Blowing Smoke in Viñales, Cuba
In Viñales, Cuba we met a man on a horse. He took us into a casa de tabaco amongst the red earth fields and young tobacco plants. Inside, mojitos were prepared using peso rum and honey, the best in the west. Hand-rolled chica cigars were offered, with the larger chico version saved for himself. We sat and listened to the story of the tobacco plant, it’s origin as a seedling in soil, soon splitting into a broad-leafed lily-like plant. Row after row of these plants stretch outside from the casa to the mogotes in the near distance. Slants of light spilled through the thatched roof and cast a diffused spell on the ritualistic table – matches, mint, rum, tobacco, honey and now malanga – a furry, tuber root cooked up similarly to lightly mashed potatoes. It has a rich, nutty flavour and a creamy texture, prepared as they had done.
The malanga, mojito and cigar combo soothed as we were kept rapt with attention, watching the veguero carefully prepare another drink. He slowly smokes his cigar without ashing. A good cigar, he says, will keep it’s ash in tact up to 3cm before dropping. The whiter the ash, the higher the quality of tobacco in the roll. Another farmer comes in from the bright fields, stoking a fire and cooking up some more malanga. He mashes with a silver fork. The horses outside whinny with the approach of cattle. A roll of 25 cigars is offered, wrapped in palm leaves, a natural way to keep the humidity intact without plastics or metal. We buy a good supply, clink a glass one last time and remove ourselves from the relaxing confines of the casa and into the afternoon light. Shadows have changed on the mogotes since we went inside, vultures circle ahead and our horses are anxious to saunter. It’s time to ride again.
Viñales, Cuba, 2011.