Cuba May 2019 – Visiting the Farms Or Back To The Roots

9 Jun

The cover picture of this report means a lot to me.

It is from February 2010 and we had just arrived at Pancho Cuba’s tobacco farm an hour after a torrential rainstorm and strong wind gusts had destroyed most of the Tapado or covered wrapper harvest crop.

The guajiros were desperate, the harvest was basically gone with the wind. Pancho was in Pinar del Rio trying to get assistance and recover some of it. It was a tragic day to be there and witness how the hard labour of months and months was destroyed by nature in a few minutes time.

I’ll never forget the image of the head-bowed guajiro mourning the loss.

I had been introduced to Pancho Cuba’s farm by my friend Mr Portmann from Switzerland and a year later I would be there again in happier circumstances with my brother Jimmy from Singapore watching Pancho haul in the great harvest and being happy. I took some nice pictures of Jimmy in the tobacco barn among the giant still-green fresh leaves.

Jimmy, our Cuban friends and I were the first guests to eat in the newly opened Robaina Paladar on the main road …. happy times.

I had not returned to Pancho’s farm since and always thought of those sad and happy times visiting farms that are off the radar.

So when my buddy Charlie told me he was planning to visit some of the lesser known farms outside the main visiting route, I  immediately agreed to ride along him and Jody.

We had another 2 friends along that were basically just visiting the first  farm and then staying the day at Robaina.

As the “Boston GPS” failed to find the first farm we drove around in circles and then finally decided to stop on the main road to ask for directions ( only 6 farms are on the Ruta del Tabaco map and most people only know how to get to Robaina or HL Prieto ).

Asking a guajiro directions I suddenly heard someone shout my name – we had stopped in front of Miguel’s house, HL Prieto’s roller.

I don’t believe in chance – everything has a plan … 🙂

We found the farm and I was immediately taken back to my first farm visits – the peace, tranquillity, the genuine affection of the farmers and the pride in their tobacco plants.

He invited us to sit in his large Ranchón and offered us strong black coffee and a 52 cigar. We were all alone with him and his roller/assistant.

Talking, shooting the breeze, asking about the harvest ( all had been basically already transferred to the Tabacuba warehouses, only very little remaining in the barns ).

We visited one of his 4 tobacco houses, the last piles of leaves were curing, using the scorching heat and then he’d hope for humidity to soften the leaves again for the transport to the warehouse.

Back to the Ranchón and more coffee and a second cigar. He told us that last year he had taken a “sabbatical” and only planted half his farm to relax and take it easy, life is to be enjoyed. Good attitude.

That kind of attitude has made him decide not to have large tourist groups visiting the farm. He wants to keep it quiet. But if we should return and not be more than a group of 6-8 people, he’d happily cook lunch for us on 2 days notice … great attitude.

So, I am only too happy to leave his name out of this report.

I was happy there, more so when his mother came along, a happy world travelling lady and we found out we both were born in northern Spain as were his parents and grand-parents. Her Spanish passport opens doors from Miami to Spain to all over the world. A truly happy lady.

I am sure it will not be my last visit to his farm and the next visit will not take 10 years.

We then had a long and long awaited lunch at HL Prieto’s farm ( we were starved as we had left Havana very early morning ). Hector Luis was in Havana due to his wife being ill so we missed each other.

A Cafecito with dessert and a good conversation with a US cigar lover and his Cuban cigar sommelier guide – small world, we had so many friends in common in the Havana cigar world ….

From there it was on to SC’s farm, basically around the corner from HL.

Another beautiful farm, a large Ranchón, a lovely viewing tower overlooking the farm and another kind, warm-hearted and humble farmer welcomed us.

SC plants almost 200.000 plants, all sun grown but after his son died in an accident has reduced the workload and passed parts of the farm to his daughters and another son. Lovely man, he offered us some 56’s to smoke and a good rum, very light and mild and the wrapper on his La Bestia large sized sticks was spotless. Smoking a farm rolled cigar and sipping an Añejo rum with him on his deck and looking over the farm was pure bliss. I can only imagine the sea of rolling tobacco plants in January or February. Right now he plants corn to re-vitalize the soil just as most farmers do.

And then it was further up the road to Pancho’s farm. We filled the bus with Cuban students and gave them a lift as we had the Van empty except for the 3 of us.

Happy to see, greet and talk to Pancho Cuba after 9 years.

Lovely man. He showed us the tobacco barn, just a few leaves left and we had a good conversation – I will be back there soon again.

Back to the roots, to the original, the genuine, the non-diluted authentic.

We then drove back to pick up our friends at Robaina and there I watched the last 20 minutes of the Champions League final, calling John Bongo from there to say hi as I knew he’d glued to the tv watching it.

A sad sight was to see Don Alejandro’s house has been demolished, just stones left. Apparently it was in a bad state and the hurricane made it worse so it has been demolished. Many happy memories were in that house and terrace, many excellent conversations with Don Alejandro, many superb criollo lunches, many great cigars smoked there. RIP.

The Boston GPS had finished rolling his A-14 wrapper Coronas and it was off to Havana … until Charlie noticed he had left his Casa keys at the farm …. a call and good man Ivan came out on his roller to hand them over midway.

Thank you Charlie for having the idea. It was a great day and brought many memories back.





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