First Impressions…

Adam Norris ‘17

It’s been a great couple of days in Cuba so far and get to know a country full of of Welcome Drinks (and if you’re unsure what’s in it, it’s probably rum), government regulations, and optimism and hope for the future. For this post, I’ve decided to spend some time discussing a few areas of interest to me thus far. For more insights on this trip, feel free to check me out on Instagram @gunsmoke30000 or @CBSChazen for pictures covering all of the adventures of our group throughout the week.

Restaurants: Restaurants in Cuba definitely run on ‘island time’ as a group dinner for ~25 of us on Saturday night easily tipped the three-hour mark. I would also say the food has been good so far, but far from great, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a culinary experience on your next vacation. For background on the restaurant industry, since the ‘Special Period’ (aka Soviet Union collapse of 1989-1991), restaurants have been broken into two main categories: state-run established and private-run paladares. While both are relatively prominent, locals definitely prefer paladares, which are typically located in the ground floor of the owner’s house. These private restaurants have strict government limitations on the number of diners it can serve at once (<50) and are required to go to the same supermarkets as the rest of the Cuban population. These laws have forced paladar owners to become increasing resourceful, risking fines and sanctions by pushing the number of seats available for diners at a time and creating a black market for groceries that are typically unavailable at supermarkets to remain profitable in spite of high income taxes.

Real Estate: While walking through Old Havana, our tour guide stopped in one square to point out something she called a barbeque. Unlike BBQ in the US, a barbeque in Cuba is a high-ceiling apartment unit that is broken into two levels to accommodate more residents and provide privacy for the ones who live there. The reason it is called a barbeque is that the upper level created by this installation gets really hot during the Cuban summer, opening up the potential to ‘cook’ the upper tenant. It kind of reminded me of the episode of Seinfeld when Kramer has the idea to build levels in his apartment (Season 2, Episode 2), but in this case, it really emphasizes the difficulty of building wealth in Cuba, and resulting number of people forced to share a single room apartment unit.

City Planning: Another interesting observation from our tour of Old Havana was the University of Havana, who’s architecture sticks out like a sore thumb in classic historic district. Again during the ‘Special Period’, the city council wanted to revitalize the area where the university now sits, but lacked the financial resources to restore the original buildings. Opting for a modern building with clean lines and floor to ceiling windows, the city council approved the ugly structure, which I was told is regretted today, and (to add insult to injury) requires twice as much electricity to air condition than any other building in the area.

Cigars: I know I can’t write about Cuba with covering cigars, and don’t worry – I’ve been sure to fully indulge in this aspect of the experience so far. Beyond the cigar lounge at the hotel, we were fortunate enough to visit a tobacco farm yesterday to learn more about the cigar making process. Unlike many industries in Cuba, the tobacco farming industry is not state-run to encourage innovation and quality not seen in government run businesses (although farms are still required to sell 80% of their tobacco to the government). At the farm, we were able to see tobacco leaves in multiple stages of the growing and drying processes, and learned how cigars are made. For those interested, a cigar is made up of five tobacco leaves: three which serve as the filling, one which is a wrapper on the filling to control the burn rate, and a final wrapper which is specially treated to provide additional flavor. Basically, to make a cigar, you wrap the three inner leaves with the first wrapper, and put it into a plastic mold for 30 minutes to compress the cigar and solidify he shape. Next, the cigar is wrapped tightly in its second (and final) wrapper, where it is put in the model again for 10 more minutes. Finally, the cigar is cut to make fine edges, and aged depending on the type. When making a cigar, it is important to remove the center spine of the leaf, which contains the most nicotine and is the least healthy part. Leftover tobacco (including leaf spines) are then shipped off to be used in cigarettes, emphasizing the importance of using only the best tobacco for the cigar.

 

And before I signoff, I wanted to pass along a few updates to the travel tips from my first post…

  1. Visa: We had no problem leaving the US and entering Cuba, but be sure to get to the airport early since you’ll need to check-in get your Visa approved by your airline in the US. This also covers your proof of insurance.
  2. Hotel: Hotel Melia Cohiba is one of the top three hotels in Cuba with a beautiful pool, several restaurants, and (I’ve head) a decent gym.
  3. Money: Prices in Cuba are all over the place. Meals can range from $5-$50, depending on where you go, but drinks are cheap (especially compared to New York) at a price of $2-$5 for a beer, mojito, or Cuba Libre (rum and coke).
  4. Internet and Cell Phones: As pleasant surprise, our hotel boasts free internet. However, good luck using it between 8am-10pm. As a test, I did turn off airplane mode on my cell phone and was able to get a text off with good coverage near the hotel. While the pricing has made me reluctant to try it again, a colleague was able to get a score on the Dolphins wildcard loss yesterday when we visited Viñales.

#CBSChazen #GIPCuba #Bruiser #HavanaGoodTime

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