Date: October 2023
Author: Usman Dawood

Curacao, the Dutch Caribbean gem renowned for its untouched beaches, historic landmarks, and lively culture, has always been on the travel radar. But this year, my voyage to this paradise had an aromatic twist – The Caribbean Habanos Days Festival. This escapade was not just about cigars; it unravelled the intricate tapestry of Cuban and Curacaoan legacies, all while fostering new bonds.

Upon my arrival in Curacao, Amaralis Bersagui, the revered director of Caribbean Cigars Corporation, warmly received me. Given her stature as the premier Cuban cigar importer in the Caribbean, this introduction was a doorway into the very soul of the island’s cigar community.

Our inaugural stop was the La Casa del Habanos (LCDH) store, a landmark not just for its selection of cigars, but as a nexus of camaraderie. Run by Steven Van Buuren, it was here that I not only discovered a plethora of cigars but also encountered some of the most ardent enthusiasts. The connections I made transcended mere professional networking – they felt like genuine friendships destined to endure.

My initiation into Curacao’s cigar tradition began with the San Cristobal La Punta, swiftly succeeded by the Hoyo De Monterrey Petit Robusto. As laughter and insightful dialogues marked the hours, we finally decided to retreat, reserving our energies for the festival’s grand day ahead.

The First Day: A Tapestry of Aromas and Adventures

Daybreak saw us congregating at the LCDH. After a fulfilling breakfast, the festival’s proceedings truly commenced. Donning my festival wristband, Amaralis handed me a curated selection of cigars to jumpstart the day. It began with the mellow Quai d’Orsay No. 50, its elegance amplified by a performance that traced the entwined histories of Cuba and Curacao. Then, in a delightful twist, I paired a Trinidad Reyes with chocolate, right by the bar with a panoramic view of the sea – a celestial melding of flavours.

The day’s intrigue peaked with a blind cigar tasting. My guess, the Romeo y Julieta Belicoso, was amusingly off-mark; the mystery cigar was the Sancho Panza Belicosos. A light-hearted lesson, indeed! An afternoon boat tour offered not just scenic views of Curacao but also a tasting of the Montecristo Open Regata. A gift, the Ramon Allones Mexican Regional cigar from Matthew (@Matt_cas), was the proverbial cherry on the cake.

Curacao’s engineering prowess was evident in the Queen Juliana bridge. Its majesty, which I later experienced firsthand while driving over it, epitomises Curacao’s harmonious blend of the contemporary and traditional. As evening approached, sushi paired with the LCDH H. Upmann Conniseur B was the choice. Conversations and melodies harmonised so well that my cigar count hit a personal record of eight.

Day Two: From Historic Conversations to Celebrations

The second day promised excitement, even as the Caribbean sun hinted at the unseasonal heatwave the locals had mentioned. But before the day could truly heat up, it ushered in an invaluable opportunity to converse with the illustrious Jose Ernesto Aguilera and Pablo Pasencia. Facilitated by the eloquent translator and owner of the LCDH in ST Kitts, Mr. Orlens Guerra, our conversation was enlightening.

Orlens Guerra (left), Jose Ernesto Aguilera (Middle), Pablo Pasencia (Right)

Aguilera, the artisan behind the auctioned humidors at the Habanos festivals, delved into his latest creation, the Vegueros humidor. His narration, echoing the hardships endured by tobacco farmworkers and the aftermath of the devastating 2021 hurricane, was profound. A detailed video interview capturing our conversation can be found embedded below.

The day lightened with the ‘longest ash competition’, a delightful challenge for cigar lovers. As I opted to spectate, the poetic twist was discovering the winner: Donald Bakhuis, owner of the store, Don Caribe. In Don Caribe, amid air conditioning and culinary delights, the Bolivar Gold medal cigar offered a brief, cooling oasis from the day’s intensity.

Evening cast its orange and pink hues as we returned to our rooms, gearing up for a night that promised memories galore. This was not just about the impending humidor auction but also the last evening with the wonderful friends I had made. Together, we immersed ourselves in a tapestry of cigars, music, and heartfelt conversations.

The auction was the crown jewel of the evening. Two custom humidors, bursting with Partagas Lusitanias cigars, were the opening act, fetching a staggering $10,000 and $9,500. But the pièce de résistance was undoubtedly the Vegueros humidor. Initial bids were hesitant, but the momentum built up, culminating in a final bid of $20,000, won, fittingly, by Don Caribe. This prized possession is set to grace their LCDH store on Sint Maarten.

As the evening transitioned to night, music and dance took centre stage, leading to an evening that was nothing short of magical. For a first-timer like me at such grand events, the real takeaway was the bond cigars can create among strangers, transforming them into friends. This Curacao journey, interspersed with cigars, culture, and camaraderie, is a treasure I’ll cherish for a lifetime.

Special thanks to Brooks Whittington from Halfwheel for his guidance.

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