The time has nearly arrived. My bags are packed and all the tour arrangements have been checked, double checked and then checked again. For the next week I shall be absent from my daily Hunters & Frankau duties. This is it then, at the end of the week – I’m back off to Cuba!
I am escorting a group of ten UK retailers on the annual Hunters & Frankau training week from the 28th February to the 7th of March. The group consists of various promotional competition winners within the trade as well as some discretionary invites and represent a cross section of key people within the UK retail cigar business. The week takes in all aspects of cigar production, from the vast tobacco plantations in Pinar del Rio to the cigar factories and cigar shops of Havana and provides a unique opportunity to learn, first hand, what goes into making Habanos the finest cigars in the world. We fly out the week after the famous Habanos Festival and will be using the fantastic and iconic Hotel Nacional as our base.
I am lucky enough to have visited Cuba before. In 2006, this time as a guest of Hunters & Frankau, I was among a party just like the one I shall now be leading. At the time I saw the trip as a one off chance of a lifetime and remember it like it was yesterday. I never for one minute thought I would one day be running the whole shooting match and it is fair to say I have been pinching myself because of how lucky I am to be in a position to revisit this magical and exuberant country once again.
Things will be a little different for me this time around and the added responsibility of managing the group’s itinerary will perhaps curtail my evenings a little earlier than on my previous visit. It has certainly led to more sleepless nights in approach to departure as I check, confirm and verify every last detail of the trip.
Of course it is easy to say that I am looking forward to getting away from the British weather, but more than the sunshine, I can’t wait to get back among the cigar factories, curing barns, stripping houses and tobacco fields that left such an indelible impression on me last time. Even people that regularly visit Havana talk about how reinvigorating and enlightening a trip to Cuba’s capital city can be for people with a passion for cigars. It seems there remains an air of adventure in visiting Cuba, even for the veteran.
There is certainly something about the country, the atmosphere and the people of Havana that has stayed fresh in my mind. I just hope I make everyone’s first trip to Cuba as memorable as mine was.