Day 14: Close, But No Cigar

Mon. 27th August 2012

How's about that then guys & gals??We are really trying with our Spanish – honest! We are very grateful for the time spent on Rosetta Stone and our books before we left and we have brought a course book and a verb book out with us so that we can continue with our lessons.

Certainly, we get by generally (you can do quite a lot in the present tense!) and for critical conversations with Maria, our landlady – such as whether or not we are eating at the casa tonight and the time for our breakfast – we manage pretty well. More than that is a bit of a struggle, though yesterday we got through full set of both the noun and verb forms of ‘rain’ (llovia & llover, if you are interested). I suspect that Cubans have the equivalent of a Geordie accent – at least that is my excuse for not being able to make out the individual words as they speak.

So, it is a real bonus when you just don’t need to think about what you  are saying – at least in the sense of verb conjugations and whether a noun is masculine or feminine. A couple of examples…

Yesterday we bumped into Graham & Chris (our new friends from Tasi) again – as we last saw them in Trinidad, we haven’t yet worked out if they are stalking us or vice versa! We spent a really excellent evening just talking about common experiences and different experiences about shared interests and future plans. Three hours went by in the blink of an eye.

We again failed to hire bicycles – I don’t really  know why this is proving to be difficult, other than that we are reluctant to say yes to random people coming up to us in the street asking if we want to hire their bikes. So we signed up for a walking tour of the valley and it turned out that not only was it just Janet and I but that Yaniel, our guide, spoke excellent English. He took one look at our sandals and told us to go and change into some proper proper shoes and then lead us out of town and into the surrounding farmland along tracks made muddy by the rain.

Yaniel pointed out the key plants being grown and explained how the farms worked. There were some points in common with UK farms – particularly the stories of long hours, hard work and sons not wanting to follow in their father’s footsteps. Between the mogotes, the landscape was gently rolling with the land in shades of green and brown divided into fields and scattered with trees – at a macro level (and ignoring temperature and the mogotes) you could almost be in the UK.

Cuban farmer's hurricane shelterWhat you don’t get in the farms in the UK is hurricane shelters. Yaniel reminded us that this area had been devastated by two hurricanes in a couple of weeks in 2008. The whole area is still recovering.

Farms typically small – 5 hectares in the example we had and the farmer will mostly concentrate on growing food to feed their family and their animals rather than to make a living. Where they do grow crops to sell, an amount has to be sold to the government depending on the crop – for tobacco this is around 90% – 95%.

Which one is Edwards & which is Platt?There is no automation and very little mechanisation of farming. We have seen a few tractors around, but we have seen many more oxen and Yaniel confirmed that most farmers used oxen to pull the ploughs and so struggle if they have too large a farm. Even things like grinding corn is done in an old fashioned way – Yaniel pointed out a pair of grindstones and set up the wooden crank used to turn them. A real eye opener for us.Griding stones for corn

Pinar del Rio Province is the main tobacco growing area (or the place where the best cigars are made – depending on the translation) and so we had wanted to see a bit of cigar production. On our tour, we stopped at a tobacco farm for a demonstration. We were introduced to Geraldo, the farmer, along with his mum. Geraldo, demonstrated the steps of sorting and preparing the tobacco leaves whilst Yaniel explained what was going on. The whole cigar was made with nothing more than tobacco – no water, paper, glue or anything – though apparently commercially made cigars use a little cassava(?) paste as a glue to cap the end of the cigar to prevent it drying out.

Roll-ups, Cuban styleI did have to try the finished cigar – whilst it wasn’t horrible, its not going to become a habit. Of course, there was the obligatory opportunity to buy some cigars, not having space in our backpack and not getting home for 11 months were pretty good excuses to just say no!

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