That’s me. smoking a cigar. Notice I have a funny expression on my face being that this was the very first time I had smoked a cigar. Well, not really. I had taken a few puffs earlier in the week, outside our hotel iin Havana, but that other cigar wasn’t half as intense as this one was, being that this cigar had been freshly rolled. The handsome man to my right, the one with the black mustache and brimmed hat, well he rolled the cigars. We were visiting his farm in Cuba,
Cuba, you might ask. How and when were you visiting Cuba? The only way to visit our nearest neighboring country to the south of Key West, Florida is to visit as a member of a People to People exchange, a tour licensed and approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control(OFAC). Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with my Alumni Association from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Each member of our group, which numbered 18, was required to sign a statement that we would fully participate in all scheduled activities. Our programmed activities began around 9:00 a.m. and continued through the afternoon, with just enough break time at the end of the day for a quick shower and change of clothes before dinner.
I am old enough to remember watching I Love Lucy re-runs on T.V. and the fiery Ricky Riccardo directing his band and playing his congo drums. I also remember hearing stories from my parent’s generation of trips to Havana, the gambling, prostitutes, exotic nightclubs, and flavorful Cuban cigars. What remnants of the old Cuba still existed and how had it changed? I wanted to find out. So I had to smoke a Cuban cigar as did my husband Peter.
Many of the farms in Cuba are owned and run by Cooperatives. Each member of the cooperative receives supplies, clothing and one or two meals along with a small stipend but then also receives a percentage of the profits depending on how long they have been with the cooperative and their contributions. There is also some private ownership, as is the case with the tobacco farm we were visiting, however a percentage of the profit does go back to the governement.
Now my husband Peter, on the other hand, does look like he is enjoying his cigar. He did promise me that he was not going to take up cigar smoking, regardless of how good it tastes. What makes these cigars so special is that they are made completely of rolled leaves. There is not chopped up, shredded tobacco inside and of course the leaves are really high quality.
We were treated royally at this farm with a tour of the fields, a demonstration of how the tobacco is dried, cut, and made into cigars plus a cup of coffee at the end of the tour to enjoy with our smoke. Because of the trade enbergo, which has been in place now for 50 plus years, the United States government strictly forbid us to bring any tobacco, liquor, or souvenirs back with us to the United States. We were only allowed to bring back art and literature. If you are wondering what it looked like inside the farmhouse. I took a few pictures.
More stories about Cuba to follow next week.