The third day in Havana, together with a French couple we met in the casa particular, we rented a taxi (and driver, of course!) and went to Viñales to see the sights. Our first stop was at a private tobacco farm, a friend of our driver’s, off the beaten tourist paths. Which suited us just fine.
Wilson showed us around, and the first thing he explained was that cigar making is a one-year-and-a-half long process. Which is long. And it’s delicate, and long, and has to be precise. I realised that when I felt my first tobacco leaf – so delicate and frail!
We were there before the sun started really heating up the land, and the leaves were warm and moist, because of the dew, wilson told us. And you can’t pick them until they dry. And you have to pick them three leaves at a time, from the bottom up. And working these beautiful crops gives you tough, calloused hands, as Wilson was keen to make us notice ^_^
Wilson was great. He spoke slowly so our French non-Spanish-speaking friends could understand, smiled a lot and seemed delighted to have us there.
I loved the feel of the farm. Quiet, calm, warm, homey. Maybe I was a tobacco farmer in another life?
Before we went to see the tobacco leaves drying, we stopped by the farm’s coffee plants. Boyfriend loved this part, as he had never seen a coffee plants and was enthusiastic to say the least!
We then were offered a coffee made with the seeds of the plants we had just seen – incredible! I didn’t drink any (I don’t like coffee. Unless it’s very sugary, covered with whipped cream and possibly with a dollop of ice cream in it..) but boyfriend said that the coffee in Cuba was definitely the best non-Italian coffee he has ever had. And that’s a compliment, Cuban coffee-makers.
We then went into the actual drying barn, where two women were threading a certain amount of leaves – 6? 7? – can’t remember, but the number was fixed. No flexibility.
Then each bunch is hung from a eucalyptus branch and left to dry for a long time (months. Three, possibly.) until it becomes brown and brittle, like so:
The large, lower leaves that are harvested first are used as the wrapping of the cigars, whilst the softer, more tender ones are used as the “filling”. Depending on how many of which leaves are used, the cigars change their quality.
Also, interesting fact, tobacco leaves for cigars are de-veined: the thick central vein is removed and this (Wilson says) is where most of the nicotine is found. For cigarettes, on the other hand, this vein is left in place and that’s why cigars are better for you than cigarettes.
We then were invited to smoke one of the houses cigars.
And me smoking the cigar, obviously not doing it right, inhaling all the smoke and choking. Ah well, it was my first time smoking something…maybe not the right moment to fully appreciate what I was doing!
Oh, I spotted this in the room in which we were drinking coffee/smoking cigars/buying goods:
We then strolled through the farm one last time.
…and we saw a cuban farmer. Sledding.
Then we hopped into our jungle taxi and continued on our journey!