Cuba As Depicted in 19th Century Cigar Box Art

Cuba As Depicted in 19th Century Cigar Box Art

Cigar manufacturing in Cuba was in turmoil in the final years of the nineteenth century.

Cuba’s long war of independence forced Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales) operations from the cigar manufacturing center of Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.

[See images below]

Other manufacturers followed the move, and Key West became another important cigar manufacturing center. In 1885, Ybor moved again to Tampa, Florida and built the largest cigar factory in the world at the time – it was located in the new company town of Ybor City, Florida.

Thousands of Cuban and Spanish tabaqueros came to the area from Cuba, Key West and New York to produce hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Friendly rival and Flor de Sánchez y Haya owner Ignacio Haya built his own factory nearby in the same year, and many other cigar manufacturers soon followed – especially after an 1886 fire that gutted much of Key West.

The US consumed about 300 million cigars by the mid-19th century. Cigar output peaked in 1929, when workers in Ybor City and West Tampa rolled over 500,000,000 “clear Havana” cigars, earning the town the nickname, “Cigar Capital of the World.”

There were about 80,000 cigar-making operations in the US around 1905.  Most of them were small, family-operated shops where cigars were rolled and sold immediately. 

By 1900, four out five men smoked cigars and box design became an important way to differentiate among the multitude of brands on display in stores around the country. Cigarettes would soon enter the market and eventually dominate demand for tobacco products.

Here are some cigar box designs from the era that traded on a Cuba cigar connection that was likely non-existent other than for marketing. Notice the boxes that depict the “New Cuba” and the positive relationship between Cuba and the US after Cuba’s war of independence.

Here is What Cuban Baseball is Like

Here is What Cuban Baseball is Like

The first thing you’ll notice is the sound. Or the lack thereof.

There is no Jumbotron, no between-inning giveaways, just bat, glove and the voice of the umpire.

Indeed, it’s usually the umpire who motions to the stadium operators to turn off the music between the inning.

In the stadium, cheers commingle with the din of horns.

Baseball in Cuba is pure, it is simple and it is raw in a way that professional baseball in America has not been for some time.

And baseball is still Cuba’s most popular sport.

It is played by cane workers, school children and baseball professionals in every corner of the island nation and is a symbol of national identity.

Baseball isn’t just a sport — in many ways, baseball is Cuba.

Cuban baseball closely resembles American baseball in both style and level of accomplishment.

The Cuban National Series generally runs from November through April with a schedule of 90 games per team in the regular season.

The series is then followed by 3 playoff rounds culminating in a championship, a series that has been played each winter since 1961-62. There are 16 teams organized in a West League and an East League. The top four teams from each league advance to a playoff, with the winner crowned in April. Two teams have dominated the National Series in recent years: Industriales and Santiago de Cuba.

These teams have combined to produce some of the best players in baseball in recent years, through a pipeline of defectors that has produced stars like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman, among others.

In 1999, the Cuban national baseball team played a two-game exhibition series against the Baltimore Orioles of Major League Baseball.

This marked the first time the Cuban national team played against an MLB team, and the first time an MLB team played in Cuba since 1959.

The Orioles won the first game, which was held in Havana, while the Cuban national team won the second game, which was held in Baltimore.

Since the US and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred entered into discussions to hold an exhibition game between an MLB team and the Cuban national team in 2016, and on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the Cuban national baseball team, with President Obama set to attend.

The news comes as MLB looks to address and structure the way Cuban players come to the United States.

Will Cuban baseball ever be the same?

What To Do When Your Buddhism App Fails To Work In Havana

What To Do When Your Buddhism App Fails To Work In Havana

You have a deep curiosity about what it means to exist. You long for the mystery and vitality of spiritual life. You are an intrepid traveler always on the frontier – and today that means Cuba. Yet Havana’s emergence as a spiritual hot spot can become a major inconvenience for travelers, or should I say “pilgrims”, who arrive in Cuba and can’t use their Buddhism apps because of poor Internet connectivity.

Luckily, Havana offers many ways to channel spiritual pathways. You’ll have to take the matter into your own non-digital hands. Cubans sometimes call this “a lo Cubano”, referring to the crafty methods they have developed to cope with the lack of essential parts and supplies common to people in other countries. After all, scarcity is one of the most powerful fulcrums for releasing dormant creative energies.

Modernity collides with a basic truth about simplicity by convincing us that things of value, whether they are ideas or objects, are made more valuable because they are complex. Relax and reflect on the primacy of simple things.

Central Havana is an ideal place to trigger imaginative transformations. Enchantment is at your fingertips. Here’s what to do when you’re in Havana and your Buddhism app fails to fire up.

The Best Private Cab Driver in Cuba – 2015

The Best Private Cab Driver in Cuba – 2015

The shift away from exclusive state control of the economy is perhaps the most important change brought about by Raul Castro since he replaced his brother, Fidel Castro, as President of Cuba in 2008.

One of the most immediate impacts to the Cuban economy was to downsize Cubataxi, the state-operated taxi service. Starting in 2010, drivers became self-employed, leasing a vehicle from the government at a daily rate.  The government reported that the yearly income from each taxi was estimated to multiply 30-fold after one year.

There was an equally important social impact for Cuba’s taxi drivers.  With the freedom to operate independently, private taxi drivers quickly rose to the 1% of Cuba’s income earners.  That rarefied air was previously available only to waiters working in the island nation’s new private restaurants, called paladares.

Here is a video about the taxi driver’s new elite status.

On a recent trip to Cuba, the Cuba Journal staff hired a private taxi driver to get around Cuba and explore the country’s cultural and architectural features.  His name is Yuniel Fernandez.  He can help you in Havana or Veradero – and he will not fail to entertain, protect and guide his customers.  Contact for Yuniel’s email address.

best private cab driver in cuba

Here’s what he did for us….

In Conversation: Renowned Boutique Hotel Designer Discusses Cuba’s Hotel Future

In Conversation: Renowned Boutique Hotel Designer Discusses Cuba’s Hotel Future

The Cuba Journal selected the Hotel Saratoga as the 2015 Best Hotel in Havana.

Across the street from the Capital building and next to La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the hotel offers ideal access to the best parts of Havana, day or night.

I had the pleasure of meeting members of the design team at the Mexican design and architect firm, Arquitectura de Interiores, the designer of the Hotel Saratoga during its extensive 2005 renovation. The firm’s President, Marisabel Gomez Vazquez, and Creative Director, Joao Lueiro (a Cuban living in Mexico), agreed to discuss the Saratoga and Cuba’s potential to impact the course of design evolution in the boutique hotel category.

The Hotel Saratoga is a wonderful combination of classical and modern in terms of design. Can you discuss how this came about, whether it was the goal at the beginning or did it result after working with the space? Do you feel like you were taking big risks at the time?

The Hotel Saratoga has a history of its own. Apart from being one of the first full-service hotels in Havana, quite luxurious by the way, it was also, during the 30’s, the watering hole for many in the bohemian-intellectual class in Havana. It was very common to find writers, actors and socialites spending time at the “Aires Libres”. This site, the long arched Portal at both sides of the main entry on the hotel, was made famous while the Anacaonas, the first Cuban all-women orchestra, were rising into stardom playing there. It is impossible to bypass these credentials. Once you get your hands in a project like this you can’t escape the spell. When we started the project it was intended to be a “One&Only”, so we knew it had to comply with the standards set by this brand. We also studied the history in a comprehensive manner and learned a good load of interesting facts. However we didn’t pretend to re-create the ambiance of the original property but to accomplish instead a new standard for the Cuban hospitality business based upon Cuban authenticity and our knowledge in contemporary requirements for the industry. The result is this mix of classical and modern features that made the property a success story from the opening day. Our biggest achievement was the acknowledgements from Cubans themselves; they felt it as a very consistent and respectful project. We as a firm visualize every project through their intrinsic values in all fronts, cultural, historic and market wise. This permits us to navigate all the different scenarios from the inside, not imposing our position but constructing it from the core. When a project like the Hotel Saratoga lands into our hands we always run into some risks, mainly from the cultural point of view, but we are well prepared to sort them out. In our creative process we have time allocated for establishing the common language, to listen and to understand. This opens the communication and everything is easier then.

In a sense, Cuba’s history is colliding with its future as culture and economics combine to create exciting possibilities. Do you see this historical circumstance producing more successful hotel concepts in Cuba that bridge the past and the future or classical and modern?

This is not new. Geographically and culturally, Cuba is a crossroads. It has been a hub for many centuries. Sometimes it has been natural, like when the colonial Spanish ships arrived first in Havana then went to Mexico and South America. It was named the Gulf Key for its strategic position. During most of the 20th century it was a commercial port of transit enjoying such prosperity that it became a magnet for immigrants from the former metropolis. And then, during the years under the influence of the socialist bloc, there was an influx of Russian, German, Czech, Hungarian and many more people from Eastern Europe adding, again, an unexpected layer of consequences. So Cuba is accustomed to the new and unknown and it has survived each wave. This moment brings a broad range of openings. The idea of exploiting the historic background makes sense in Havana and other cities with rich colonial architecture. But there are big prospects for contemporary, avant-garde design not only in Havana but in many places through the country. Cuba is a rather big market and there are a lot of opportunities for almost every concept.

Since the opening of the Hotel Saratoga in 2005, boutique hotels have emerged as a discrete hotel category with some of the world’s largest hotel companies forming brands around the concept. Yet few places in the world offer a backdrop like the architectural richness of Old Havana and the nearby neoclassical Vedado residential section. Do you think Havana could shape the future of the boutique hotel milieu as the concept spreads into places that lack the special features or the historical circumstance found in Havana?

Havana is a big city, yet it feels close and personal. It is something that happens in culturally rich cities like Mexico or Buenos Aires. If you can take advance on these characteristics you can create a boutique hotel. This is a convenient scheme for the large hotel companies to bring intimacy to travelers looking for a unique experience.

When I walk into the entrance of the Hotel Saratoga I feel acquainted with a sense Cuba’s history and also with Havana’s treasury of historical events – some of which occurred close to the building itself. Do you think this sensation can be duplicated in any physical location or is it fortified by a city’s own unique location and circumstance?

The scenarios can be duplicated however the feelings and authenticity wouldn’t be easy to replicate. You can create a copy of Venice, yet you will not go to Vegas to pray in San Marco. You need several factors to create something as authentic as the original: objective ones can be copied but subjective ones, those involving feelings are very hard to create out of the nothing. Thereafter, the actual feelings you have in Havana belong in Havana.

Do you have plans for more design and architectural work in Cuba?

It is our goal and desire. We are always looking for new opportunities to work in Cuba for the great development chapter to come; but, more importantly, we already have a love affair with the country and its people.

Cuba’s growing hotel pipeline is trending towards upscale offerings in the urban city center and in the all-inclusive category mostly in Veradero. How do you see this trend impacting the rest of the Caribbean over the next few years?

The well established markets and niche products are not going to be very affected, but the new offers will be harder to sell. While everything takes shape and the infrastructure gets updated there are chances for the minor players; after that, it will be difficult for them to compete because Cuba is very diverse and as a touristic product has a lot to offer in a single package.

A Walking Tour of Old Havana

A Walking Tour of Old Havana

There is no better way to experience the grandeur and history of Old Havana than walking through the many plazas and exploring the interiors of the many cathedrals and museums.

Havana, or what is considered Old Havana today, was founded in 1519 by the Spanish. By the 17th century, it had become one of the Caribbean’s main centers for ship-building.

Click here to see a legal Havana tour that you will love.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Old Havana a World Heritage Site in 1982.

Within the boundaries of Old Havana and its fortifications are located all the elements necessary to express what UNESCO considers Outstanding Universal Value, including Old Havana’s urban layout with its five large plazas and its harmonious ensemble of architectural monuments and traditional-style popular buildings from different periods in its history – and its extensive network of fortifications.

Old Havana and its fortifications do not suffer from adverse effects of development, though much of Old Havana’s structures are in disrepair due to decay, chronic neglect and the effects from natural elements.

Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of more than 2 million people, its old center retains an interesting mix of Baroque and neoclassical monuments, and a homogeneous collection of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards.

The historic fortunes of Havana were a product of the exceptional function of its bay as an obligatory stop on the maritime route to the New World, which made military protection a priority. The extensive network of defensive installations created between the 16th and 19th centuries includes some of the oldest and largest extant stone fortifications in the Americas, among them La Cabaña fortress on the east side of the narrow entrance canal to Havana Bay, Real Fuerza Castle on the west side, and Morro castle and La Punta castle guarding the entrance to the canal.

Old Havana, which is defined by the extent of the former city walls, has maintained the pattern of the early urban setting with its five large plazas, each with its own architectural character: Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza del Cristo and Plaza de la Catedral. Around these plazas are many outstanding buildings, including the Iglesia Catedral de La Habana, Antiguo Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Palacio del Segundo Cabo and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales.

Interspersed with this mix of baroque and neoclassical style monuments is a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards –many of them evocatively time-worn. The complex system of fortifications that protected Havana, its port and its dockyard is comprised of the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña – one of the largest colonial fortresses in the Americas – on the east side of the narrow entrance canal to Havana Bay; Castillo de la Real Fuerza –one of the oldest colonial fortresses in the Americas (begun in 1558)– on the west side of the canal; and Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta and Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro guarding the entrance to the canal; as well as the Castillo de Santa Dorotea de Luna de la Chorrera, Torreón de San Lázaro, Reducto de Cojímar, Baluarte del Ángel, Lienzo de la Muralla y Puerta de la Tenaza, Restos de Lienzo de la Muralla, Garita de la Maestranza, Cuerpo de Guardia de la Puerta Nueva, Restos del Baluarte de Paula, Polvorín de San Antonio, Hornabeque de San Diego, Fuerte No. 4, Castillo de Santo Domingo de Atarés, Castillo del Príncipe andFuerte No. 1.

Source:  World Heritage Center, UNESCO

Old Havana is easy to navigate during the day, but it is not well-lit at night.  During the summer, walkers may want to avoid the heat of the day by exploring in the morning and late afternoon. Check out the Doors of Old Havana to see another interesting aspect of the island nation’s capital city.

Here is a selection of what you will find on a walking tour of Old Havana:

Images of Havana Under Construction

Images of Havana Under Construction

by Simons Chase

Anticipation in Havana has been building for years as US President Obama has steadily re-built a relationship with Cuba.  At the same time, Raul Castro, who took over as President of Cuba after his brother Fidel retired in 2008, has loosened restrictions for real estate trading by expanding permitted transfers to include outright sales.  Previously, transfers were permitted only in the case of cashless exchanges.

The US-Cuba relationship building has translated into a small but promising real estate building and reconstruction boom fueled by Cuban-American cash and domestic demand for housing.

These images were captured in Old Havana and surrounding neighborhoods including Vedado.

On Location: A Cuban Fashion Shoot

On Location:  A Cuban Fashion Shoot

I was visiting the famous Hotel National in Havana, Cuba when the piercing light of a camera’s flash shot in rapid succession across the eclectic, Art Deco interior.  A small group of plain-clothes people formed a semi-circle around a woman in a sequined red dress as she cast a skyward gaze into nowhere.  The bulwark, 1930s hotel completed the scene by providing the tension present in Cuba’s visible frontiers in a dance she has performed many times in the past.

Built on a promontory overlooking the sea in the Vedado (“prohibited”) section of Old Havana, Hotel National exhibits an eclectic architectural style, reflecting Art Deco, Arabic references, features of Hispano-Moorish architecture, and both neo-classical and neo-colonial elements.

A number of rooms occupied by the famous have been preserved – several having been declared historic (those of Nat King Cole, Compay Segundo, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, María Felix, Johnny Weismuller, the Mafia bosses, Bola de Nieve, Tyron Power, Gary Cooper, Agustín Lara, Jorge Negrete, Mario Moreno, Stan Musial, Paul Casal, and Errol Flynn). On display in each are photographs and a biographical profile of their celebrated former occupant.

In December 1946, the hotel was the venue for a major gathering of the Mafia, closing its doors to the public while accommodating the heads of the most notorious (American) Cosa Nostra families.  The hotel was the also setting for the formation of the ’26th July Movement’ (M-26-7) revolutionary cell led by Fidel Castro.

On this day, I witnessed Cuba:  old vs new, youth vs wisdom, Castro’s Cuba vs the New Cuba.

Cuban Chrome: The Cars

Cuban Chrome: The Cars

Cuban Chrome is a new docu-series that explores the fascinating time warp that celebrates Cuban car culture. This is the first American television series to be produced entirely on location in Cuba and will be simulcast in English on Discovery Channel and in Spanish on Discovery en Espanol.

After the 1959 Cuban Revolution and the subsequent United States embargo, it has been illegal to import American cars to the island nation — as a result, Cuba’s vintage American vehicles are frozen in time. For Cubans, these cars are not just a means of transportation, but a way of life. Cuban Chrome will give viewers an intimate look into this rarely seen country as they meet the men and women who put everything on the line to keep these classic cars running.

Today, thousands of classic American cars can be found in Cuba, each of them with a unique story to tell. This show takes viewers on a ride through Cuban culture and into the world of A Lo Cubano Car Club, a passionate group of car enthusiasts, restorers, mechanics and apprentices who work together to restore classic cars and maintain the ones they already own (and depend upon) though the odds are stacked against them.

Below are the cars of Cuban Chrome.  The top image is an example of the original, and the bottom image is the actual car that appeares in Cuban Chrome.

Source:  Discovery