutes and the excitement pretty much subsides. It is still super early in the morning by our standards. We gaze out the windows at the colorful buildings passing by.
1 hour in and we begin to realize why cars have been upgraded since the 50s… Our bums and backs are sore from the old springs in the seats bouncing us over every bump.
Needless to say we are more than thrilled once we finally arrive at our destination.
First up is a tour of the tobacco plantation on horseback. It’s raining off and on but we power on and even get to do some swimming in underground caves. But let’s be real - what we really came for were the Cuban cigars.
We learn the whole process of making a cigar from planting tobacco to drying the leaves to rolling them up and distributing them. We also are amazed at the amount of government regulation there is throughout every step. If you are curious about the details you can find more info here.
I’m certainly no cigar aficionado. I’m not even a regular smoker! But when in Cuba...smoke a Cuban!
A few things we learned smoking in Viñales: Our guide told us that they never use cigar cutters. Instead, they punch a hole in the end of the cigar. They claim this method is not only smoother but it is less destructive and therefore allows you to get the most out of your cigar. Next, (and this is my favorite part!) they dip the end with the hole in honey. This makes for a sweet finish to every puff. Finally, we learned you never smoke a Cuban without a glass of rum along with it.
Havana is fantastic but escaping to the countryside for a daytrip was definitely a highlight. There’s a lot more to Cuba than cars and cigars but if you are headed to Havana you have to at least say you tried both, right?
Visited Cuba March 2017
Want to know more about this trip or others? Let me know in the comments!