Trip to Cuba – Day 3
I got up in plenty of time for breakfast and decided not to go off on my own in this city. I took the opportunity to talk with the waitress a bit because she spoke better English than I did Spanish. She seemed happy and said so… she liked her life in Cuba and the closeness with her family and neighbors. Although she had never been to the United States, her cousin moved there and her sister visited her. The people of Cuba seem to know a lot more about the States than I thought they did. They don’t hate us, they wish they were more like us. My take is that they would love the freedom to pursue more wealth and opportunity. I think they love and almost expect the generosity of Americans, this despite some of the old propaganda painted on walls, in print and even on busses.
After breakfast we boarded the van and headed to the tobacco fields. There are about 100 separate tobacco fields in this area, all used for cigars. These are individually owned and operated by Cuban people with the understanding that all the crops are to be given to the Government. It kind of takes away the incentive if you ask me, but again, I’m a Capitalist Pig, or so they say.
Here is one I heard while I was making my way through Cuba; A Cuban Chicken and an American Capitalist Pig (I have added the “Cuban” and “American Capitalist” for effect) were talking one day on the farm and the chicken says to the pig: “Want to go into business together? I have an idea for a restaurant.” The pig says “Sure, what will we provide to our customers?” The Chicken says…”I will provide the eggs and you will provide the ham.” The Pig says; “but if I provide the ham I will die.” The chicken says… “Well that’s the deal.” Think about it.
After a short drive we begin to see tobacco fields to the left and right of us. One after the other. None very large in size like some that I have seen in Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, but smaller farms with minimal people working them. We take a left off the road onto a dirt road and proceed up the path to the Robaina Farm which has been growing cigar tobacco since 1845. This is where the late, great, Don Alejandro Robaina (who passed away in 2010) grew his tobacco, and was honored by having a cigar brand, Vegas Robaina named after it. This farm produces arguably the best tobacco in all of Cuba or so says his grandson Hirochi who is now the boss, “El Jefe” of the Robaina Farm, and I believe him. It looked like much more care is used here than others I saw in passing.
We had the honor to sit with Hirochi Robaina and Ivan Rodriguez for over 4 hours to smoke and talk not only about tobacco farming and cigars but of life. Life in Cuba and around the world. We got the perspective of the farmer and we asked some tough questions including… “Do you want to leave?” and once again to my surprise the answer was “No.” They love their country and their neighborhood. It is a slower paced life filled with family and friends and not the hectic life of an American. It reminded me once again of days gone by in America, when we knew all our neighbors and went out to play and helped each other. This life was not so bad, as a matter of fact it was in some way better than that of mine…simpler. But don’t get me wrong, I was still holding my passport and visa tight, you don’t see anyone fleeing America on rafts to escape to Cuba do you?
We got a tour of the fields which were pretty much picked apart as almost all the tobacco was in the drying barns. We toured the barns and I even got a fresh rolled cigar using all Robaina Farm tobacco given to me by an 89 year old cigar roller with 9 fingers. I unfortunately didn’t get his name. No habla ingles for him and no habla espanol for me, but we seemed to communicate just fine never the less. He wanted me to have the cigar and I wanted it!
Later we toured Alejandro Robaina’s home. He earned many awards in his 91 years of life in Cuba and they were on display much like a museum. I never had the honor to meet who people call “The Godfather of Cuban Tobacco” Alejandro Robaina, but I can see within his Grandson the passion that I am sure his Grandfather passed on to him.
Hirochi Robaina is now the 4th generation to operate this farm and I am quite sure he has been trained well. Hirochi tells us that he learned every aspect of the process of tobacco growing and cultivating. Although he has some big shoes to fill, there was no doubt from any of us that he is the real deal and I was quite shocked at all the time he spent with us that day. We were supposed to visit other plantations that day but nobody was rushing us away so we stayed, we talked, we drank and we smoked. The time we spent their turned out to be the highlight of all the highlights of my trip and I think I speak for most, if not all the others. It was very special.
Hirochi has a cigar brand that does not use Cuban Tobacco but Nicaraguan tobacco and is sold in the U.S. market called H.R. (Hirochi Robaina) which is distributed by Cubanacan and sold at exclusive retailers including yours truly. This cigar is a great cigar but since returning home I have a whole new appreciation of cigar after spending time with Hirochi and understanding his philosophy.
As we were leaving I went to go thank Hirochi and Ivan with a firm handshake but was pulled-in with a big hug. Nothing uncomfortable here, just a true and sincere thank you from them for taking the voyage to see them and spend time with them. Gentleman, the honor was all mine.
From there we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a very late lunch and a very quick ride back to the hotel. (See Skip… I left out the whole episode like you asked). LOL
We freshened up (without Skip… he couldn’t make it because of circumstances beyond his control… again, see how I’m dancing around it while not telling anyone anything) and met for dinner which was kind of in a tree house… Colin, how do you find these places? We talked with (Negro) the man who owned the restaurant and his family and some of the other guests. We smoked more Cigars, Drank and laughed till late AGAIN and then off to sleep as we are heading out early tomorrow back to Havana to see more people, places and things.