A while back I was contacted by Victoria McKee who is the Director of Public Relations for General Cigar. She asked if I would be interested in taking part in a Blogger Trip to the Dominican Republic. When it came down to making a decisions I weighed the options and the thought of cigars, rum, blogger madness (I didn’t get married this time) and the amazing people of the Dominican Republic the choice was rather easy. When I accepted I discussed some flight options that had me originally leaving mid-afternoon. However, I wanted to get there early and plans were put in place.
Leaving out of JFK on a 6:59am flight to Santiago I headed south with Victoria who edited her travel plans to join me on the flight. Once we landed we were treated to a VIP experience. There was no customs as we were ushered into the VIP Room and everything was handled by a liaison. Our luggage was even retrieved for us. There is no better feeling the being ushered through the airport without lines or having to wait for your luggage.
We took the short ride from the airport to the Gran Almirante Hotel & Casino where we were already checked in. We agreed to a short nap and I made up to meet with Victoria on the pool deck later in the day. Once I entered my room I was surprised to see a gift bag that contained Ron Barcello Rum, a Box of 1968 Macanudo cigars, a Colibri Cutter, and a Blogger Press Pass. I was too excited to be back in the Dominican Republic as my previous trips with La Aurora opened my eyes to a country full of passion.
I made my way to the pool deck and enjoyed the tranquility as well as the sights of a couple of scantily clad women before the madness of 14 other bloggers descending on the island. I made friends with the bartender, Freddy who would be my amigo before the trip was over. As a lover of cigars, I made sure he had one each day and we would speak with his broken English and my broken Spanish. Before long Benji Menendez would join me pool side for a bit, and we got to discuss a variety of subjects.
On Cuba I was shocked to hear how he would never go back to visit even if Fidel was gone. He stated that even with Fidel gone it would take many years for the old breed to die off before the new breed could change the landscape of the land. Which made a lot of sense, because if the Island under goes a change, many of the hard line communists wouldn’t change their opinion.
As I drank my Rum & Coke he shared with me his love of Presidente Beer and how he loved to come on the deck of the hotel and have one with Freddy.
We discussed how the tobacco industry is competitive but friendly. One of his closest friends in the business is Manolo Quesada that owns apartments in Amsterdam and when they are together they never discuss cigars or business. He spoke highly Manolo and credited him with the idea of Pro-Cigar. We spoke of the tobacco bans and he referred to Cigarettes vs Cigars as Addiction vs Enjoyment. I also brought up my love of Peruvian tobacco and he believed it to be very low in quality, but has slowly gotten better since the 1960s.
There were so many analogies that I regretted not having my notebook poolside, but it allowed Benji to keep is guard down and we enjoyed each others company.
We were soon joined by:
- Anthony of Cigar Brief
- Antonio (Tony) of Casas Fumando
- Ben of Nice Tight Ash
- Bryan from Cigar Obsession
- Craig from Cigar Craig
- Dan from Cigar Explorer
- David from Tiki Bar
- Doc from Stogie Fresh
- Justin from Ash Report
- Patrick from Cigar Examiner
- Patrick from Stogie Guys
- Skip from Twitter
- Stephen from The Cigar Network
- Tony from 365 Cigars
Also joining us was Rick Rodriguez from CAO Cigars and Michael Giannini of La Gloria Cubana. We mingled, we ate, we drank. Things were pretty laid back as many had to spend the whole day traveling to Miami before a 6:30pm flight to the Cibao Airport. It was the perfect start to 3 full days on the ground that was ahead of us.
Tomorrow: Day 2, our first look at the factory.