15 December 2009

Cuban Cigars

All along the malecon and on every block in any part of the city where a tourist might walk, there are stores selling Cuban cigars and/or tequila. In case you don’t happen to notice their shop, fear not; each has the requisite guy out front hawking the wares.

The men are usually late 20’s to mid 30’s. They are clean and neat but in a kind of night club sense; button down shirts opened a little too far, tight jeans, a few tattoos and a lot of product in their hair. Most speak at least enough English to call out to passing tourists, offering free shots and good deals on booze and stogies. They sort of creep me out; like the type of guy you would not accept a drink from where you in that bar, or the type you would cross the street to avoid passing.

However, I was rather curious about Cuban cigars, coming from a country where one sees nothing with Made in Cuba stamped on it. And being well versed in the laws of my country, I know that it is illegal to buy Cuban products and transport them across country lines. And although I would never, ever do such a thing, I thought I owed it to the people of Cuba to at least look at the product that has made them famous worldwide.

Upon entering any of the cigar shops, you will notice an interior, glass-walled room where the cigars are kept at the perfect temperature and humidity. A salesman escorts you in and gives you all the information you want. I didn’t pay that close attention since I hate cigars. More specifically, I hate the smell, which is right up there with skunk on my olfactory meter.

The prices range from about US$11 to $22. Some are thinner and some are fatter. The guy told me that the larger ones are made with the biggest leaves of the tobacco plant which have a better flavor. They also vary in terms of mild to strong.

Seeing as these chaps set of self-preservation/warning signals, you are never quite sure if anything they tell you is on the up and up. And how are you supposed to know if one shop is better/more legit than the next? At least I got that sorted. My cigar aficionado merchant told me that the entire Cuban cigar franchise in Vallarta is owned by one company and that prices are set. Or at least that is what he said.

I was in there at 9am and they offered me a shot of tequila, which I declined. But if you go by later in the day, there are plenty of tourists imbibing and, I assume, purchasing both cigars and tequila.

I guess that I was in such a hurry to get out of there and maybe take a shower, that I forgot to get a picture to go with this story. So I will use the sand sculpture shot.

Since I first arrived, I have seen this one sand sculpture on the beach, right along the malecon. You can tell it took talent to erect, but looked as though it was only in the beginning stages. The artist sleeps right next to his work and there is a donation box set up.

As the weeks went by, the sculpture didn’t change, other than minor repairs. I began to wonder if the artist might have a bit of a drink problem and that was as far as he was ever going to get.

Yesterday morning, I was amazed to see this brand new, incredible sculpture of a woman. It also looked like he was setting up to do something even grander. I dropped some money in his box and saw him stir in his beach bed.

Walking a little further, I realized that what I had just seen was an entirely new artist. The original guy was still there.

This afternoon I was anxious to see what was going on with the forms that had been set out the day before; I was thinking big sand castle. Whatever it will be, it is still in the setting-up stage. But the one I had seen yesterday now had a man sculpted into it, and I noticed that it seemed to be the work of two men. I’ll go by tomorrow and hope that some more has been done with the new work. I’m worried that it will not be finished by the time I leave on Thursday afternoon.