Monday 10 September 2012

Cuba Day 2 : Spot the Tourists

After the exhausting day of travel from day one I was up surprisingly early on day two. After a quick shower we made our way down for breakfast.

My worries about the standard of Cuban food had been eased the night before however I was unsure what was going to greet us for breakfast. I need not have worried. The buffet breakfast had everything from pancakes and bacon to mashed potato and veg. There was fresh fruit, pastries, cold meat, breads and even an omelet station. Something for everybody.

After breakfast we ventured out of the hotel for the first time. The heat hit us straight away and almost immediately we were also hit by the locals offering guided tours around the city as well as maps and the promise of cheep cigars.

A bit taken aback I went back into the hotel and asked the concierge what the story was with the people outside. He assured us that they all work for the government and there was nothing to fear.

With our new information in mind we hired the services of Nelson, who offered a Horse & Carrige Tour of Old Havana  for the reasonable sum of 35CUC.

The tour started of great. Nelson's colleague, Ra-something or other, was very informative and friendly, half way through the tour we stopped of for a Mojito at a local bar. There we were entertained by a local band and another local drew my caricature. We resumed our tour and once again our guide was very informative regarding the various buildings around Old Havana.

Nearing the end of the tour we took a turn up a very dilapidated street. The carrige stopped and the guide asked him to follow him. A bit unsure, we followed him into a small house. He informed us that it was his own place and his sister worked in the local cigar factory. I knew what was coming next.

He tried to push various cigars on me at a very cheep price. To be honest, they were very impressive and you would never know the difference. I declined, then declined again, and again, and again, and again....You get the point. It bordered on bullying but as soon as he realised I wasn't going to buy he ushered us back to the carriage.

The remainder of the tour ended very quickly and in silence. Once we were outside the Hotel, Nelson informed us the tour was 70CUC it was 35CUC EACH. I was in no humour to argue and at that point just wanted to get away from them so I gave him the money. Overall the tour was enjoyable but we were left with a bitter taste in our mouth.

After the tour we headed to the Partagas Factory. It was only around the corner from the hotel so we walked. I was already aware that the factory was closed for renovations and only the shop was open so I knew there would be no chance for a tour.

The shop itself was a little disappointing. On display were as many Montecristo, Cohiba or Romeo y Julieta cigars as you could wish for. A surprisingly very small Partagas selection and not much else. I didn't see anything that I wanted and left the shop a little downhearted.

On the way back to the Hotel, taking in our surroundings, we were approached by another local. He spoke Spanish  we looked at him blankly, he realised and spoke in English. We spoke briefly and he gave us some history and information. I thanked him and tried to give him 5CUC. He refused the money, told us his son was friends with Irish people and asked us if we wanted a drink. We accepted.

He brought us to a bar called "5 Villa". A quaint little place with a friendly bartender. We ordered three cocktails, sat in the heat and enjoyed the company. A second round was ordered and enjoyed. I then asked for the bill and was shocked when it came to 87CUC. Really, 87CUC for six drinks.

The bar man showed me the price list. Each cocktail cost 8CUC. Even at that "tourist" price the bill should have come to 48CUC. He told me there was service charge and them rambled on about some other charge. At this stage I was done with the "friendly" locals. I gave the bartender 40CUC and told him that was all he was getting. He threatened to ring the police, I told him I would ring the number for him. After a lot more arguing, I just walked out of the bar, leaving the bartender with a shocked and confused look on his face. Most tourist probably just pay the bill but I was not going to be scammed twice in one day.

After that, we vowed not to speak to anymore people in the street if we could help it. Believe me, it is harder than it sounds. After a few very harsh NO's later we strolled into Floridita. This bar has been made famous as the place were Ernest Hemingway drank his Daiquiris.

The place was packed. We eventually got a seat at the bar and ordered two of Hemingway's favourite. He was not wrong. On a extremely hot day, a refreshing daiquiri, good music and an air conditioned bar was welcomed with open arms.

Refreshed and ready to tackle the locals again we headed towards the Hotel National. This hotel is situated along the Malecon, a 17 kilometer stretch along the Cuban coast. It took is around one hour to reach the hotel. The reason for this trek, in 38c temperatures, was the Casa del Habanos situated on the lower floor in the hotel.

I picked up a box of Ramon Alones Specially Selected with a few years age on them along with a few single sticks. We went up to the terrace where I enjoyed a Ramon Allones "Alones Extra" Edition Limitada 2011 along with a couple of Cuba Libra's.

Exhausted, we got a cool little taxi back to our hotel. The Mrs went up to the room while I browsed the Hotels Cigar shop. In here I found a box of Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edition Limitada 2010 and snapped them up.

Back in the room the Mrs got a couple of hours sleep as I watched TV. When she awoke, we got ourselves ready and went for dinner. Rob Fox from James Fox, Dublin fame had recommended La Moraleja as a great spot for dinner. We jumped in a taxi and made our way there.

Our meal was fantastic. Since I was on my new Lobster buzz I ordered the seafood cocktail to start followed by a full grilled lobster with Parmesan sauce. The Mrs had a mixed salad followed by Pork w/pepper & onion. For dessert the Mrs had ice cream while I decided to have a cigar with a 12yr old Glenfiddich. The cigar was a house blend and was very enjoyable.

Half way through my cigar I noticed the restaurant was closing. The Mrs and I were now the last people there apart from the staff. Rob Fox had told me to ask for the owner. I was told she was a friendly woman and an avid Cigar smoker, however when I inquired I was told that she was unavailable.

As we were getting ready to leave, I wrote her a note and left it with the manger. The manager disappeared for five minutes and when he returned we were standing up to leave. He told us to sit down, filled up my whiskey with a more than generous measure, insisted that I would take another cigar, and a second for later. I should write more thank you notes.

Once we finished, well past the closing time, the doorman/host/random guy outside the restaurant ordered us a taxi. Five to ten minutes later, a guy pulls up in a Lada with his Mrs in the passenger seat. We were told that this was our taxi. At this stage nothing surprised me.

We hopped in and were traveling back towards the hotel when the Lada took an unscheduled turn of the Malecon. The driver jumped out of the car and walked over to a man standing on a street corner. The aforementioned man was a Hulk. His arms were as big as my legs. The two men spoke to each other, all the while pointing towards the car. This was it, we were going to be kidnapped. The scenarios rolled through my mind, how was I going to get us to safety, was he all brawn and no brain, maybe the skinny one was dangerous, should I be worried about the woman in the passenger seat.

While all this was running through my head the two men had crossed the road and were rooting through the trunk of a second car. What were they going to pull out? A gun, a knife, baseball bats? Then I saw it, it was rubber tubing. I could handle that. Something glittered, an empty plastic bottle. Now I was confused!

Not for long though as I saw the Hulk siphoning diesel. The Lada had run out of fuel. Five minutes later and after aging ten years we were back at the hotel. I gave the guy 10CUC and he almost kissed me, for another 10CUC I could have had his Mrs.

Once inside the hotel I needed a drink. I ordered a Mojito and a Siglo V. As I sat there and smoked my cigar I though of all that happened in one day. If nothing else this trip was going to be an experience!!

Partagas Factory

Shop Entrance

Cigar Selection


Floridita street view


Ernest Hemingway

Hotel National

La Casa del Habanos

Ramon Alones Alones Extra


Monte Grand Edmundo

La Maraleja

Chef's Grill


The Grill

House Blend

Cohiba Siglo V

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading it...brought back memories of our day trip to Havana...totally remember the people hassling you for cigars and the people constantly trying to draw pictures of you. They can see tourists coming from a mile away. At least you got some great cigars out of the day. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip!