22 Jan The Failed Gringo Tobacco Farmer
After coming off working in the fields in Tequila Mexico, I thought maybe I would try my new found labor skills working with my fellow working class brothers en el Caribe – Vinales Cuba to be exact. The heartland of the best tobacco in the world, with its rolling hills and fresh breeze rolling in from the sea, this unique setting is one of the best spots to grow this delicious habit.
However, while I had no doubt that I was up to the-rolling-cigars-for-a-living challenge, the Cuban government thought differently. There are a couple of major cigar factories in Cuba, however, they will not let you take video or pictures, as the scene looks pretty much like a tobacco, Latin American version of a sweat shop. So I poached this picture ironically, for so many reasons, from Chinese Wikipedia.
Despite the fact they wouldn’t let me roll these bad boys, it is still worth a trip. I mean the cigar and Cuba go hand in hand. Any revolutionary worth his salt smokes them in both leisure and when going into battle. I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle more than an hour of it anyway. A typical cigar roller can do 80-100 an hour. They all look pretty miserable to be honest. I mean your hands would have to be in quite a bit of discomfort from endless rolling all day every day. By the way, just for reference of wages there, a working Cuban like these guys takes home around $40 a month. Some of the factory rollers make more than an average Joe ($25 per month) but not by much.
However, on the other mano, if you were to be a tobacco farmer, not one of the factory workers, that is another matter. The farmers grow the leaves and then dry them out in these long thatched sheds/barns. The first step of drying is called curing, which lasts 25-45 days, after which the leaves go into a fermentation process where the leaves are dried more slowly. This is where the flavor of the cigar comes in. After the fermentation process, the leaves are then divided between ones that make wrappers and ones that will be used as the filler. Anyway, the farmer does the harvesting part (with his crew helping), but as for the rolling, he rolls cigars just to be sold to tourists who visit his farm or some to be sold in shops. Some farmers have tour buses come in and he shows them the process. He then sells these cigars for around a $1 each. So he at least gets to socialize with tourists, drink endless amounts of coffee, and roll for demonstration than for the profits of the brotherly-love-sharing communist state, and by state communist sharing state I mean 100 guys who control everything and claim to be equals to all but really are just money hoarding dictators guising under equality and oppression of the capitalistas (see: Mao, Stalin minus the genocide – oops did I get too political?)
And the rolling…
And as for Vinales itself, it is pretty amazing place visit in and of itself. But I think pictures paint a better picture than what I can. Cuba does really have the most picturesque, photo-worthy atmosphere.
To give you a really general idea for the costs for cigars I found in Cuba, I found that most cigars, with no name brand because the farmers make them, costs $1 each, depending on the size. If you buy name brands, like Romeo y Juliets or Monte Cristos, they can be much more expensive, say $7-$17 each and upwards. And that is buying them in Cuba. If you buy them abroad they can be even more expensive. Pricey habit indeed. Guys will constantly try to sell you fake name brand cigars everywhere in Cuba. Note, they are NOT real. No matter how perfect they look. You can tell by opening them up and shreds of cheap tobacco fall out, or by pushing hard the sides and rolling it to see if these shreds of cheap tobacco fall out. Real, high end cigars have full leaves that remain in tact. The local Cubans in cities smoke the cheaper, crappy cigars that are much more harsh, but they are cheap. They buy these with nationals (local currency, which is 24 for $1). So these cigars are just 1 national peso. So basically for $1 you can buy 24 of these. To be honest, I rather liked them. Sure they were harsh and will probably give you 32 flavors of cancer, but with that kind of value, who could say no. They got free health care anyway.
So conclusion, if you go to Cuba, Vinales is not only one of the easy cities to get to, it is also one of the best if you want to see where real Cuban cigars come from.