The farms in Viñales Valley supposedly produce some of the best cigars in the world. We’re not really cigar smokers, so the experience was probably wasted on us. But when in Cuba…
This story starts like most stories in Cuba: we asked a super-friendly local (the owner of our favorite breakfast restaurant in Viñales) if he knew of a tobacco tour guide. He made a few calls, and about an hour later we met up with Edrey.
First stop, walk with me inside a tobacco drying house:
The owner of this farm was an English professor in a past life who quit his job to be a farmer. He makes far more money selling tobacco to tourists than he ever did teaching and he’s concerned about the future of education in Cuba because many people like him are abandoning their posts.
Consider that he sells hand-rolled cigars for $40 for a pack of 10. He may make $120 in a single afternoon! A university professor salary would be closer to $40/month.
Here he gives a demonstration on how cigars are rolled. I had a minor mind blow when I realized that cigars are not just wrapped in brown paper, but an actual tobacco leaf. (Yes. I really did think that.)
Farmers tithe 90% of their tobacco crop to the Cuban Government, and the rest they sell as “Puros”, or unregulated, unlabeled, traditional-style cigars.