Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Trip to the Valle de Viñales - Day V

Thursday, April 20, 2017:

Today was set aside for our one big excursion of our week in Cuba, a two and a half hour drive to Cuba's biggest tobacco growing region, the Valle de Viñales which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

CUBAN FACTS OF THE DAY: The Partagás factory in Havana produces 25,000-27,000 cigars per day and has 400 workers. It takes nine months to train as a "torcedor" (cigar roller).

It takes a further two years of working before you can make Cuba's premium cigar brand, Cohiba.

Each worker needs to produce 80-150 cigars per day. Cigar workers are paid $16-$24 CUCs/USD per MONTH. 

Time to hit the road

Cuba's Tobacco Road

That's where we are headed

Now, how to get there?

Luis, our man at La Casa Azul, told us that transportation was no problem, he has a friend . . .

He showed us the friend's business card that included a picture of a nice, white 12 passenger van of recent vintage.

The price was good so we said "SI!"

The next day Flaco drove up
in his 1957 Ford Station Wagon
to chauffeur us to Valle de Viñales

Not quite the 12 passenger van on the business card that we had expected, but what the heck, the price was still a good one. Also, as Americans, who else could we blame for Cuba's auto woes but our decades old blockade of the island.

The handmade seats were rock hard and the jump seat that I occupied was interesting on many levels. Of course, Cuba's roads are more than a bit bumpy but still better than expected.

Undaunted, we headed out to explore the Valle de Viñales located in the Pinar del Rio province about 110 miles to the west of Havana. 

 I bet their rear ends were
more comfortable than ours

 I like a bit of rust
on my school busses

Roadside propaganda . . .

. . . is a MUST in Cuba

Royal Palms

We finally made it to a small
tobacco farm near the city
of Viñales

Rugged landscape highlighted
by haystack-like mogotes

Mogotes are dramatic mountain formations that are remnants of a great limestone plateau that rose from the sea during the Jurassic era about 160 million years ago.

Our tobacco farm was tranquil

We were told that the horses were
gentle to ride

That bull, on the other hand, is known to be mean.

Mogotes and tobacco

Mark exiting the equine tack room

Laurie entering a tobacco
drying hut

Dryer leaves to the top gradually
ripen from green to brown

Newer ones on the bottom

Lots of drying leaves in here

That main vein running
down the leaf contains about
75-85% of the leafs nicotine

This vein is removed before being added to the cigar.

A tired worker

Tobacco growing is indeed labor intensive.

The tiny seeds are planted in October in greenhouses.

After about a month the seedlings are transplanted to the fields.

About four months later they are ready to be harvested. After about two more months of hanging and drying in a hut like this one, the leaves are then sorted by colors and continually dampened with a concoction that includes cinnamon, vanilla, honey, rum, lemon or orange juice and and several other aromatic ingredients.

Then the leaves are left to ferment for up to three more months.

The leaves are the graded based on color, size and quality before finally being rolled into puros, i.e., cigars.

 A happy worker

So that's what a thatched roof
looks like from the inside

Carlos, our car's guide,
enjoying a puro

Juan Carlos is the boss of
our tobacco farm 

He gave us all of the information about the cigar growing process mentioned previously.

 He rolled a few cigars for us

Adding honey to the end
a cigar

This is applied to the end that will go into your mouth to further improve the flavor of your smoke.

I'd never heard of that before.

Sophie breathing in the almost
potpourri state of the tobacco

The rolls that Mark is purveying hold 10 or 15 cigars ready to smoke.

We each bought a roll to legally bring home under President Obama's new arrangements with Cuba's government.

 We enjoyed the free cigars
given to us to enjoy by Juan Carlos

 The Coco Loco was good too

The fact that they left the bottle of rum on the table to freshen our drinks was a nice touch too.

Tobacco farming
is his life

 With Carlos and Juan Carlos

Bidding a smokey farewell
to our little tobacco plantation

Time for lunch at Viñales'
Restaurant Casa Barbaro

Banana Bunches

LOTS of good food for
lunch that we continue
to share family style

As usual, Mark was interested
in Cuban building techniques

This is the beginning phase of our restaurant's expansion plans.

Mark only borrowed Susie's
unlit cigar for this photo op

No way were he, Sophie or Mallory lighting up one of these puros.

A short after lunch drive . . .

 . . . through the Valle de Viñales

 To a cave where runaway slaves
used as a hide out a hundred+
years ago

Into the caves we went


 Fun with Fire!

 Danger with Fire!


The cave was about 140 meters long and opened up onto a nice little bar/restaurant.

Hmm . . .

Joe Mollica was here?

Our last stop in the now rainy Valle de Viñales was a mirador or scenic view point where one could . . .

. . . ride a bull . . .

 . . . or pose for the tourists
like me

Again, Mallory only handled
an unlit cigar for this photo op

A Mogote 

A beautiful sight if you ask me

So is Laurie for that matter

It was time to head back to La Habana.

 Only in Cuba

About half way home, we were pulled to the side of the road by a random Highway Patrol check point to make sure that no laws were being broken.

Flaco pulled the car over and Carlos told him to shut off the engine. The Highway Patrolman asked one question, Carlos answered it and we were done in about 15.8 seconds.

Or so we thought.

The engine would not start up again. Carlos said that it just needed to cool off a bit.

After four or five more attempts over a 15 minute span, Carlos asked if we could help him try for a push-start.

Being manly men, we of course said "SI!"

The three of us pushed about three strides and voilà our 1957 blue Ford station wagon was once again operable!

Several of these passed us while
we waited by the side of the road

 Did I mention that windshield
wipers don't work in these
vintage American cars?

 Back home in the El Vedado
section of La Habana

Another beauty

We had yet another fine
dining experience that
even included . . .

. . . a GREAT little Cuban
band with a . . .

. . . none too camera shy singer

You will need Google Chrome to be able to open these two videos.

Another GREAT day in paradise!

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