Swap classic cars and colonial charm for adventure in Cuba’s Viñales Valley, writes Joey Tyson.
Esteban’s hands move quickly and methodically. First, he spreads parchment out on the rough wooden bench. Next, he adds tobacco leaves, sprinkling the light-brown flakes evenly as he works – they’ve been drying out in bunches for almost 60 days and are incredibly delicate.
As the small mountain of tobacco begins to build up, he explains that, for Cuban cigars, the central vein of the tobacco leaf is removed, and with it, about 98% of the plant’s nicotine. With the deftest of touches, he rolls the tobacco gently into a long, thick sausage and holds the finished cigar in the air, the end pinched between his thumb and forefinger.
Only once he’s sure we’ve all admired his handiwork does he clip the end. Lighting the cigar, he takes a puff and flashes a quick smile in triumph. “Cuba produces the best cigars in the world,” he says.
I’m in the Viñales Valley, Cuba’s lush Unesco World Heritage national park, which is said to produce some of the best tobacco in Cuba and, by default, the world. Esteban is a farmer here, and his farm is one of the stops on a horse-trekking tour of the valley. As a result of its own microclimate, the conditions are perfect for growing tobacco. However, incredible cigars are not the only reason people visit Viñales.