I spent America’s 241st birthday in Havana, Cuba. A little ironic, right?
Young, progressive Cubans are still longing for life that mirrors what we take for granted here in the U.S. That dream, slowly inching closer, but still just a dream, wrapped up and tucked away like a fine Cuban cigar.
Speaking of cigars, I cannot stand smoking, but there’s just something about being in Cuba and lighting one up with your father.
I first visited the island back in November 2015, and I returned home from that trip with only a handful of Cuban cigars.
Just three years later, I surprisingly found myself back in July 2018. And this time around, I was determined to ignite more success on the cigar front.
However, I quickly discovered that despite nominal economic growth – thanks in large part to tourism – even minimal prosperity did not make locating Cuba’s finest cigar any easier. In fact, it still created a barrier taller and stronger than the Malecón.
So here’s my story about how I ended up with a fancy wooden box filled with ten Cohiba cigars…
I was vacationing with my family on a cruise that made stops in Key West and Havana, Cuba.
On the Fourth of July, we docked in Cuba at Terminal Sierra Maestra - San Francisco.
We decided to check out Old Havana in the morning since we scheduled a tour in the afternoon.
Now my goal was simple: Collect Cohiba cigars.
We enjoyed a nice lunch at La Luz, where I ordered a delicious ham and cheese panini. We, of course, ate inside to cool down from the immense summer heat.
After lunch, we spent a couple more hours checking out Old Havana. Although I still had no luck finding any Cohibas!
We then toured Revolutionary Square, Hotel Naticional de Cuba and the city’s impressive cemetery; all by way of a classic 1957 Buick sky blue convertible.
The tour ended, and we later ate dinner at Fonda la Paila. I had the best meal of our trip at this quaint café perched atop a little hill. It was a pork and vegetable dish, and it was absolutely amazing.
But ten hours into our overnight stay in Havana and my search for the catamount Cohibas continued into the sunset.
However, my luck would change on our venture back to the ship.
While strolling back through Old Havana – and after bagging a beer at La Bodeguita del Medio (one of Hemingways’s old watering holes) – desperation kicked in.
Then all of a sudden, while walking past La Luz – our lunch spot – my mother approached the man who first seated us a mere six hours ago. He somehow remembered our faces, which prompted us to ask him, “Cohibas?”
Immediately, he lifted his chin and snapped his fingers toward a nearby guy with slick, black hair and sun-kissed bronze skin.
He said, “Follow me. Cohibas? Follow me. I get you 25 for 50 CUC$.”
Thus began our fast walk through Plaza de la Cathedral and toward a depleted alleyway with rubble and trash crowding the curb.
My mom and sister stayed by the plaza, but my dad and I ventured blindly.
I didn’t necessarily trust this guy. Neither did my dad. He actually almost nixed the entire rendezvous. But we had no other choice at this point if we wanted Cohiba cigars.
So, after a little hesitation, we finally reached the other end of the cobblestone-lined plaza and reached that narrow road with rubble crumbling in piles and piles along the side of the deteriorating three-story building.
My dad and I hesitated again.
The gentleman leading us on this Cohiba chase noticed the hesitation in our eyes.
Again he said, “Cohibas. This way.”
At that point my dad and I noticed a very large gentleman holding up a box of cigars out of a second floor terrace. The messenger said we needed to go upstairs to “Cigar Man.” So, with extreme hesitation, we followed our messenger up a crumbling staircase. It smelled – how do I put this – it smelled like shit.
Anyway, we were led into a two-room apartment filled with cigars. I’m talking multiple hockey bags filled with boxes and boxes of cigars. Out on the terrace sat that man who probably weighed close to 400 pounds. I’m not kidding. We had to come up because he clearly could not come down.
This was Cohiba heaven.
But forget his weight. The weight of our troubles to finally strike gold was almost over. We were initially offered 50 CUC$ for ten cigars but managed to negotiate the price down to 40 CUC$.
The deal was done.
My dad quickly put the box of cigars in his backpack, and we exited the room. We then hurried down the decrepit stairs, dodged a large dog protecting the outside of the decaying building, and got the hell out of there.
So a fancy box of ten Cohiba cigars for the night. A great story forever.
In Cuba, they like to call this type of situation a "development."