Robaina's plantation

Friday 4 January 2013

Pinar del Rio....Back to Paradise

                 I haven't been back to Pinar del Rio for about two years and I missed it and the friends I have there. Two years is a long time for me, many things can change in that period of time. I'm always in touch, by via email, with a good friend who lives in the town of San Luis but communication can be sporadic at best sometimes. Besides, it's not the same as actually seeing someone in person. Pinar del Rio is a place that needs to be seen, you have to smell it, imagining it isn't enough.
                  On this particular trip, as I've done on more than one occasion, we decide to take the ViaAzul bus line. It's kind of like the Greyhound for tourists or Cubans with a little cash. This time we decided to do a sleepover in Vinales. The bus trip is almost 3 hours, stopping in Pinar del Rio city before making it's way uphill to Vinales. No matter, the ride was comfortable enough arriving in the town of Vinales at around 12 noon giving us enough time to see the sites I wanted. You can't beat the price either, 11cuc one way per person. The following morning at 9am my friend from San Luis would pick us up with a driver to take us to Pinar del Rio for the second half of our trip.
                   True to his word, as he always is, Juan was there at 8:50am to pick us up. From this moment on we would have the services of a car and driver for the remainder of the trip. It promised to be a glorious sunny day with a few puffs of clouds. The ride to the city of Pinar del Rio from Vinales is about 30 minutes mostly downhill, since the town of Vinales sits up in the hills. Our first stop was the Cigar factory in the city of Pinar del Rio. It's a shame they didn't allow any photographs. I couldn't understand why since at the El Languito factory it wasn't a problem. Anyway, a rule is a rule and sometimes they can't be broken, even in Cuba. However, sometimes being at the right place at the right time can turn into a wonderful surprise. While taking the tour my friend Juan had the opportunity to talk to someone who suggested we visit a place close by. The place, as far as I could tell, was in the middle of nowhere in residential Pinar del Rio. I doubt many know of it's existence, let alone where to find it but I'm sure many have seen the humidors that come out of this place. The factory is called "DeCuba Humidores" and they produce high quality, 'made to order' humidors for 'La Casa del Habanos' all over Cuba and around the world. An organized and well equipped operation employing more than 20 skilled craftsmen. I recognized some of the pieces in the showroom, I had seen them at the Partagas store. From the Humidor factory we went to Juan's house to enjoy a wonderful lunch that his mother had prepared, she's is a wonderful cook.
                     No sooner had we finished lunch and we were on the road again. The first of two visits was to see my old friend Salvador who owns one of the best plantations in Pinar del Rio. The tobacco had recently been planted about two or three weeks earlier. I must return in January when the plants are taller than me. The word was that everything has been fine the last couple of years as far as the plantation went. Due to health reasons (age) he's given back part of his property to the State. He no longer has the strength to cultivate all of it. He's cut back to something manageable. After an interview, a cigar and a few shots, we made our way to the Robaina Plantation to visit my good friend Hiroshi.
                      I have known Hiroshi for a few years having met him on my first visit to the farm when his grandfather Alejandro was alive. He's always been a gracious host and a dear friend and this visit proved him to be no different. I hadn't seen him in two years and a lot has happened in his life during that time. I was fortunate and very pleased to find his father Carlos visiting when I arrived. It had been a long time since I had any conversation with Hiroshi, the last time being shortly after his grandfather's death. I found him to be in much better spirits than my last visit. The pressures and criticisms he endured after Alejandro's death have subsided. He drew a lot of attention and most of it unfavourable that first year, having changed the way the farm operated. He stumbled but kept moving forward and has shown that he's more than capable of running the farm. He has added 40,000 plants, about 25% more to his production and rather than only producing wrapper he now splits the production 50/50 between filler and wrapper. He told me all's well with the farm and he seemed to be in good health. I finally gave him a formal interview out on the Ranchon between his singing Luis Miquel songs on the karaoke stereo. I didn't know that he was quite the singer. After smoking a cigar and drinking a couple of Bucaneros it was time to bid farewell. I was almost certain to see him at the Gala event for the Partagas Encuentro the following week but that was not to be.
                    Dinner in San Luis and a walk around town before visiting the Town Hall where an Art Exhibit was being held. Two young, local artists were showing some of their works. Art, Music & Culture can be found everywhere on this Island. The next morning, just prior to leaving, we went for a walk and visited a local artist who's studio was behind his home. A humble abode with an even humbler studio in a shack out back. One final stop while driving to the Bus Depot, to visit a writer and pick up a book he wrote "EL TABACO principal tesoro de San Luis, Pinar del Rio". I haven't had the chance to read it but it talks about the history of tobacco and it's creation and effect on the town of San Luis.
                    And so we were on our way to Pinar del Rio to take a few pictures of the city before going to the Bus Terminal. Once there we discovered our bus didn't leave for another 2 hours, our mistake. Not wanting to hang around the city any longer we decided to take a different route. We decided to take one of those Particular Taxis that hang around all the bus terminals. It was a perfect day, not too hot and no rain, perfect conditions for this form of transportation. The one we boarded was a 1948 Dodge with three rows of seats. There were 7 of us including the driver, the cost, 5cuc per person to take you to where the bus would. Under similar conditions I would do it again. We were back in Havana in less than 2 hours, the bus takes longer.
                    It was great to visit my friends in Pinar del Rio again and to make new ones. It had been way too long. It was nice to see that everyone was doing fine and that all was well with the Tobacco Plantations out this way. The region was thriving and there had been no damage from recent hurricanes. Besides last year's crop not being stellar (less yield), everything was proceeding fine. Hopefully I will receive some news and maybe some pictures before the harvest.

 Our Transportation to Vinales

Las Terrazas....a stop along the way


Cigar Shop at the Pinar del Rio Cigar Factory

The 'DeCuba' Humidor factory in Pinar del Rio

Pinar del Rio Countryside

Main Street San Luis

Side Street San Luis

Lunch San Luis

Curing Barn Salvador Plantation

 Salvador with his 3 week old plants

On the road to the Robaina Farm

Entrance to the Robaina Plantation

Carlos Robaina and my good friend Juan

Myself with Hiroshi Robaina

 Studio of a local Artist in San Luis

Pinar del Rio City

Our Transportation back to Havana


  1. WOW...very good trip. Soon we go to Pinar..end off Feb Habanos 2013 Festival. I like to see Hirochi, Carlos etc..
    Thanks info

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