For the second year in a row I will be covering the Festival de Habano in Havana, Cuba, and for the second year in a row, my day yesterday started very, very early.

In this case, early means 3:30 a.m., when I entered a taxi to take me to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, then on to Miami, where I boarded another short flight to Cuba. However, unlike last year, there were a number of differences right off the bat. The biggest is the fact that instead of booking through a travel agency, I was able to fly on an American Airlines plane, and was even upgraded to business class for the 45 minute flight. The second most noticeable change right off the bat was the process at the airport in Havana: last year it took me a total of almost four hours to get through customs and get my bag, while this year only totaled a bit more than two hours.

After getting my luggage, I hopped in a taxi and went straight to the Paladar Atelier, where Adorini and Cigar Journal magazine were holding a joint event dedicated to raising money for to support Camaquito, an aid organization that benefits Cuban children. Along with the prerequisite cigar—in this case, a Montecristo Edmundos—there were appetizers, rum and good conversation, all in a great open air room that showed off a bit of the Havana skyline as well as a great breeze.

In addition to the live music, Adorini held a raffle that included its new Year of the Rooster Limited Edition 2017 150-count humidor, lighter and a box of La Gloria Cubana Glorias. Proceeds from the raffle will help support a rehabilitation center for disabled children in Camagüey.

Knowing I had to get up early in order to get the press passes squared away, my night ended early, although not without incident, as my taxi driver and I spent almost an hour looking for the place I was staying on my trip. When we finally located it—with the help of many locals who were more than happy to help in any way they could—I turned in early to get some sleep.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.