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

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