John Bongo on Humidores Habana

29 Mar

Having seen pictures of what I can only describe as works of art, that are used to house cigars, I was really looking forward to our trip to the Humidores Habana workshops.

Going by the quality of work I had seen before arriving, I was expecting a reasonably modern building with some fairly tricky pieces of machinery.

Well, not for the first nor the last time were my eyes opened to the ingenuity of the average Cuban manufacturer.

When we arrived at the “new” building the first sign of activity we saw was two workers breaking down old bits of furniture by hand, removing nails, screws etc in order for it to then be processed into a useable piece of wood for the Artisans of Humidores Habana to create their magic with.

Bear in mind, in Cuba it’s very different to home where you pick up the phone or drive to the nearest hardware store to pick up the raw materials you need for your project. The vast majority of the Humidors produced here are done so using reclaimed aged wood. As I said, old furniture, pieces of staircase, flooring, support joints, all liberated from once majestic but now crumbling mansions and skilfully prepared to be ready to be turned into the magnificent pieces you have doubtless seen pictured in magazines.

Once the reclaimed materials are ready, they are graded by size and type, i.e., Mahogany, Teak, Oak etc and set aside until they are required. Nothing is wasted, even the tiniest scrap is saved and will be used at some point.

The “new” building as I said wasn’t quite what I expected but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the “old” building where it all began in 1994.

At 5’7″ I’m not the tallest of guys but even I had to duck under doorways and through corridors of this rabbits warren. Comprehending how such elaborate work could be undertaken in such dimly lit, cramped conditions with the most basic of tools was beyond me.

Watching the engravers and metal workers crafting finely detailed tiny animals and figures under those conditions was a privilege and a memory that will stay with me for a long time.

The new building is where the bulk of the work is undertaken and is a hive of activity, again machinery that in any other county would be obsolete and thrown on the scrap heap is still being used. Watching the woodworkers using these bulky machines and almost antique handtools to produce the most intricate of shapes and carvings was an eye opener.

When you actually witness how the finished product comes together and see it up close, it’s easy to understand why they command such lofty sums.

After our tour was finished we were taken into the office where some of the finished articles were on display and I spent a good while marvelling at the ingenious design features and finish on some very special Humidors ordered by some very high profile customers. Specifically that of a certain Mr Schwarzenegger.

Next time you get a chance to see a Humidores Habana humidor, take a closer look and really take time to appreciate its beauty as I’m sure like me, you’ll be amazed at how they do it.

Jose Ernesto Aguilera and his team rightly deserve the praise they receive for their work and I for one, will look upon it with a new found respect.

John Bongo

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