February 19th to 21st, 2019
After spending five days in the thick of Havana at the beginning of February's trip to Cuba, it was a relief to get away from the congestion of the city and spend time in the countryside. My traveling buddy, Mark Cramer of Annapolis, and I spent three days with host, Rolando Lopez and his family. The Lopez family has worked the land for just outside of San Luis in the Pinar del Rio provence for six generations. This trip coincided with the peak harvest of the tobacco crop. Tobacco is the bread and butter for farmers in the western portion of Cuba. Cubans from this provence claim to grow the best tobacco in the world - just like people from Maryland claim to have the best crabs in the world. Not being a tobacco smoker, I had nothing to compare to the Pinar del Rio tobacco, so I just went along with it.
Immediately upon arriving to Rolando's 'casa particular' - Cuban slang for a private homestay - Rolando guided us on electric scooters out to his family's farm. Rolando's father, his brother and his son were all working in the field together, picking leaves of tobacco, one-by-one. The men didn't seem to mind our presence or the presence of a camera. I photographed them picking and then hauling the tobacco into the drying barn. In the tobacco barn, three women were using needles with twine to sting the tobacco leaves together for drying. The leaves would then dry out in the shed for 45-65 days before being sold to a sorting facility.
Throughout the remainder of our time with Rolando, we toured other plantations in the vicinity of his family's farm. At each stop, the Cubans welcomed us with open arms while we observed their way of life.