Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Cigar Hustle

No trip to Cuba; better yet Havana would be complete without the tourist encountering a cigar/paladero hustle. Well I thought that I was well schooled on the fake cigar hustle, but little did I know that it would creep up on me so subtle that I would almost not know what hit me. So here it was, in the middle of the downtown area looking for the Real Tobacco factory, to take a look at how the famous Cuban cigars are put together. Totally confused by the roundabout streets; we were approached by a "kindly" young fella, well dressed and well spoken in English. He asked if we were lost and I told him that we wanted to go to a cigar factory. He happily obliged to guide us to the factory, actually a better one - the Romeo & Julietta. Ok, off we went with our new guide. Into the hot sun, through the streets, people, cars, statues, buildings whizzed by in a dizzying maze as my suspicious husband and I tried to keep step with Ernesto. Ernesto, who claimed to be in the military and doing us a kind favor, told us that the cigar factories were expensive and that cigars could be had in "restaurants" and he knew just the one. I should've known from that statement. Yes this restaurant had been the favorite dining spot of one of the characters from the Buena Vista Social Club. See this was the set up. Ok, great. Yes the cigars were authentic, hologram sticker and all. I kept thinking, how nice of this guy to show us around but I could see from my husband's face, he wasn't buying none of it. Through the streets, in the hot ass sun, up and down all around, even stopped to by my husband a cane juice. He spoke in flawless English about the fact that Cubans aren't allowed to leave the country and got all into political talk. An M.O. that we would soon realize was an all too abundant set up in the city. Ok so back to the hustle. Before we knew it we made it down a street, Ernesto said this was the "restaurant", he knocked on the door and this small door opened into a lovely courtyard with rooms, a kitchen, phone and from what I could see, this was a paladero. The proprietress promptly turned on the jazz - I guess to set the mood. The "cigars" were laid out in the back and then it hit home, I got it! This was all an elaborate set up, all the walking around, all the carrying on, just a set up for us to buy these bootlet cigars.

Oh Cigars all for sale!

Oh boy, so here it was, cigars laid out, and all the fast talk about having the "holograms" and the price is so good. The boxes were laid out in grand professional fashion, I had to admit, this was a good set up. Ernesto was fast talking and I was just not buying. Nope I don't need cigars, I just wanted to see the cigars being made, I had no one to take them for. I bullshitted for a while and stalled. The other man looked disappointed and I just dwadled and dragged and Ernesto suddenly got irate and pronounced "why won't you get these, what is the problem!" I didn't take too kindly to his tone of voice and thought of a way to diffuse this situation. I said that I would buy only one of the packages of the MonteCristos. They dragged and I insisted, I will only throw them to the garbage, I don't need 60 cigars, I've no one to give them to - how much, $20. $20 to get the hell outta a bad situation was cheap by any standards. The "cook" looked defeated, Ernesto looked less than satisfied as he led us to the street, bullshitted about meeting his girlfriend, by now it was 12:45 and he was supposed to meet her at 12 - hummm He kinda fumbled and we asked how to get outta this place, he led us up to Barrio Chino and he quickly melted into the city, he was gone and we quickly realized that we'd nearly been fleeced. We might've been taken for over $100 on the cigars or worse, robbed. I guess God was looking after us. Boy was that a fast one, quicker than any 3 card monty scam. I think I'd lost about 3lbs from that vigorous walk through the capital that day. After we stumbled out of Barrio Chino, and made it to another the Partagas cigar factory, we realized how close we were to the bloody cigar factory and how we were taken completely off base. I'll give Ernesto a pound for that fast one but I've got a something sneaky for him too, lets just say I'm not done. He wasn't the last to try the cigar hustle, but he was semi succesful, we had about 4 more hits, none of which we took the bait. But the cigar hustle is a slick one, the hustlers all speak English really well, they're well dressed and they all hit you with the political angle and the fact that they can't leave the island - yada yada and then they lay it on you; the "come-on". After this first we were well armed and prepared, I guess as they say - once bitten... well you know the rest.

Trying to play the fast hand!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home