Cuban Cigars

June 30, 2020

Now to be forthright, I am not really a cigar person.  However, I do know many that enjoy, I guess we can call it – the art.  So, this post is for you!!  🙂  Roaming through Western Cuba…out in the country side…

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The opportunity came to visit an actual Tobacco farm.  Beyond the product, it was quite interesting as this is a multi-generational farm – ownership/management goes back multiple generations.  In fact, this is what this family does – raise tobacco…primarily for cigar production…

Considering the prominent reputation of the Cuban Cigar as being the worlds best….again, i’m not a cigar lover so all I can do is listen to others….it is quite interesting to feel the humility within this environment.  All the same, it is quite nice to be here…to learn about the production of what so many people think is a wonderful thing 🙂

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For the next few hours, they provided a tour of the farm….explained the concept of choosing seeds….illustrated the challenges of growing tobacco….and, pulled apart the leaves to show which part is shipped off for the cigarette companies, and what is utilized to make the ‘cigar’….

For you ‘Cuban Cigar’ lovers, here are a few more shots of the cultivation areas you can dream about….

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And to one of the most important part of the process, the drying house…

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And, somewhat the Tobacco Farm version of the ‘Gaucho’…

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Throughout the process, this is the gentleman that provided much of the explanation…of course it being fascinating to have the image of ‘Che’ in the background 🙂

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And, again…while I am not an aficionado, I am always fascinated watching someone who has mastered their art….as he demonstrated the ‘hand roll technique’ ….

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This, of course is the summarized version!  I figure if you want all the specifics on tobacco production…you will look it up 🙂  This is just the summary of the experience to be shared….and course since this is Cuba….and they have provided the hospitality of their farm….it is only appropriate to….

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‘the oath’…..

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Being far out in Western Cuba…provides an excellent opportunity to engage in some personal cultural enrichment…but, first….

Restaurante La Ceiba… 🙂

One thing I love…right along with street food…are the road side restaurants out in the provinces….talk about what is authentic 🙂  And, it isn’t even just out of hunger….it is as if the cultural experience requires to absorb the food as well…it is part of it….and so….

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This following experience is particularly interesting to me.  For while we have mentioned a few tidbits about the historical components of Cuba.  We have not mentioned the initial development of its early economy – sugar.  In its early days, Cuba was one of the worlds large producers of Sugar…which means…plantations…which means of course – SLAVES!!  These slaves worked the sugar plantations, but also in the mills and on the ranches.

Leaving Vinales, there is an area called “Palenque de los Cimarrones” – “Fortress/Place of the Runaway Slaves.  As it is said, those who know … know…those who don’t …. don’t….so, I will use less words here…and provide you more of an opportunity to look, feel, and consider….

Coming into the opening….

This is an area….where those maroons/slaves who ran away…sought refuge in these caves and mountains.  Outside, there is a certain light indeed….

But, how much consideration is made for those who must live in the dark….

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Now I’ll just post a series of shots…illuminated by light…but, shows the internal areas of this Palenque….

Reflecting on my own experience of touring the slave castles off the coast of Ghana contained in one of my previous posts…the obvious difference is these are the areas where the Maroons chose to live in order to be free…the slave castles are a different story….

It could be interesting to click on a few of these photos and see if you can feel what it would be like to live in here….during this time….to seek refuge….

So much to absorb…so much to consider…one of the reasons I keep this blog is obviously to share my experiences….but, on a more personal note….

This trip was taken several months ago….writing this blog allows me to relive it …. over and over… so that when the vicissitudes of life come along…I can have a tool to fight the urge to become small….and I can remember….the vastness of these experiences…in other words….I can build my own ‘Palenque’…..

Ahhhh……what waits for me ahead….down this road of life….

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One of those mornings reflective of how you went to bed – grateful!  With full realization of the where I am, the context, the history, all with the cultural exploration….

This isn’t just breakfast…it isn’t even just a feeling…it’s that place…that existential place that is part of your purpose….and it brings peace 🙂

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Today….heading west of Havana….out to an area that is called the Province of Pinar del Rio.  It will take several hours, but it is an excellent opportunity to see the country side.  And, several places that will leave quite an impression….Today, we head to Vinales.

The time it takes to get out to Vinales provides a lot of cerebral time.  Time to reflect…time to consider…what are we really doing.  It is easy to think of Cuba in terms of dance, the castros, the conflict with the US, cigars, the old cars…the food….but, as we head down this highway…I see this man….

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I wonder…what is his life like.  With all of our easiness in the U.S….our conveniences and expectations…our cars….I see this man on his horse…traveling the same road as the cars…and it makes me wonder how much do we really consider, empathize, or take the time to feel…the life of another….

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Is it just about us…ourselves….our own pedestrian understandings….all of that immediate gratification….and  lack of patience….how much of what we comprehend about others is comprised of the projection of our own sense of self versus actually taking the time to explore the nature of what we seek to know….if all we are doing is building a shrine for ourselves and for others to admire then it doesn’t really matter.

However, if what we seek is to really know….then….we may want to learn how to listen.  I know many of us think we listen…I know….but, the condition of the world…and the condition of our relationships…provides evidence that begs to differ….

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Well, this are is called Valle de Vinales and Sierra de Vinales…basically, the valley and the mountains of Vinales.  Pulling in the area, you will see…

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This is Western Cuba….and as often with sites such as this….the question is….can you actually get outside of yourself….and feel it….or are you just seeing it….

Although it is warm, there is a nice breeze coming by….carrying with it….so much history….and so much potential for the future….

I imagine it would be quite the time to stay here for a few evenings and sit with your soul….or as Maya Angelou says about the soul…to sit with your ‘longings’….it makes me ponder to myself…with these travels…with these experiences….as I look into the distance…. of my own longings….

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Not the whole part, but for the most part…. how you see the world is often times based upon the perspective you already bring to a situation.  Well of course…unless you base yourself in learning about yourself, your environment, and who or what you interact with…..

Like the story of the man traveling to Tibet to meditate for peace.

On his way up the mountain, he came across a Buddhist monk, and the monk asked him “where are going”?  The traveler said, up the mountain to find peace…and the monk replied…all you will find up there is what you already brought with you.

I’m saying all of that to say…. Because of the long history of socioeconomic and political differences, as well as even the variations of such within Cuba…. there are many sensitive subjects to learn about.  And, it was the most amazing experience to leave previous perspectives at the airport…and to accept being taught.  Of course, this requires a great degree of trust….as Cuba has a completely different system.  It is important to protect those who have given so much…thus, a great degree of what I learned will not be written about here…. you will have to go yourself…. but, in the meantime….

It is Cars and a few Restaurants!!!!  😊

All over Havana, you see these specialty cars…and they are REAL cars…  Very interesting stories on cost…obtaining parts…keeping them running….one thing that can be said about any item in Cuba….there is never a guarantee it will be there…..

And, this may be an economy frozen or suppressed in many ways based upon it’s relationship with the United States…none of these come cheap….

 

One of my favorites here….of course you see them around the city…but, always beautiful to see them lined up….downtown…or floating down the Malecon….. 🙂

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and just for a little variety….

The Restaurants.  Being a traveler, when I am in the United States I am always wondering if a restaurant is as authentic as advertised….and this is not a statement about Cuban food in the United States…I am certainly not qualified to discuss those points….However, here are a few authentic locations with a delicious palate and environment….

Starting right near the Malecon….

Restaurante Castas & Tal:

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The menu is not extensive, but it is rather close when walking the Malecon..good snacks….and a few entrees to choose from…

As mentioned, nice place for a quick snack…however, for a much fuller experience….go check out….

Restaurante: Dona Carmela:

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An absolutely beautiful place, with a strong local flavor, that also tends to have a band playing…and of course the entire time…they were playing variations of the Buena Vista Social Club…

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A thoroughly chilled environment, where you can spend hours listening to good music…conversation…..and….

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of course….enjoying good food…the Cuban Special…Whole Fried Fish…

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One of my absolute favorites though is…

Cafe Tilin

Quite the lovely outdoor/covered environment….especially on an evening with a nice breeze….

We were here earlier in the day in more of a private setting; however, as you can see, there is a lot of potential here for a good evening….

And, in this instance…it was wonderful to have my guy do the ordering…as they had many delicious Cuban variations of which I was not aware….

And, even in Cuba….always nice to find a little buddy…

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A little light hearted business, now off to Vinales 🙂

Some call it the land of Fidel…some of the Castro’s….let’s not forget the giant of a man Che Guevera….a music lover might immediately think of Ibrahim Ferrer and the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. or a dancer – the Cuban Interpretation of ‘Salsa’….but, that would seem to not acknowledge the immense history, even expressed in its contemporary, of another jewel sitting right off the coast of the United States….

Most of my posts tend to deal with destinations a bit distant; however, digging around much closer to home and in the same vein as an appropriate follow up to my last post on Haiti – Welcome to the Malecon!!  🙂

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If you decide to go to Cuba, I critically recommend you connect with a ‘Cubano’.  If all you want is the tourist experience, then…well….you won’t really see Cuba.  Connect with the right person, and get down into the richness of this environment.  Arriving on the Malecon and walking up the steps to the Bungalow,

Walking into the room, and feeling the surroundings….if you did not know the definition of the word ‘vintage’, that’s okay – because you can feel it now.  As you can see, the doors open right up to the Ocean….that fresh completely stimulating breeze comes through the doors from the ocean…and with the feeling of vintage….I know – this is my place.  Looking outside from the porch, directly on the Malecon….the combined contribution to the atmosphere of the historical fort, old, and new Havana feels appropriate…

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Heading out onto the street, you can immediately feel that this strip is also a major social hub…and not just for visitors and tourists…but, for cubanos as well!!

Continuing to stroll and connecting with the feeling,

So much could be said, but sometimes – we talk too much…when we should be feeling,

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I find a great degree of fulfillment and satisfaction to study a place thoroughly, and then go sit and absorb….looking for an understanding I can use in my own life…and always, a baby of life pops up 🙂

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After half a day of strolling, absorbing, reflecting, learning, and simultaneously being in my head and getting out of it….it’s getting later in the day…

Retiring to the view from my bungalow….

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I reflect on being grateful that my understanding is not singularly shaped by those things that have no depth.  Admittedly, focusing on so much depth all the time poses mental health challenges, not to mention the social ones.  Never-the-less, I am excited….I am about to embark on another journey…some of which will be mentioned here…but, like most things…the internal residue will resonate more powerfully as time goes along….

I am grateful!!  I am in Cuba…on the Malecon…. ❤