About 200 miles to the west of La Habana lies Vanales. There is very fertile land at the foot of the mountains here and the best place for Cuban tobacco to grow. The cuban cigar is so iconic of Cuba so on day two we headed out to see the cigar plantations.
Angel, Gema’s stepfather drives a ’57 Chevrolet Nomad Station Wagon and he was very willing to take us all the way out to Vanales and back. Here is a picture of me with Angel and Maite and then a picture of me and William beside the car. Now I know a pretty old car when I see one but I am told that men would gladly give their first born for a ’57 Chevrolet Nomad. Including Angel’s Nomad there are only four on the island.
William and I thought the countryside of Cuba looked a lot like Florida with the exception of mountains in the background. Again, it is common to see the old cars wherever you travel in Cuba because that is about all there is. Only occasionally you will see a French car or a British Car. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. You will see lots of horse and buggies sharing the road with the cars too.
As soon as we started into the mountains we began to see tobacco fields.
Before actually going to the place to see the cigars rolled Angel took us up to look out over the valley. What a beautiful site!
Tourists have been coming to Cuba for a very long time. They come mostly from Canada and from Europe. Americans have already been coming to Cuba too but they would get around the restrictions by going first to Mexico and then purchasing a visa from there to enter Cuba. This look out place is definitely a big tourist stop as you can tell by the many tour buses parked here.
At first we thought this was a statue but amazingly enough it is a person. Too cool! What a way to earn money. Gema tells us that he must have a license to do this and that he also gives a share of his earnings to the government.
We stopped to tour a cave before heading on to see the cigars. It was a real jewel and we even got a guided boat tour at the bottom of the cave. Here we met a couple from Athens, Georgia. Lindsey and Sam met in Spain and now they are married and spend their time between the two countries.
At lunch today we dined with Dave and Jen Trump, or so the said. A very young at heart couple from Colorado who love airbnb and traveling without using tour groups. One of the things that William and I love most about our travels is the people we meet!
In Cuba the government takes 90% of the tobacco crop and leaves the seeds and 10% for the farmer’s personal use. Giving the tours, the farmer is allowed to sell his cigars to the tourists. Even though William and I are not tourist but here on an educational visa (ha ha) we did buy some of the Cohiba Cigars for our friends in the US. We went into a palm covered barn to see where the tobacco was hung to dry. The farmer showed us how the tobacco was cured for one year and then showed us the different types of leaves that are used to make a cigar. The first step is to remove the spine of the leaf. This is where the nicotine is most concentrated but it is removed and not used for the cigar at all. The top leaves are used for the filler or most inner part of the cigar. The middle leaves are used as a first covering of the cigar and then the lower larger leaves of the tobacco plant are used as the final wrapper. They are then pressed for 4 hours and then stored in palm leaves to keep them moist.
When he finished rolling the cigar, he put just a little organic honey on the end and lite it up. William was very eager to give it a try but he said, “The lady goes first”. Well, when in Cuba why not try a cigar?
On the way back to La Habana the police stopped Angel at one of the check point stations. Gema said not to be concerned they were just checking to make sure Angel had the correct documents to drive a taxi. She was right and after a brief few minutes we were back on the road to La Habana.
Maite had a very traditional dinner of pork with onions and beans with rice waiting for us when we arrived. But the desert was best of all. Once again a very traditional dish but oh my gosh, I could have licked my bowl clean it was so good. It was a buttery tasting cheese with a guava jam inside.