Pinar del Río: tobacco growing land
By Roberto Campos Photos: Prensa Latina and the author
Pinar de Rio is the western-most of the Cuban provinces, it covers an area of 10,848 square kilometres and was original y named Nueva Filipina by the Spaniards in 1774, Apart from its natural beauty, it is proud of producing what is considered by many to be the world's finest tobacco, it is also home to Don Alejandro Robaina who is considered the country's best tobacco grower.
Lush vegetation and virgin nature are evident throughout Pinar de Rio, This attracts both Cuban and foreign visitors to tour the country's leading tobacco producing region, The tobacco plant which was "discovered" by the Spanish explorers in the 15th century.
It had long been valued by the indigenous peoples, Later, it was turned into an industry and fine tobacco became a symbol for Cuba and the Pinar de Rio region, The region's reputation was enhanced by Don Alejandro Robaina who was the source of inspiration for the "Robaina" brand of Habano cigars.
Many people from a over the world visit Pinar de Rio, particular y in February when Havana hosts the international Habano Festiva, The experience can be both recreational and educational.
The mecca of tobacco growing is found in the San Juan y Martinez pains, located south of the capita of the province, Tobacco plantations, some under the sun and others covered with white cloth (the latter devoted to the growing of the fine tobacco eaves used to wrap the cigar), make these pains of special interest to visitors, This part of the tour can end at the tobacco selection areas, which is an intermediate process between the plantation and the factory.
When visiting this region, you should visit the Francisco Donatién factory where the cigar process is completed with the hand roling of the Vegueros brand of cigars, Visitors can buy a box of these cigars or any other Habano brand at the factory gift shop.
An impressive site is EI Mural de la Prehistoria (The Prehistory Mura) located in Viñales Valley, It was painted on the walls of one of the valley's round topped his or mogotes by Cuban artist Leovigildo Gonzalez and depicts the evolution of mankind.
It is relaxing to stop and view the beautiful Viñales scenery, talk to the campesinos, or farmers, and enjoy the local food, For those wanting a delicious Cuban meal, we suggest the roast pork. Ah, don't forget to smoke a cigar after dinner!
There are five important tobacco-producing regions in Cuba, They include Vuelta Abajo, Semi Vuelta, San Antonio de los Baños, Remedios or Vuelta Arriba, and Oriente but the most outstanding of all is the first one, located in the Province of Pinar de Rio.
A trip should start in the countryside, There, the nurseries are prepared for sowing the tobacco which requires a great deal of care for the seedlings to grow, The tobacco harvest begins in October and extends over different phases until early the following year.
Some 70 % of the country's tobacco is harvested in Pinar de Rio, Visiting that western Cuban region will give you a complete overview of the industry.
In addition, colorfull local characters such as Cuba's best tobacco grower, Don Robaina, put the visitors in contact with local customs and traditions.
Robaina may be 86 years old but he is a very active person by any standard, He is a high y esteemed Cuban who, while having no degree in diplomacy, holds the post of the ambassador of the Habano, a handmade cigar that connoisseurs prize, He is a person who has a the attributes of a good friend, a versatile conversationalist a Creole wag, and a very hard worker, it is no exaggeration to say that Robaina is the best tobacco leaf grower that Cuba has to offer.
For his extraordinary contributions, he was awarded the Habano Man of the Year in 2002 for his long list of achievements in the promotion of Habano cigars during his many tours abroad.
Such is his fame that the British pop singer Sting once asked Robaina for his autograph, Sting, who is a so a cigar smoker, admires the elderly Cuban as the ultimate craftsman of the Habano.
Robaina was born on March 20, 1919, in Alquizar in the Province of Havana, Since the 19th century, his family has a ways owned and in Cuchillas de Barbacoa in Pinar de Rio, in bad times they were often forced to leave but they a ways returned home.
Don Alejandro Robaina's and produces about 12,700 kilograms of top-quality tobacco leaves annually, The and covers an area of 37 acres and is used chiefly to grow tobacco eaves a though they a so grow beans and raise, animals.
"Tobacco is part of my life! says Robaina, "I had the opportunity of being a professional, a medical doctor, to study and leave this but preferred to be a tobacco grower!