That time when we bought Illegal Cigars.

July, 2017

Havana, Cuba

It was our last day in Cuba, an Jared, our Cuban friend Julio, and I were walking in the streets of Havana. The sun was so hot it was like an oven.  While walking through the streets you could hear the song “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club.  We could smell the smoke from Cars and Cigars. Then we decided to ask Julio were we could buy cigars.

He said this with his deep cuban voice “Si quieres comprar cigarros no podemos comprarlos en la tienda, porque son demasiado caros. Tenemos que comprarles a esta señora que conozco. Son de mejor calidad y menos caro.”

We then began to go to this “ladys’ house”, but first we needed to exchange money.  So we are on the way to change money and we stop in front of an apartment building.  Julio asks for our money, and he goes into the building to illegally change US dollars for Cucs ,this is  because it is a better exchange rate.

Then after he comes out of the apartment building we go to the place to buy cigars.  So we are walking down the street and Julio makes a phone call.  We continue to walk down the street and we see this lady come out of her apartment.  She looks around nervously for police and soldiers in the street.  There are none.  Then she makes us run into her house to not be noticed.  Then she slams the door behind us.  She begins locking the door.  It takes her a good 30 seconds to lock the door because she has numerous locks on the door.  Then we sit down in the dark smoke filled room, and she is playing some type of music in her house.  She is an older women smoking a very large dark cigar.  She then proceeds to put boxes and boxes of Cigars down on the table in front of us.  We look and smell all the different types of Cigars.  We were reassured by Julio that all the cigars here are legitimate and not counterfeits, because this is where he buys his cigars.  She has Monticristos, Romeo and Juiletas, Cohbias, and many other types.

I buy the medium strength Cohbia.  It is a large wooden box that holds 25 cigars.  The box also has a girls silhouette on the box.  I buy the box for 120 Cucs, which is 120 dollars.  In the stores in Havana it would have been 300 dollars a box.  In the United states my box would be worth around 800 or 900 dollars.  -I had an offer. –

Continuing with the story,  What astonished me was that she put all the stickers and stamps on the box to make it not look illegal.  She really put her time and effort into selling illegal cigars.  Then she puts the boxes in black bags and gives it to us.  We begin to walk out with it in our hands then she yells “Qué estás haciendo? Ponlos en tu mochilla!”  So we put them in our backpack and she looks out the door for more soldiers and she says we are clear to go.  She makes us run out of her house and slams the door behind us.

The light and heat from the sun blinds us.  We are back on the street and it looks like nothing happened.

I still do not know her name or where I was in Havana, but I will always have that memory and story to tell.

P.S.- Basically if you want something in Cuba use the Black Market.

Matthew Drennen July, 2017


Cuban Culture

July 2017- Matthew Drennen

Cuban Culture has many international influences, even though its isolated from the world.  To begin with Cuba was a Spanish colony, like the majority of the “new world” . So this is the reason Cuba speaks Spanish, also this is the reason for the old Spanish infrastructure in Havana Vieja.  Next, the Spanish had to import slaves from Africa to support their economy. This gave the island of Cuba an African influence we see today.

Today you can see that many Cubans are africans and they believe in African gods and Christianity.  When we went to a more African part of Havana we saw a traditional dance that they do in order to tell stories about the Gods.

After slavery was abolished and the Cuban revolutions against kicked out the Spanish government.  One of the main revolutionaries was Jose Marti.  This is because he inspired the country with his poetry and bravery.  Marti, now in Cuba is like George Washington is for the United States.

Now since Cuba was “free” , with the help of the USA, they could rule themselves.  FALSE, This is where the US influence comes in.  The US influence is prominent in Cuban History because a majority of the Infrastructure is American style or similar. The Cubans do not like this period because its western imperialism, and the USA installed a dictator named Batista.  Everyone in Cuba hates Batista.

This is where Fidel come into play, They started the Cuban revolution and expunged Batista and the aristocratic landowners from society.  This is when they set up a “False state” and constantly remind the Cuban people that the revolution continues , to stay in power.  This made Cuba more unified and stronger.  Once the American Embargo was put into place the culture changed and the people had to become strong.  This is why they turned to the Soviet Union.

Until recently, the Cuban Culture has been steady, but I am predicting another big shift in cultural identity as more private business and technology moves into Cuba.

Who knows……

-Matthew Drennen July 2017


Cuban Government / Society

July 2017- Matthew Drennen

There are many different styles and types of Communism like; Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Cuban Communism, and others. (You get the point, there are a lot).  However, the paragraph below is to be a Brief idea of pure communism

The state nationalizes all the resources and there is few or no private business.  The goal of the state is to create equality among the people.  This is why the government gives jobs and housing to the majority of people or all of the citizens.  The government restricts the rights of its citizens, and this causes people to lose their individuality, and enturn work for the common good or goal.  Also, in many versions of Communism, the government provides many social services like basic healthcare and basic education.  In summary, the goal of communism is to spread the resources to the citizens equally.  However, frequently  there is still a class of ruling elites in the government.

Okay, returning to the topic…..

The Cuban government has manufactured an “utopian” society, however in actuality it is not quite that.  Until recent years, the government has created a society that is anti capitalist and especially anti American.  They do this through propaganda, and saying that the revolution continues.  With saying this they can justify more government control of the people, and the use of military force to “keep the masses in control” So this paragraph in summary,  the government uses the revolution to be justified and kept in power.  Also, they have set up a false threat from the west,  to be in power.

Yeah I know, ^^^, this is confusing

Furthermore, Cuban society is also extremely unique, from the rest of the world and society, because the communist government provides many social programs, like free healthcare, free education, and many other free items.  These programs and strict government presence make the society look successful compared to other countries.  There is no homelessness or much hunger (now), which in one case is good, but the government expunges them from society.

Finally, Cubas’ society is unique from the western world and other types of communism because, it uses the revolution and the embargo to justify its existence and control over the masses; also they provide many social services that the people benefit from. However, with the future generations of cubans, I believe they want more freedoms and access to the outside world without restrictions.  The Cuban government will need to adapt to survive this growing demand for connection.  They may have to adapt their manufactured society to give more rights and opportunities to the people.

  • Ehh not the best blog – but it sorta of describes Cuban society and its “False State”

July 2017 – Matthew Drennen






The People of Cuba

July 2017- Matthew Drennen

The Cuban people are incredibly strong and outgoing.

To begin with an Americans stereotype of the Cuban people before visiting the island.  I believe that Americans,( and me before my trip)  have an unique view of the people of Cuba.  We think that the Cuban people (to be straight up) are hardcore soulless communists. That hate America and the outside world.  Before going to Cuba, many Americans tried to tell me that Cuba was similar to a North Korean Dictatorship, with the people doing their jobs and not getting out of line.  I also had an opinion that the people of Cuba were very harsh to foreigners and others  coming into their country.  However, this is not the case.  So in summary of this, I believe that Americans have a view which is completely straight out of the cold war.

Foot Note To Above- Some Cubans are very hardcore about their communism and outsiders, but the ones I met were extremely outgoing.

Cubans Citizens and the Government have gone through some extreme challenges; like the US Embargo and the fall of the Soviet Union.  The people have suffered a tremendous amount in Cuba, because of the Embargo that has made supplies and materials difficult to buy.  This is especially true when the Soviet Union fell and Cuba lost all of its main partner and ally.  This period many Cubans starved and it became harder to live.  This special period in time the Cubans people had to become strong to survive and it caused them to rely on one another more to live their lives.

Furthermore, When I visited the Island I was completely shocked about how friendly and nice the Cuban citizens were to tourists.   The people I met were extremely nice and would do anything for you.  For example, We met this Cuban couple Isa and Julio.  They both worked in European hotels so they had better pay then a majority of Cubans, but they were incredibly friendly.  They would do anything for you, and this really shocked me because this was exponentially different then anything I have ever heard.  I also had the chance to talk to many other Cubans, and the summary of our conversations and the main message I got from the Cuban people is this.

We are all the same people of the world, so we need to look out for one another.  Also, we may be different and think uniquely, but we all deserve respect from one another.

Finally, I believe the Cuban people actually really enjoy outsiders in their country because they want to here the stories from the outside world, and even though our governments are at odds or disagree we are all the same people.

The lesson I learned is “Do not Judge a book by its’ cover”

Matthew Drennen





Cuba Study Abroad – Intro

July 2017

So as you guys know I currently go to Flagler College, and this summer I went to Cuba with the College.  The study abroad was for my Cuba relations class, and it was incredible.  The class really focused on the relations between the United States and Cuba, and how the embargo has (effected or affected? idk English is hard) the island of Cuba. It was extremely interesting because the Cubans are strong people against all odds and lack of supplies and other amenities.

Anyways, we went with our amazing Professor Tracey Eaton who has traveled the world, and lived in Cuba for many years.  With his connections we made in Cuba, through his years there, we were able to meet and talk to all types of Cubans.  We talked to friends of Fidel, legal and illegal journalists, tobacco farmers and many other types of people.  In summary, this trip really opened my eyes, and let me have a new perspective about Cuba and the rest of the world.

Also, its beautiful- Matthew Drennen


Current Thoughts – June 16, 2017

This summer I have enjoyed greatly, so far, and the break from the constant stimulation of college life is rejuvenating.  This summer I have been able to meet many new interesting people that are in St. Augustine.  While, learning and experiencing new things with these people, I have obtained a thought in my head. I am extremely fortunate for my life, and being in such an incredible town. I have met many people that I would have never have thought I would have liked or had common interests with.  Also, I believe this is one of many reasons why I love life so much.  The joy of meeting these people and hearing their life stories and events is exponentially rewarding.   I believe that this is one of the main reasons to the question of “Life “.  In summary, the reason I am writing this is because I find that this, and many more reasons, help me day to day to push on and not stop.  Yes, Somedays are hard, and others are incredible.  However, Everyday I hope to do my best in the world, even if I do not live up too it.  Finally, this craving to meet and discover new people and Ideas is engraved in all humanity and is one of the many answers to the “Meaning of Life”.

Matthew Drennen

June 16, 2017

The Fuji Kite – May 6, 2017

The other day Pierce Ernest, and I were on 8th Street on St. Augustine beach.  We were walking through the sand dunes, trying to find a place to lay on the beach and we spotted many people down the beach flying gigantic kites.  So Pierce and I walked down the beach, and we went to go take pictures of the kites.  The kite was a giant puffer fish that was made of Nylon and had different color spikes.  It was massive,  we could have danced inside of the kite.  Then we met the owner of the kite, his name was Dean, and he had traveled all over the world.  He said he purchased the kite in New Zealand, and that it was made of leftover Nylon, and its name was Fuji.  Next, he asked if we could help put the kite up in its bag. So we helped him, and we talked to the guy for a while about his travels, and his kite.