On the way home from the Dominican Republic I was thinking of how to approach this weekend in terms of writing. After all some added pressure was put on me as I was referred to a journalist a few times this weekend. I am pretty sure though that word does not really apply to me. I have a passion for cigars and I choose to write about them. I have no formal training, and I do this because I care about the industry. So instead of going for the journalist approach to this weekend I am going to do what has worked for me. I will share this trip over 3 days as what it meant to me since my palate is shot from all the Cigars, Ron Barcelo Rum and Presidente Beer I consumed.
About a month ago I was sitting in one of my favorite cigar shops when Jason Wood of Miami Cigar & Company requested I email him my number. Since Miami Cigar & Company is an advertiser on this website I really didn’t think much of it. A few minutes later my phone rang and I was asked if I would like to come down to the Dominican Republic as a guest to visit the La Aurora Factory. Needless to say I was floored by the generous offer and the invite.
On Thursday May 20th I headed to the airport to meet with a group of 3 or so I thought. As I was sitting at the airport wondering where everyone was; one of our party Juan Ulloa who does P.R. work for Drapers Cigar Shop informed me that our party was one short due to a last minute cancellation do to a family issue. Once seated on the plane we were joined by Tom Johansmeyer who writes for luxist.com and cigarreader.com who spent most of the flight writing on his netbook at speeds I have never seen before while never once looking down at the keys or screen.
Once landed in Miami we gave a call to Jason Wood who was going to save us from our 4 hour layover and take us for lunch. After a brief introduction to Nestor Miranda’s beautiful daughter Tatiana away we went. As it turns out though traffic around the heavily under construction Miami Airport made getting out of the airport a chore. Juan, Tom and myself all voted a cigar was more important then food and we headed over to Sabor Havana cigars where we smoked and drank some Presidente beer as we were joined by the owner Jorge Valdez who I had the honor of meeting in NYC at the Miami Cigar Extravaganza held at Cigar Inn which is in my hometown of New York City.
After returning back to the airport we killed some time dining on airport food as the rest of the group came together. The 2 Patricks from StogieGuys.com, Bob McDuffie from Dogwatch Cigar Radio, Anthony from Puffing Cigars, and Travis from The Perfect Draw.
Little did we know that out flight from Miami to Santiago would give us an insight to the way of travel in the country. Our plane took off 45 minutes late but that was not the issue. The issue is we climbed at a rate I have never experience before which seemed almost vertical and landed at a descent rate faster then I ever experienced and bounced on the runway before coming to a hard stop.
As we left the airport the heat and humidity of the Dominican Republic hit us even at this late hour, but we were greeted by Jose Blanco the Director of Sales for Aurora Cigars and a fellow Yankees fan. After a brief introductions we boarded our bus which would become our thrill ride for the weekend in a country that at times felt like it had no traffic rules. With cars darting into intersections and motorbikes and scooters weaving in and out of traffic I am shocked we survived the chaos. As we made our way through the city to our hotel the Camp David Ranch which involved a ride up the mountain with a twisting roadway with hairpin turns that you hoped another car was not coming down at the same time. It was an experience that Bob from Dogwatch Cigar Radio vowed to never sit in the front of the bus again.
The views from the hotel were amazing and we were joined by Guillermo Leon who has such an incredibly warm soul that you instantly feel like you have known him for years. After some discussion of the CRA, NRA, Cigar Taxes and smoking bans we dined on a buffet of some delicious Dominican food.
That night the Ron Barcelo Rum and Presidente Beer were downed fast and furious and many cigars were smoked. We discussed blog strategies, our place in the industry, the reason for us being invited, and of course our love of cigars… We bonded as a group despite some serious topics of conversation and we were looking forward to our day at La Aurora Cigar Factory.
Tuesday: The La Aurora Factory Tour