We had decided to go to Cuba - a country portrayed as being in a 1960s time-warp and living the socialist ideal where everyone is equal. Part of our fascination was to see this country before Fidel Castro dies. It is believed that once he goes, then Cuba may change for ever. So is it all cigars, mojitos and classic American cars as the holiday brochures and guide books would lead you to believe? We were about to find out ...
|A taxi in Havana|
You do not have to spend long in Havana before you meet some of the 'friendly locals' that the guide books tell you about. This 'friendliness' manifests itself in the form of numerous ways to part you with your capitalist cash! We lost count of how many times we were asked if we wanted a taxi or a guided tour of the city on a rickshaw-bike thing or to buy cigars? This turned out to be true for virtually the entire trip, not just Havana. Everyone seems to own a taxi, bike or know someone who works in a cigar factory!
|The Partagas cigar factory|
After a few days exploring Havana, we moved to the small farming town of Viñales in the western Pinar del Rio province. This is where some of the best tobacco in the world is grown. To get there, we boarded a surprisingly modern bus (by far the most modern vehicle we had seen to date) and traveled along the national AutoPista - the worst, most brain-jangling major highway in the world. It's a shocker. It's a road so bad that Cubans don't actually use it. All we saw were tourist buses, tourist hire cars and the occasional horse. The road was built in the 1980s with Soviet cash (which then ran out, so it remains half completed!) and clearly hasn't been maintained since then.
|Valle de Viñales|
Click the video clip below to see some of the sights and sounds of this warehouse. Later, we had a meeting with a tobacco farmer and smoked a cigar with him, which he hand rolled for us using leaves from his plantation. Sadly we couldn't see any plants, as we were between growing seasons.
Our journey around Cuba will continue in Part 2 shortly.