I visited Cuba a few months ago on a group tour. It is a place I never expected to visit. Modern travel has certainly changed and Americans can easily visit when they take an escorted tour. When you think of Cuba you think of vintage cars, sprawling white sand beaches and, of course, Cuban cigars.
Traveling with a group enabled us to do and see things we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to if we were traveling on our own. A prime example of this was our visit to the home of a tobacco farmer in Viñales. Viñales is a very small agricultural area near the northern tip of Cuba. The area used to be a private ranch before it was divided up and used for tobacco, coffee and other produce.
The family we visited was incredibly gracious and welcomed our small group. Thankfully, our travel director was a superb translator. That let us ask all kinds of questions of the farmer and learn all we could about the conditions from the farmer. He told us in great detail about tobacco harvesting – from the season, to growing time and he even described how it is to pick the tobacco leaves two or three at a time. You can imagine, at that rate, how long it would take to pick an entire crop!
The farmer showed us the barn where the leaves are laid out to dry. After they’ve turned a rich brown color they are hung on racks to dry further and then sorted to be made into cigars. This farmer we met was very experienced at hand rolling cigars. When he started talking about how they’re made, he began speaking much more quickly and with many hand gestures. Our travel guide translated just as quickly. The traditional method of rolling is still used – something that makes Cuban cigars so distinctive from many others. This method allows the perfect amount of air flow through the cigar. Each individual leaf is folded over onto itself and then the leaves are bunched together. Finally, a coarser leaf is wrapped around the entire thing to hold the entire package together.
I was swept up in the farmer’s enthusiasm for the art of cigar rolling and said that I’d love to try my hand at it. The translator didn’t have to translate his burst of laughing! He guaranteed me that it would end up looking like a balled up sheet up newspaper. According to the farmer, cigar rolling is an art that is learned over generations of practice.
I can’t recommend enough taking a tour to Cuba. It is the most populous island in the Caribbean and offers an incredible sightseeing experience to visitors. If you’re wondering how we managed to get there, YMT Vacations has been granted a license from the Department of The Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control that authorizes them to lead tours to Cuba. This license allows YMT to organize “people to people” group travel with the purpose of offering cultural and educational exchange activities that promote contact with the Cuban people.