Learning to Roll Cigars in Cuba
As an American, Cuba has always seemed like an unreachable destination – or at least extremely inconvenient. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered a group travel package to Cuba directly from Miami!
Luckily for us American travelers, YMT Vacations has secured a specific license from the Department of The Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control that authorizes travel to Cuba. This means that as long as the tour is encouraging a cultural and educational exchange with the people of Cuba, travel to this beautiful country is completely legal.
Because of the license agreement with the American government, our trip centered around learning about Cuban culture and meeting and talking with residents. Luckily for us, our travel director was able to translate for us flawlessly. Whenever I think of Cuba, I think of endless white sandy beaches, vibrant cultural history and, of course, cigars. It’s no surprise then that the highlight of the trip for me was going to a tobacco farm in Viñales and talking with the farmer and his family.
Viñales is near the northern tip of the country and is an established farming area. Produce and coffee are popular crops but the main export is tobacco. It was interesting to see that the traditional farming methods are much preferred over modern, mechanical methods because the quality of tobacco produced is so much higher.
The farmer and his family were gracious hosts and welcomed us warmly into their home. He was more than happy to tell us all about the growing cycle of the plants and went on at length about the great care they give the plants. He told us that the leaves are picked only two or three at a time so that they aren’t damaged. Looking at those fields it’s easy to see that a strong, efficient team must be needed to pick it all in a short time.
Once the leaves are picked, they are laid out to try before being sorted for cigar making. When the farmer started talking about how the cigars are rolled, he got very excited. His family has been in the tobacco business for a long time, and this is clearly a skill that is passed down generation to generation. He described (with our translator following along at a furious pace) how each leaf is individually rolled tight and then the entire bundle is wrapped in a much larger, coarser leaf to hold the cigar together.
If you’re considering a trip to Cuba, keep in mind that there are many other cultural stops along the way. I happen to be partial to the cigar portion but we also say Hemingway’s farm, the Che Guevara Museum and the Cuban National Museum of Fine Arts, we were also treated to several incredible music and dance performances along the way.