Sunday, August 23, 2015

Notes from Cuba, Part 3: Tobacco

Notes from Cuba, Part 2 >
Notes from Cuba, Part 1 >

Hotel Nacional: Cigar Aficionados

This post combines drawings form several places in Cuba, with one unifying theme: tobacco!
Below, there are drawings from a trip to the small town Viñales in the Pinar del Río Province of Cuba, where we visited one tobacco plantation, smoked freshly rolled cigars, got soaked in the rain and saw a lot of countryside beauty. Then, there are drawings from Havana's Cohiba tobacco factory. And at the end, there are drawings of cigar smokers at Havana's Hotel Nacional. I smoked my first cigar in Cuba! And I liked it.


From the bus: scenery en route to Viñales
From the bus: scenery en route to Viñales
Two emaciated horses at a pit stop
On the streets of Viñales: house renovation
On the streets of Viñales: ox-driven cart

On the streets of Viñales: horse-driven fruit cart
From the bus: Tobacco drying house.
Tobacco plantation in the rain

Inside the tobacco drying house: rows and rows of tobacco leaves.

Rolling tobacco at the plantation for the tourists to try.
Tourist enjoying freshly rolled cigar.

From the bus: en route from Viñales

 Man on an ox under a banyon tree
Ox under a banyon tree

Cohiba Cigar Factory in Havana

The tour through the Cohibo cigar factory was brief, no photos allowed. Rows and rows of workers at old wooden "stations" with cigar presses get paid per cigar, and have a weekly allowance of 2 cigars to take home. Sometimes they listen to the radio, and other times they are being read to. The list of books, according to the guide, includes Shakespeare. But the current book, we were told, is "Fifty Shades of Gray". Go figure...

Hotel Nacional, Outdoor Bar

Hotel Nacional: cigar aficionados

Hotel Nacional: Late night at the bar

Hotel Nacional: dance party

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Notes from Cuba, Part 2: Streets of Havana

Previous: Notes from Cuba, Part 1: Havana Bay >

Here are more drawings from my recent trip to Cuba with Ronnie and Margaret, a group tour organized by Jim Richards & Marimar Travel.

Old Havana. Corner of Floridita bar and restaurant, famous for being Ernst Hemingway's favorite hangout spot.

Havana, for the most part, is devastated by neglect. You can tell that this was a rich, gorgeous, blossoming city at the beginning of the 20th century, with colorful, eclectic architecture that mixes Colonial, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Neo-Classical influences. But now the buildings are crumbling. There's no real estate ownership as such. The government owns everything. People have only "moral" ownership of their abodes. If they invest time and money in fixing things up, the government can come at any point and take it, so people don't fix anything. Neither does the government. Some of the buildings have deteriorated so much that all that's left are facades with piles of bricks behind them. People, whose housing approaches a near-collapse condition, get a letter from the government, stating that they can move to a shelter, or remain in their current place at their own risk. The tour guide told us that shelters are way worse, so people tend to stay, regardless...

Fruit vendors.

There is no proper septic system (can't flush toilet paper, even at the 5-start Hotel Nacional), and in many public restrooms one must manually flush with a bucket of water.

Government food store.

Government stores are a sad sight. I had a flashback to Soviet Russia of my early childhood in Moscow, when people stood in long lines to buy food or clothing by redeeming government-issued ration coupons. And the stores were nearly as empty as this one, above. Under a watchful eye of Fidel on the poster-a bag of rice, a few piles of vegetables...

Despite the circumstances, people are warm, kind and fun-loving. There is SO much live music, both on the streets and in bars, and dancing. At night, people are hanging out in cafes, like the one below, and line up along El Malecon, Havana's waterfront, which has been dubbed the "eternal bench of the city".
Street cafe along El Malecon in Havana.
"Guantanamera, Wahira, Guantanamera..."
Street cafe at night, and a classic American car.

Old cars are the only cars in Havana. Some are Russian-made models Lada, Moskvich and Kamaz tractors (another Soviet childhood throwback), others are American relics like the one above. Most of these cars are falling apart, but Cubans have no other choice for the past 60 years...The best-looking convertibles serve as luxury taxi rides for tourists. We took a ride in this pink beauty below.

In the next post: a trip to Viñales, cigar factory, and more...

p.s. You can see some photos from this trip on my Instagram >