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Latin America Travel & Tour Information

Annoying,but handy just sometimes (val murray)

Compared to most countries in Latin America being hassled to buy something on the streets of Cuba is quite tame. Unfortunately when you are approached by a Cuban on the street it is usually because he wants to sell you something or take you somewhere to score the commission. These guys even have names: jinateros and jinateras (jinatera is a name usually reserved for floozy streetwalkers). Luckily they usually subside when presented with a no gracias before they complete their spiels. Ways they get your attention are by asking you your nationality or even asking the time, and when you pause to answer they are crafty in the art of introducing their wares. Knowing the hardships of the Cuban people you can?t blame them for trying to scam a couple of dollars, but doesn?t it get annoying when it happens for the fifth time on the same street.    


Anyway I did willingly go with a jinatero once (I said jinatero not jinatera) and to my surprise I didn?t feel ripped-off when I walked out with a couple of cigars. The stigma of the Cuban Cigar is such that anyone knowing your going to Cuba inevitably ends up asking you bring some back for them. To my horror the cigars that were sold in the official shops weren?t the couple of pesos I thought they?d be and I considered briefly just getting everyone a Che t-shirt. As if on cue I was chased down by a bloke who reckoned he had authentic cigars and receipts to go with them. My ears pricked up when I heard receipts as I knew you could only get 23 out of the country un-receipted and a box comes with 25. So I followed the smiley Cuban back to his abode feeling quite seedy but also a tad excited about what I was getting into.     


After greeting his whole family and neighbors assembled in his tiny kitchen, who by the way barely blinked an eye at me, he opened the door to his bedroom (office) where on the bed was a plethora of cigar brands. Each cigar box came with its own seal and stamp which was required to export them and the receipt was produced on further query. I had also been warned that most cigars on the black market were fakes, either the crap peso tobacco easily purchased by a Cuban with fake brand rings put on them or they were made out of banana leaves. So I made the suggested tests that the Lonely Planet Cuba recommends to validate the authenticity of a cigar. After a half-arsed inspection they seemed ok to me; I mean I?m no expert and neither were the mates I was going to palm them off to. As long as we felt like we were smoking genuine Cuban stogies without getting weird throat infections then that was enough for me to seal the deal.      


Guide to spotting fakes:    


? Look for air-pockets or oddities in the cigar surface,    

? They should be soft to squeeze,    

? Every cigar in a box should be of similar colour and within a millimeter in size difference,    

? The covering leaf layer should be as smooth as silk,    

? The cigar should breathe as you suck the end that is meant for lighting.

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