“We don’t post pictures from this, this is for us,” said Jamilet Calviño of Cigar Snob, shortly before our tour started. Us referring to her and her brother Eric.
On an annual basis, Calviño takes more photographs of my photo-adverse self than everyone else in this world combined. We see each other at cigar festivals and events quite often and she always has her camera, always snapping away.
Yet, she summed up what we were doing in Caribe as simply as anyone. Like Calviño, I’ve been to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation multiple years, multiple consecutive years. It is the only Procigar activity I do each and every year—and that’s not going to change. I am here to simultaneously recharge myself, but also to drain myself, emotionally and physically.
Trying to keep my eyes open on the bus ride back from the foundation, which is where I am typing this article from, is a battle I never win. For as rewarding as the entire day is, it punishes my body each and every year.
Physically-speaking, our day isn’t that grueling. This year—because of our group size—an extra challenge was added early as we had to walk up the steep incline to the top of Chateau de la Fuente—the Fuente family’s farms in Caribe—to the Grito de Carlito, an outdoor gazebo that puts whatever is in your backyard to shame.
This is our third consecutive year covering the visit, which is largely the same, so I’d highly recommend reading Patrick Lagreid’s write-up from 2016 and mine from 2017 before returning to this article, as it will help to explain much of this.
Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. is not known as a morning person, but much earlier than anyone expected, he pulled up to the top of the hill and started greeting each and every person who had made the trek. He then explained the backstory behind why he and the Newman family created Cigar Family Charitable Foundation.
The two families initially agreed to build an add-on to the existing public school, but after talking with David Luther—who unfortunately wasn’t present for our visit—they were convinced the better option would be to build a school themselves. That opened in 2004 as a primary school and within six months, a high school was in the works.
Cigar Family Charitable Foundation’s primary focus is the school, but it provides a lot more. The on-site clinic is open to everyone in the area and the two families—in association with the Rotary Club of Tampa—have provided 3,500 water filters to homes in the area.
If there are two things that have been a constant of this year’s Procigar it has been the large groups and rain. Today’s visit was no different. Typically, Procigar brings under 20 people to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, but this year there were 56 people on the list, though not all made it. Bobby Newman was in town with a group of a dozen or so people and as always another 20 or so people showed up to the tour.
The number of people was over double what I’m used to seeing and as such, our tour was quickly split into two, which was essential.
Between the large group, the sporadic rain and a new commitment to running on time, our tour was faster and shorter than in year’s past. While not being able to see certain areas such as the chess room or the baseball fields was mildly disappointing, I found it tougher to take it all in like in years prior.
What helps is the repetition of the faces. It’s only been three years, but that means that many of the students and faculty I recognize. And at least with the kids, you get to see growth. Students are in different places, karate belts are changing colors and the kids keep getting bigger.
And it’s all about the kids. They are the friendliest people you will ever meet with smiles and enthusiasm that make you forget about the pouring rain.
This year we got to see some special performances ahead of the upcoming Dominican Independence Day, something that was not part of the prior years.
Like the children, the school itself is changing a bit. I seem to recognize some subtle changes to the outdoor amphitheater, though the most notable project—a new medical and hospitality school—is still in its early stages, though it appears the foundation is well underway.
After a performance by all grades of children across various disciplines of art and karate, we headed back to the tobacco fields for lunch. This year, lunch was held in a new pavilion the Fuentes just finished, which was good, because there was no way we were fitting in the space we used last year.
As always, the Fuentes and Newmans do first class hospitality. And the caterer the company uses continues to provide some of the best food I eat during Procigar with this being the best of the roasted porks I’ve had so far.
From there, we had a couple hours to relax and walk around. Fuente opens up its barns, tobacco fields and the Birthplace of a Dream House, i.e. the Hemingway House, up for guests to explore at their own pace.
Like every grower, the increased rains are having impacts on the tobacco, though the tobacco I saw in the barns looked healthy and some was at the brilliant stage when the reds of the leaves are contrasted by the last spots of bright green still left, a sign the leaves were close to heading out of the barns.
Also, here’s the latest in my ongoing series Charlie takes pictures of tobacco workers not smiling.
As for the Birthplace of a Dream House, it appears finally done. I’ve gotten to see it from construction, to built, to furnished. Now the house is complete and it looks as stunning as one could imagine.
It’s stunning, even in heavy rains.
Pictures have been hung all throughout the house, including many of Andy Garcia’s The Lost City, which was shot on the farm.
At 4:03 p.m. we boarded the bus back to Santiago, which is where I’m now writing this from. Because of the nature of Saturday, I’ve opted to end this post now, though another one will come on Sunday which covers the Friday night gala, the last official Procigar event, and the unofficial shenanigans that takes place after.