Even the most hardened non-smoker can’t help but take an interest in cigars whilst visiting Cuba. I arrived in Viñales, a rural town at the western end of the island in the early afternoon and my casa particular host arranged for her brother-in-law to give me a walking tour of the area the same afternoon. He took me through some spectacular scenery to a coffee plantation, a cave and to pick mangos fresh off the tree, but the highlight was the tobacco farm.
My guide handed me over to the owner of the farm, who showed me the shed where the leaves were dried before taking me to a shaded table where he explained the process of making cigars. Each leaf on the tobacco plant has different properties, providing flavour, smell or combustibility. He then showed me how to roll a cigar, magically transforming a bunch of leaves into the famous tubular shape, and explained the drying process which takes a further month or so. I assumed I’d be able to confirm the details online, but haven’t had any success, so if anyone can find a reference to this online, please let me know.
Taking out a couple of cigars he’d prepared earlier, he showed me how to cut the end off, then dipped it in honey. He assured me that the leaves, and hence the cigar, was nicotine free, and bade me suck on the cigar while he lit it. I struggled to do that without inhaling the smoke, but in the end, I was puffing ungracefully on a genuine Cuban cigar.
He explained that you could tell a quality cigar by how long the ash stayed in place, and after mine had an inch of smouldering ash, declared that it was clearly a quality product and had me tap the end off. That was about the point that I decided to cut the burning part off and take the rest home, never to be finished. In comparison, the cigar maker smokes four per day.
The next morning, I was in the local square getting my daily fix of the internet, when I saw an old man sitting quietly on his own. I watched as he pulled a cigar out of his coat, hold it under his nose for half a minute, savouring the smell, then put it in his mouth. He was still sucking on it ten minutes later when I went to talk to him. It was unlit, and he explained that his doctor told him he couldn’t smoke because he had a weak heart, but he loved them so much he was happy to enjoy the smell and the feel of it.
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