Equally famous to the classic cars are the Cuban cigars! Known for their high quality and high price tag – even in Cuba! To truly understand their price tag you must get up close and personal to the artists themselves. In Havana, there are five factories you can visit. I chose to tour Partagas which manufactures over 25,000 cigars per day for their brand and the famous Cohiba – Castro’s favorite when he was a smoker.
Upon arrival, I was asked for my ticket. Oops! I didn’t buy one from a hotel and assumed I could just buy one on sight. Wrong! However, Tamara, the woman who would be my guide, had one of the taxi drivers waiting outside drive to a nearby hotel and purchase one for me. He charged 5 CUC for the service and I was able to join the tour.
I arrived late in the day and made it onto the last tour with Tamara, we started on the base floor looking at images of the plants in fields and being told which brands are manufactured within the factory. Next, we climbed a steep set of stairs to the rolling area. On the top floor the workers, mainly young men, were divided into work zones based on their skill level. The trainees are together for 9 months before they are moved across the walkway to the professional area. The professional area had at least 100 people working side by side. Perfectly rolling the three leaves from different parts of the plant into a perfect cylinder. Next, the cylinders are inspected and once approved taken across the hall to the women who are pros. These pros add the outside leaf that you see when holding the cigar. They carefully use a paste of flour and water to adhere the leaf to the tobacco log. Lastly, the cigars are taken one floor lower to be labeled and packaged by 25 women who are considered masters. Each woman is required to label an average of 2,300 cigars each day.
The average employee makes 10 CUC per month, is given several 15-minute breaks during their workday, is entertained with literature or a speaker for one hour each day and are granted free cigars. These are typically the cigars that you’ll have sold to you on the streets. They are the cigars that aren’t perfectly shaped but still smoke very nicely.