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Anto recently returned from a visit to Cuba. One day, wanting to go out and see a tobacco plantation, he and his crew hired a rickety car and driver. The driver was a surly woman of middle age who spat a lot out the window of her vehicle, and talked in a Cuban accent so thick that, were Spanish one of the group’s stronger suits, they’d have had no chance of understanding her anyway.

The surly woman – Caridad – did have at least the good sense to bring along an English-speaking guide, a short old Cuban dude in a worn straw hat, who’d obviously devoted his life to cigars. In the days before the revolution, when he was but a teenager, he helped his uncle run a tobacco plantation in the Vuelta Abajo region, while acquiring near-native facility in six languages, one of which was English. When revolutionary rumblings made themselves felt, our little Cuban dude managed the almost impossible feat of fighting on both sides at the same time. He claims to have been the only agente quàdruple in the history of modern espionage. He may well have been.

After the Communists took over, the little guide took over managing what had been his uncle’s plantation as a collective farm run on strictest Marxist principles. (Uncle Nectario escaped the revolution by fleeing to Mexico. He hasn’t been heard from since.) Although his plantation was singled out for praise by El Comandante, by the early 1970s, our little dude had tired of the rural life, and hitched a ride on a donkey cart to go start life anew in Havana.

He was first employed as a lector in one of the bigger cigar factories, where his readings of Dostoevsky were highly valued, as he translated the text on the spot, using his knowledge of Russian. Soon, however, his encyclopedic knowledge of tobacco (and his good Party connections) got him a promotion to blender. That led to two decades of living the dream (and we don’t mean the Communist one.)

A spiritual awakening ensued, and our little dude decided to seek out an ascetic existence, far away from the world, but close to his beloved tobacco plants. He thus took up residence in a tobacco barn back in the Vuelta Abajo, living in a lean-to he built with his own hands. He assumed the contemplative life of an ermitaño de tabaco, eating only rice and a scant few beans to survive, drinking only water…and smoking half a dozen cigars a day.

Then the tourists started coming in droves, and he got the guide gig to help out his surly cousin Caridad in her rickety 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. A little spending money never hurts, even if you’re an ascetic hermit living in a tobacco barn.

That brings us back to the point at which the little Cuban dude in the worn straw hat came to meet Anto.

Confronted with this cigar sage, whose knowledge encompassed not only cigars from his native island, but also (somehow) from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mexico, and even Patagonia, Anto immediately asked him to review cigars for the new Cigars by Chivas website? The little Cuban dude jumped at the idea, and Team Chivas got a new member.

He bangs the reviews out on an old Remington in the barn he still inhabits, and sends us his copy in the mail…using a lick-on stamp and everything. Of course, we’re not allowed to pay him, but we do send him an assortment of baseball cleats, chocolate bars, chewing gum and nylons every month. Strictly as a gift, of course.

We’re calling him our ‘Cigar Sommelier’ because it’s a lot easier than using his real name, which we’ve heretofore avoided. It’s Don Amador Eufrasio Geroncio Nectario Xalvador Hoja de Puros.

We hope you’ll enjoy his periodic reviews.

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