Visiting Hector Luis Prieto with Rob Ayala and friends

9 Dec


It’s cold, windy, lots of snow, a dark & dead German Sunday – what better moment to sit down to write down and select the pics for these sunny memories.
I wholly agree with a Finnish friend’s comment on her FB page :

Many people love snow. I find it an unnecessary freezing of water.


After a healthy “revival and back to life breakfast” following a hard night after we returned back to our Casas in Viñales it was back on the road with a beer break just 5 minutes after leaving Viñales to take in the breathtaking view from the Los Jazmines hotel over the valley below.

The evening had been hard for all the alcoholic beverages consumed at Cayo Jutias after the long drive there from Havana.

We met after a shower to have a few before dinner drinks at a music bar and then proceeded to El Olivo, an Italian restaurant on the main drag.

Ten days earlier we had been there for dinner, same table, same large group with Toby, same no-smoking signs but, as it was a large group, the doors were open, no other customers around – of course we were allowed to smoke.

I even took some pics of Yaromis and his girl friend and me smoking happily inside below the no-smoking sign.

Well, this time a different “shift” was on duty and it was a stiff “no smoking” although the circumstances were the same … I loved it when Toby quizzed me about my not being able to recognize Cuban “consistency” after all these years in-country.

Pissed off I left the happy re-union back for the music bar, had a sandwich and a few beers on top of the many I’d had at Cayo and then asked for 2 fingers of Añejo to help me jot down my notes before meeting up with the group again.

The friendly waitress poured me 4 fingers worth and it made my night.

I missed the Polo Montañez music club and almost missed my casa when I staggered back, fully pissed – but fortunately I didn’t miss the toilet bowl when disposing of my stomach contents .. first and only time in 4 weeks.

So we started early with the beer at Los Jazmines and then on the country road and by noon we were at Hector Luis “Proyecto Socio-Cultural Mi Cayuco”, as his Vega is officially named.

Hector, his side kick Miguel, a genial Tabaquero and roller and the heart of the Vega as well as their families were waiting for us and the pig was slowly roasting in the pit hole covered by palm leaves.

Some information about the man : Hector is mid-forties, an accomplished and passionate Veguero and a former paratrooper with over 200 jumps – he still keeps the cammo floppy hat I gave him last year, which makes me proud.

Named Habano Man of the Year in 2008 for his labour and the quality of his tobacco, he cares about 5 hectares of land with 34.000 tobacco plants per hectare and 15 workers to assist him.

Of these 170.000 tobacco plants, 60.000 are “Tapado” or shaded plants and the remainder are “Sol” or sun-grown plants.

He uses Criollo 98 for the Tapado plants which he thinks is much like the “original” Criollo and Corojo 99 for the Sol plants.

It takes 20 days to plant all the tobacco and the job has to be done not later than Dec. 31-st.

The place is idyllic with a stream running below the veranda and all kinds of fruits, coffee and other plants and flowers growing wild all around the place.

We all felt the magic of the place – being truly in the heart of “La Meca del Tabaco” as San Juan y Martinez proudly calls itself.

Hector is quite happy that people now find its way to his Vega and told me that many visitors came telling him they read about him from “Nino” – which again made me proud.

It was a nice surprise to meet Manuel Fröhlich there that day, a young and passionate Swiss merchant and fellow blogger.

I truly do believe that this, along with Pancho Cuba’s farm nearby, is “the place” to absorb the true spirit of the tobacco planters, their hard and dignified way of life, their passion, their dedication to producing the best tobacco on earth. No large groups, no tourists, no circus here. Just plain hard work, a great hospitality and outstanding cigars.

Which we had quickly in our lips as Miguel passed them around, freshly rolled Robustos and Doble Coronas wrapped in paper to absorb humidity and keep them in shape.

It was beer and wine time again and we welcomed the smell of the roasted pig when it was carried up from the pit to be cut up in juicy small pieces.

It was pork, rice, beans, yucca, malanga, fresh salads, more pork and more pork skin – a delicious feast.

Then we relaxed slurping thick strong Cuban coffee, drinking Añejo and drinking in the landscape, the atmosphere and the impressions.

I would happily give my left nut and parts of the right one to spend a few days here, enjoy the evening on the veranda and the quiet nights – and I am sure I will, as it is always hard for me to leave this blessed place.

I remained with Hector and Miguel for another hour after Rob and the friends left for Havana and fought hard with myself to finally leave this oasis.

Already I’m happy to return in late February for another session with these great humble people.

Who knows, I might finally be staying there to hear the roosters in the morning …





3 Responses to “Visiting Hector Luis Prieto with Rob Ayala and friends”

  1. Taina Rigorí 09/12/2012 at 17:17 #

    Hector Luis’s place is my favourite place on earth, no contest, to enjoy a cigar. To smoke one with the man who grew the tobacco, Hector Luis, the man who rolls the cigars, Miguel, and the man who keeps taking me back there, my husband Eric, is a pleasure beyond words. And this after a meal prepared by the lady, kindness personified, who does magic in the kitchen, Hector Luis’s wife Caridad. This is my piece of Cuba I miss the most.

    • Nino Munoz 10/12/2012 at 22:42 #

      Gracias Taina por tus palabras –

      me alegraria de volver a veros alli, en ese paraiso y de compartir con vosotros.

      Un fuerte abrazo de


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