The one Procigar tour that everyone wishes they take is the journey to Caribe, they just don’t know it yet.
As I’ve said multiple times this week, the only tour I try to do every year is the one to Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. I don’t need to see another cigar factory and I certainly could use a bit of a break in the middle of the week, but more importantly: I need to breathe the air.
Before you go any further, please read our coverage of Cigar Family Charitable Foundation before. I’ll cover the hits, but our coverage from previous years explains this in so much more gravity:
I didn’t visit Cigar Family Charitable Foundation last year, but after an hour or so in the bus I was reminded why I love being here: it’s a special place.
This year’s tour was a bit different than others I’ve taken, we went straight to the school bypassing a normal stop at the nearby Chateau de la Fuente farms. That was initially blamed on us running late—and I really don’t think we were that behind—but it seems the more likely answer is that we didn’t go to the Greeto de Carlito because Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. wouldn’t be there.
For those of you that didn’t listen to me, and haven’t read the above links, the basics are as follows. After a couple decades in the Dominican Republic, the Fuente family decided to begin growing its own wrapper in the Dominican Republic for a cigar that you now know as OpusX. Its farms are in Caribe, just outside of Bonano, about an hour west of Santiago.
During visits to the farms, the Fuente family would notice the extreme poverty around them, specifically the number of children that were begging in the streets instead of enrolled in school. At first, the family tried to find someone else to address the problem but quickly were told that if they wanted kids in school, they would need to provide the schooling.
In 2004, the Fuentes and the Newman family of J.C. Newman opened the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation to address those needs. It opened as a primary school, but very soon a high school was added and later this year, a technical school will open.
The schooling is free, students are provided with both breakfast and lunch, there’s a clinic with both a general doctor and a variety of specialists and there’s a number of sports and clubs.
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If you are into special Fuente and Newman products, you have likely contributed to the school. The Fuente and Newman families provide funds to make sure that every dollar donated to the charity goes directly to the school and not to the operational budget of the charity. Much of those donations come from the annual sale of the Toast Across America packs, where $50 per pack goes to the school. There’s also special auctions and other fundraising efforts to help fund education for roughly 500 students, many of whom will spend 12 years at the school.
Carlito Fuente wasn’t present during the tour as he twisted his ankle earlier in the week, which created a different experience in a number of different ways. Carlito has a gravitational pull that is different than nearly every other person I’ve met and there is no place where that is more obvious than at CFCF.
Kids, adults, strangers will run up to Carlito at nearly every turn. And at nearly every turn he’ll tell a story, either awe-inspiring or gut-wrenching.
Eric Newman of J.C. Newman recited many of those stories, though Newman frequently admitted that he was not Carlito and so the stories were shorter and the tour actually ran on schedule.
We still got to see what is coined as “the money shot.” It’s a stop in a classroom of five-year-olds, the youngest students at the school. They then perform a song, every class learns it and every year it produces tears of joy from a variety of guests.
Newman also got the class to sign another song—one that I heard a few weeks ago at Oliva’s school in Nicaragua—and we could actually hear the class singing their A, B, C’s later on in the tour.
While the above picture has a bit more of a jailhouse vibe than I’d like, one thing that’s incredible about the kids is how friendly they are. They come up and talk to guests and because they are all learning Spanish, English and French, conversations are a lot easier to be had.
A personal highlight of this tour is when Newman barged in on a chemistry class that may or may not have been taking a quiz.
After the tour of the school, we headed to a pavilion for presentations from the school’s karate team, dancers and musicians. I finally got to meet Tony Kattengell who started the karate team over a decade ago.
We returned back to Chateau de la Fuente and the Greeto de Carlito and eventually a somewhat less-than-100 percent Fuente Jr. emerged. While his ankle may have been struggling, Fuente Jr. was not. He told stories about coming to the Dominican Republic, deciding to grow tobacco, building the school and the legacy that the family has built and the one it wants to leave.
Lunch was then served and afterward, people toured both the tobacco barns and the Hemingway House.
The Hemingway House was built in 2016, a replicate of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, Fla. The inside is more or less a hospitality center. Someone was remarking that pictures never could do a place like this justice—I agree—so this year I brought a 360 camera and if you watch this on your computer or via the YouTube app, you can see what I mean.
Earlier than I’d like, we headed back to Santiago to get ready for the annual White Party. I have a 360 video of that, but the internet isn’t cooperating at the moment. I’ll upload that at some point in the near future.