This is how a real Cuban Cigar is rolled! Discover how the Robaina's plantations rolls their famous cigars. The tobacco leaves from Robaina's plantations are often considered among the best in the world. Austin-Lehman was one of only a few tour operators to be awarded a "people to people" license. Austin-Lehman provides 9 day/8 night cultural tours to experience the real Cuba. For more information on visiting Cuba
Austin-Lehman is one of the first U.S. tour operators to run license tours of Cuba.
For more information on visiting Cuba
Austin-Lehman Adventures is proud to be one of the first licensed U.S. tour operators to offer tours of Cuba. Experience the 'The Real Cuba' with Austin-Lehman Adventures. For more information on visiting Cuba
It first hit me like a welcomed wave when I stepped onto the tarmac of José Marti International Airport in Havana. A humid blast of warm air seasoned with smells of the sea. There it was again as I strolled down the famous Malecón, a broad pedestrian esplanade stretching 8 K along Havana’s waterfront. Mixed with the intoxicating spring fragrance of blossoming fruit trees, it was a concoction even the best perfumers of Paris couldn’t duplicate. This was the Cuba tour I have been waiting all my life for!
But there was one smell I’ll never forget – the thick, rich aroma of tobacco leaves drying in the wet darkness of a barn on the plantation of the late, great Alejandro Robaina, Cuba’s most famous grower. His grandson Hirochi was the perfect host and treated our small group from Austin-Lehman to a private cigar rolling demonstration. As we sat in over stuffed leather chairs and puffed enormous Cubanos I thought I died and went to heaven. Add the kick of the world’s finest cigar smoke to that list of smells I’ll always remember. And the best news is that the Robaina crop for next year’s Cohibas, Partagás and Hoyo de Monterreys is predicted to be one of the best ever! This adventure was by far one of the most perfect adventure vacation packages I have ever had the treat to be on. Austin-Lehman is one of the first adventure travel companies to be granted the "people to people" license to operate tours in Cuba.
I got to get back there!
I can safely say that Cuba is like no other place you’ve ever been. Havana especially is prime and is now open to visit if you go with the right adventure travel company! It must have been Latin America’s grandest city back in the late 50’s (BC – Before Castro). Broad tree-lined boulevards, exquisite hotels and magnificent churches, shady pedestrian parks, opera and concert halls and glorious mansions. A real playground for the rich, famous and corrupt. Now they sit crumbling, many occupied by multiple extended families. Old Havana is a treat for the eyes both for the student of architecture and design and for the everyday people watcher. Cuba would also make for an amazing adventure vacation for couples.
Today the past glory still exists but 50 years of neglect, sagging economy, and a useless and hurtful U.S. embargo have taken their toll. They are doing what they can to restore buildings one by one but it may be impossible to save most of the city to eventual collapse. But there’s still lots to see and appreciate and museums are everywhere – from classic old cars (another thing that makes Cuba unlike anywhere else) to art, music and chocolate. You must take a photo of the old Russian Embassy – probably the ugliest display of cold war architecture on earth. But it’s the weirdness and beauty that will always be ingrained in my mind. Seeing these sights was what made my Cuba tour a once in a lifetime trip!
For more photos of the Cars of Cuba, check out of flickr account: Cars of Cuba
Have another mojito! What seems to be Cuba’s national drink (lime juice, soda, rum, sugar cane and crushed mint leaves) was the first thing served with every lunch and dinner (we took a break at breakfast). But it is a taste that is truly Cuba along with the local beer – a strong 5.4% alcohol brew called Bucanero and the traditional daiquiri (you have to go to the bar Floridita where they were invented and enjoyed regularly by Hemingway).
But with drink you must have food and with this, Cuba won’t disappoint! Try the smoked chicken, roast pork or slow cooked beef seasoned with garlic, cumin, oregano and laurel leaves. With sides of yucca, plantain and white rice and black beans you have a traditional feast! It was strange that nowhere could I find a bottle of hot sauce but with so much flavor already I really didn’t miss it. It’s also worthwhile to point out that all fruits and veggies are organically grown by government decree. On our Austin-Lehman Cuba adventure we visited a neighborhood organic farm that would rival anything in the states. I’d also be remiss at not mentioning the variety of fresh seafood. If you are worrying about starving (or losing weight) in Cuba – forget it! This one of the few adventure vacations packages that is a true culinary delight!
I had to share one of my favorites meals during my Cuba tour.
For more photos of Austin-Lehman's Cuba tour visit our Cuba photo gallery
Some of the lasting impressions left after taking Austin-Lehman Adventure's Real Cuba tour have to be the smiling faces, proud voices and warm reception of the Cuban people we met along the way. Geared more as an authentic cultural exchange tour than a touristy vacation escape (i.e no beach time), Austin-Lehman succeeded in arranging both planned and spontaneous interaction with a wealth of Cuban people; men and women, students and professionals, musicians and artists, cabbies (and their classic cars) to the new breed of entrepreneurs operating in-home restaurants and businesses.
From them I learned about modern Cuba, the challenges, the slow changes in personal freedoms, the tobacco industry, the health care industry, the universities and growing tourism industry. We even were invited into the home of a Havana family where we dined on roast pig, listened to a local band and exchanged stories.
ALA Tour - The Real Cuba 2/11-19, 2012
I had dinner Monday night, the day after returning from Cuba with Austin-Lehman Adventures, and something was missing. No strumming guitars. No trumpets. And definitely no shaking maracas. It seems that every meal I had over the past week in Cuba, breakfast, lunch and dinner was served with a healthy helping of music. Walking down Havana’s iconic Malecón, strolling the cobblestone streets of Old Town, enjoying the show at a 50’s-style nightclub and riding around in vintage Chevys and Fords the music was ever present. And it’s easy to sense why Cubans are so keen at providing a continuous soundtrack to life. They are some of the proudest, most passionate and lyrical people I’ve ever met.
Life is hard for the average Cuban but never once did I hear any anger, raised voices or complaining. Instead, there’s singing and dancing, melodic calls from street vendors and friendly offers from taxi cab drivers and pedicab pedalers. My advice when you take that trip to Cuba, leave your iPod at home and bring back a few of the music CDs offered-up by any of the bands you’ll be sure to encounter