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Our day trip to Vinales National Park, the home of Cuban Cigars

How cigars are made

On a day 3 of our trip to Cuba, we planned a trip to Vinales National Park, where Cuban Cigars are born. Vinales Valley is uniquely beautiful due to its landscape and location. Tobacco fields are hidden in between mountains shaped as hummocks upside down.

Tobacco fields

Main Road Nacional (Everything is Nacional in Cuba), is in a decent condition and driving there, even in a vintage car, is pretty comfortable. As soon as we left the main road, we could see the reality of driving. Our driver had to show some skill to be able to manoeuvre in-between the holes and not to end up with a puncture or even worse lost wheel or suspension. (We did get the puncture on the way back though :D)

If you plan to travel to Cuba, Vinales is a must to visit! Not only for its nature and beautiful vistas, but the culture, people, real rural life and of-course Tobacco.
Make sure you get a guide, who will know where to go to see the process and how cigars are made. If you are a fan, locals will make sure that you leave with a pack of 10 or 20, nicely rolled in a tobacco leaf. If you are lucky, your cigars might have a touch of rum, honey or coffee, which is also often planted nearby.

Leaf is ready to be rolled into a cigar
Rolling leaf by leaf requires true skill.

Interesting thing we learned was, that 90% of the tobacco leafs ready for production, are taken by the government to factories in Havana, where branded cigars are produced. All production is 100% hand made. In Havana, cigar maker in the factory has to make a minimum of 150 cigars per day. If he makes more, he can get 5 cigars per day for him/herself and some additional money.
Government obviously pays pennies to farmers and what they get does not represent real value fo the goods they sell.

Our Cigar Master.

Remaining 10% of Tobacco can be kept by farmers and they are allowed to sell it to anyone who comes to visit. Obviously, this 10% represent major income for these people, as they sell it in Convertible Pesos, which are valued 1CUC = 1USD.
These cigars are treated with special care. Leafs are scented with rum, honey or coffee. Each cigar is made up of 5 leafs, never more. We've seen the demo and it is impressive how skilled they are and I'm telling ya, scent honey in a leaf is really great, although I do not smoke.

Unfortunately, all production directly from the farms can not be branded. It is forbidden by the government of Cuba to do any kind of branding, even with a private label. Only allowed branding is the one coming from the factory in Havana.

Cuban Convertible Pesos CUC - Here, some cigars sold to tourists from Japan.

You can buy a pack of 10 for 50CUC, but if you negotiate well, you can get away with 40CUC, which is approx. $40.

All portraits shot on Fuji XT-1 with 35mm lens. Lanscapes on iPhone 6s+ with Moment lens and Moment Case. Some of the images in natural light, some lit with Canon 580EX in Joe McNally Lastolite 11' Softbox off-camera, held by my assistant Khalil, on this trip, who is one of my students at photography classes in Lyford Cay International School.
All images are post produced in my iPhone 6s+. I'm using few apps, such as Priime, Polarr, Snapseed and believe it or not Instagram's own editing tools! I think they are the best ones I've seen inside the application so far.

Khalil, my assistant on Cuba trip
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