Sunday, 19 March 2017

Cuban tobacco farm and Cuevas del Indio, Vinales

If there is one smell I like it is the smell of a lit cigar.  I can't stand the smell of cigarettes and move away if anyone smokes one near me but when there is a cigar smoker nearby, I move closer. It's amazing how different two forms of tobacco can smell.

A tobacco farmer heading off to work

Vinales, Cuba, is where most of Cuba's tobacco farms are located and one morning we set off on a walking tour to visit one. Leaving the busy main street of Vinales we passed some brightly painted casa particulars, farmers preparing their bullocks for work, and cheerful locals who greeted us as we walked by. Within a few minutes  we were into the countryside and among fields of young tobacco, not yet ready to harvest. 

Colourful casa particulars, Vinales
Our guide, Floyd, was a happy character.  He pointed out various birds and plants and kept up a steady stream of banter and mother-in-law jokes, nevertheless he gave us plenty of serious information about how the tobacco crops are planted, grown and harvested.  Tobacco farming is extremely important to the Cuban economy, bringing in approx $430m in the last year.  Most of the farmers are part of a co-operative and the government sets firm targets of production which they must meet.  All going well, the government will take 90% of their harvest allowing the farmer 10% to sell for himself, if the harvest is not so good the government will take the lot.  Farmers are an ageing population, many well into their 70s, because young people today do not like to take on such hard, back breaking work. This is a problem Cuba will need to solve if they don't want to lose this valuable commodity. With the recent growth in tourism, and the USA lifting the embargo on importing cigars, the industry is thriving at the moment.  A good Cuban cigar is expensive and treasured as a rare treat. Locals smoke plenty of cigars but theirs is a more crude product which is very inexpensive and plentiful.

Young tobacco plants and a curing shed

Cuban tobacco farmer

The remnants from a full barn of  tobacco
 Our guide took us into the drying barn of a farm.  This is where the tobacco is hung on racks and left to cure, this farmer added rum to cure his. After a certain amount of time it is then fermented which is what gives a cigar its distinctive smell and flavour.  Unfortunately we were there at the wrong time so there was only a sample of tobacco on the drying racks, more for tourism purposes then anything else, but at least it gave us the idea.  

A tobacco farmer's home
We went into a farmer's humble shack where his wife was smoking a huge cigar and a pot was boiling merrily over an open fire.  The farmer demonstrated the art of rolling a cigar.    We were then invited to try one so I had my first ever puff on a cigar.  I can't see myself taking it up as a recreation but it was quite enjoyable and, of course, I loved the smell. We all purchased a few cigars to take home as gifts.

The farmer is adept at rolling cigars

The farmer's wife with her long ash. (photo Diana Kim)
My first ever puff on a cigar

A stroll back through farmland brought us to a brightly painted open bar where we drank rum and coconut water from green coconuts.  Led astray and loving it!  It was so refreshing.
Our super friendly, super fun tour group enjoying coconut, rum punches for morning tea!
Later in the day we drove a short distance outside Vinales to visit the Cuevas del Indio, a cave with a river flowing through it.  I love caves for their cool, dark, serene atmosphere so I enjoyed both the walk through this one and the boat ride along the underground river where the boatman pointed out imaginative features in the stalactites.

Inside Cuevas del Indio
At the exit from Cuevas del Indio
I have to say, though, I have seen better caves and this one couldn't hold a candle to the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand.  All the same a stroll and a boat ride in the cool on a hot afternoon was very pleasurable and most welcome and the exterior of the cave was impressive with lush vines dangling down from high escarpments.