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Saturday, June 25, 2005
About 20 minutes outside of Pinar Del Rio we turned left off of a simple highway onto a bumpy dirt road. The previous 20 minutes had been spent diving on the two lane road that goes into San Juan and San Luis, both sides of the road brimming with picturesque tobacco fields.
This dusty road took us left and right in a difficult route, finally putting us at the home of the humble yet famous Alejandro Robaina. I knew very little about the license plates in Cuba, but I know that the blacks one were for important people... there were 2 parked out side. As we got out of the car, an ox driven cart passed full of bright green leaves, something that has done thousands of times before, for over a hundred years.
We turned the corner and entered the porch, there were 4 or 5 other guests puffing on cigars. Apparently they had been waiting sometime, because Alejandro was taking a nap. Shortly after our arrival they left. His cousin or brother, who served as the host, invited us to some cigars and rum. I passed on the rum and finished my single robust that I bought from the Tobacco Roller in the Casa Del Habano earlier (True Cigar Tip: Always take care of the tobacco roller).
Don Benigno, my dear friend, who grew up in Pinar Del Rio knew the entire family and staff at Alejandro's home. It was Don Benigno that took me to Cuba with him and that drove me out on this very interesting tobacco tour. After some brief conversation, someone went inside and came out with the a older man that looked worked to the bone, yet one of the most distinctly comely men I have ever met. Don Alejandro Robaina is neither tall nor short, he is skinny, but omits strength, and portrayed such a distinct humility that I was immediately enamored with him.
After some additional customary conversation about their family, things got deep- deep in the form of some very technical conversation about the crop, rain, and some studies that had been done on the soil. My Spanish is pretty good, but I get lost in technical conversations, especially between masters. I was finishing up my cigar, and Don Alejandro invited us to some special cigars that he made to give out at the Habanos Festival. What a cigar! Again, a robusto- with a wrapper that looked like a dark chocolate. Don Alejandro invited us across the way into his special reception and guest house that the government had recently built for him. This very nice home, by any standards, had beautiful wood work and was chocked full of thousand dollar humidors. We passed into the back room, the bar- with couches and very attractive ashtray holders. The conversation continued, and we continued to smoke. Don Alejandro took only a few puffs here and there, as I found out that he has had to be cautious of his health- I could tell he missed being able to smoke like he used to.
This special day is something that I will always remember. On my next trip to Pinar Del Rio, I hope to visit him again, and spend some more time with one of the most famous tobacco farmers of all time. There are many others like, him but his humility and work ethic earned him the respect of the world and of his own dictator. His namesake cigars are one of the top lines offered by Cuba, and out of respect to him I suggest every smoker try to keep at least one of his cigars in their humidor.