"Cigars and an "illegal" visit to a tobacco farm" Top 5 Page for this destination Pinar del Río Travelogue by Alain_Smeets
Pinar del Río Travel Guide: 42 reviews and 104 photos
Today it's Friday 5 May and the ninth day of or holiday en this morning starts like it ended last night, no water on the tap. At 7h00 in the morning there is again some water running from the tap and we can take our shower. We start our morning walk in the streets of Pinar in the direction of the cigar factory Francisco Donation. But first we take our breakfast on a small plaza, an egg-tortilla for 5 peso or 25-eurocent (10 Belgian francs). Johns engine is kick starting again, he's exercising his dance steps. You can't call it exercising any more, maybe is practice a better word, because he's already experienced. We want to see now, how they make these cigars and we slip in with a group of bus tourists, just walk together with them and you avoid paying the 3-dollar entrance fee. This was a tip from Lazaro, just join in with a bus excursion. Inside, we see the people sitting in groups of 3. First they take the inner tobacco leaves and twist them together. In the next step the cigar gets already more shape, by adding extra layers of tobacco leaves and push it in a fitting mould. Then they finish the cigar, by rolling the outer layer a round it and as finishing touch they complete the mouthpiece of the cigar. The horde of tourists is strolling around the workers and they are taken photos. There are lots of rows people sitting here. After the rolling of the cigar, we take a view at the distribution of the tobacco leaves.
The workers have to write down how many leaves they get. This in two fold, one paper for them and the other paper stays at the office. They bring the finished cigars to a sorting facility. I guess that every worker has her colour or tag, because I see a lot of bundled cigars laying here with coloured ribbons around it and a nametag. Here they check the quality of the cigars. They are looking to the length, the straightness and they see if they are not broken or damaged. First one person is sorting the cigars and when that's done, a second person comes in and together they are laying them in a certain order. The second person is taken the cigars and lays them out in bundles of 25 cigars. You see him thinking which cigars are belonging together. It's one control after the other, the real manual or artisanal task. I'm wondering what will happen when they replace the manual labour of the rolling of the cigars if capitalism enters this world. Will machines replace them all or shall only a few people lose their jobs? When we walk through the factory, they approach us often to ask for some loose change. Yes, they also try to get their hands on some dollars, but can you blame them.
I want to go cycling the next day in the area and maybe try to visit a tobacco farm. Lazaro arranges that Frank will join me, so that he can practice his English en I have someone to talk to and a guide. Jean decides to go with us and in the end also Christina is joining us. They three have a mountain-bike with 18 gears and I have an old Chinese ladies bike, with at the right-hand side only the pedal-axis. I can tell you that this doesn't pedal easily. I have a little chat with Karl, who is doing the washing, but he doesn't believe me that Christina is joining us, so he stays here.
I'm talking to Frank and he tells me that he has coloured his hair blond because he works as a model and that 2 persons of his group needed to have a different look. That was for him the perfect excuse to change his look. He was called to the principle of his school to explain why he did this. He even tried to find work as a model in Havana, but this was not possible for him. He tells me about his dance partner Christina, unfortunately, she's only speaking Spanish. By the way Karl has put his eyes on Christina. Frank met Christina, when his father had an affaire with Christina's mother and since then they are friends. They are only dance partners and they enjoy dirty dancing in the discothèques. A few moths ago, Christina cycled in the tour de Cuba and Lazaro told me that she's 21 years old and has a baby of 3 years old. Frank is studying socialistic economy at the university.
We are riding our bikes under a burning sun over a light sloping landscape towards the tobacco farm. It's a very busy road, with lots of bikes and heavy trucks. You can smell the fumes of the exhausts from a great distance. As we reach the plantation, we talk to some people who tell us that the harvest is already finished and that everything is already stored inside. It's unlikely that we can visit the facilities. They point us to a small office and Christina tries to get us in. Also here she gets the same answer, come back in a few months when we have a new harvest. But she doesn't take no for an answer and keeps on asking. Someone directs her to a small shed behind the buildings; we take our bikes and go to there. Inside there are some people and as we are waiting here indecisive, a man comes towards us. She talks to him and when I notice his gestures, I see that a visit is out of the question. She asks to see his boss, who apparently is sitting a little bit further together with some other people. She walks up to them and starts talking and a moment later they are coming towards us, we can get in and get a private guided tour.
A man and a woman will be our guide and they show us the total production process. They show first the washing of the bundles of tobacco leaves. First they tell us the procedure and then they even show us how they do it, but they have to reconnect the water first. They hold the bundle beneath a very thin spout of water and shake it softly. Then this washed bundle of tobacco leaves is placed uprightly in a sort of wooden construction. The moisture of the leave is drifting towards the stem. After one or two days it will be transported to an insulated wooden shack of 2 by 2 metres to be dried. First they place it to the left-hand side and after two days they place it at the right-hand sight and another 2 days later it will be restacked at the backside. This is the "dry chamber" where the dried tobacco leaves will be treated. The leaves located at the backside of this chamber are ready to use. The people get here their leaves and start sorting them. Their quota is 25 kilograms a day. They have to watch for the colour, the form and the size of the leaf. This gives then a subdivision in different classes or ranks. I see about 60 persons, all sitting and sorting the leaves and all are women. As I ask why, they tell me that a woman can concentrate herself much better on the work.
As they finish sorting the 25 leaves, it is brought to a table, were somebody does an extra control and puts it in the correct basket. The sorted leaves will be taken out of this basket by some men and women and bundled by 25 pieces. Then they will tie 4 bundles together. This will then be transported into a shed, for further drying. As they are dry, the leaves will be packed in dry banana-leaves. These packets weigh around 50 to 55 kilos and they make daily 25 to 30 packets a day. They tell us that there are 56 different ranks for tobacco and the higher the rank or class, the better the tobacco. Their banana-leaves packed tobacco has class 19, so not that famous if you ask me.
They bring us back to their office and he gives us a small demonstration of rolling a cigar. It's very rudimental and they are not worth so much. The shape looks like a cigar, but the mouthpiece has an extra snakelike appendix. He gives us 5 cigars, one each as a gift. We thank him for the guided tour, the explanation and the cigars and take our bikes and go back outside. Yes, we stored the bikes inside the office, because the chance was big that someone would steal these mountain bikes. We see in the farm a lot of playing children, probably children from the workers. As we leave the farm, Frank tells me that Christina got us inside by telling a little lie. She told the foreman that she was of the department of agriculture and that we were agricultural students from Belgium and Frank a student from Spain. This seems to work always in Cuba and it opens many doors, that otherwise kept closed. I call her then "petitio mentirosa", small liar. But thanks to her, we got inside and could make some photos. These are off course to explain in the university at home the process at their farm. I know now that I had to call her " pequeno mentirosa", but petito sounds better and easier in my ears. You should have seen her face when I told her this the first time, it seems that she thought I was serious when I said it to her. Later she said often to me "mentirosa" with a big smile, our inside joke.
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