Monday, November 16, 2015

Cigars and the Perfect Piña Colada

Day two in Havana began with breakfast at my casa (fruit, coffee, juice, bread and honey) before going out to walk aimlessly a bit more in old Havana. Everything was quieter in the morning, but just as lovely. 
I was meeting my friends, Stripes and Noodles, at the Partagas factory at noon so before that i walked out of Havana Vieja and to central Havana, where i walked around the currently reconstructed capitol building (which bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain government in the US), past some lavish hotels, then beyond, into a grid of streets which still bore the same once beautiful buildings, but they were less restored, far from postcard perfect. This was actually more to my liking in some ways than Havana Vieja - fewer tourists, more locals shopping at sparse bodegas with blaring salsa music, butchers, fruit sellers, and windows selling greasy looking pork sandwiches.

I met Stripes and Noodles at the Partagas factory. It technically is no longer a factory, with the manufacturing having been moved elsewhere, but it still houses a great cigar store and a "vip" smoking lounge. The selection of cigars was terrific and i helped myself to a Partagas Serie P No 2 as we headed into the smoking lounge. The lounge was crowded with men from all over the world, here for the same, annual Partagas cigar festival that we are here to attend. Stripes and Noodles knew a lot of these people from their past visits and so they visited and i sat and smoked and ogled the well-stocked humidor. Rum was plentiful, but i stuck to coffee.

After a long smoke at Partagas, Stripes, Noodles, a friend of theirs, and i walked to a new restaurant operated by a fiend of theirs (i'm not sure if "owned" is the right word, given that everything is owned by the government.). The walk was nice, the weather humid, but not too hot. The neighbourhood was relatively quiet and situated near the Malecon and the sea. We had lunch there at the surprisingly fancy cafe, which was great - few veg options, but i had enough to eat - and then we retired upstairs to the rooftop patio for a cigar. The spot was lovely, but unfortunately it was already populated by a group of Canadians - two dopey men and three shrill women who prattled on about their periods and shopping at Walmart. We didn't stay long. From there we walked along the Malecon (the thoroughfare that runs along the sea) to the National Hotel. The walk was glorious. The waves crashing along the wall and drenching pedestians in showers of seafoam. Locals had begun to congregate for the evening, listening to music and hanging out. Fishermen wrapped up their hauls before the dark set in.
We arrived at the grand National Hotel, which sits perched impressively on a hill overlooking its surroundings. There is a wonderful courtyard area with seating for the bar. Fortunately, some of it was under cover, because as we arrived, the rain began to pour. We sat comfortably and watched the rain and wind assault the palms from our cozy spot, enjoying cigars and perfect piña coladas. I mean, seriously, these drinks were amazing. Not since Cartagena have i had such fruity perfection in a glass. It was lovely.
We traveled to our respective accommodations by way of a speedy Lada taxi. I got off a few blocks from my casa and enjoyed the walk home down the wet, silent streets.

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