Every picture tells a story, and I’m reminded of this every time I look back over the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past six years. So I’m starting a “Friday Photo” mini-series to tell the tales behind some of my favourite shots, as well as the stories of the people in them.
Because, of course, the people you meet while travelling are always the source of the best stories.
The man in the hat is called Juan, and he is a Cuban tobacco farmer. He lives in the lush, tropical valley of Viñales, in the west of the island, and I reached his farm on the back of a little horse called Mojito, led there by my wonderful cowboy host, Fidel.
Juan hand-rolled the fat cigar in front of us in the little wooden hut, next to the huge barn filled with drying tobacco. The leaves had been fermented for four months with honey, vanilla and just a little rum, and smelled delicious enough to eat. Juan passed one around the room – everyone kept grabbing it to inhale one more time. Then he took a small bundle of leaves, rolled them and held them in place with paper. Dark brown leaves from the inside of the plant were then rolled diagonally around it, and the classic form of the Cuban cigar appeared before my eyes. Before lighting it, a little honey was dripped onto the end. It was a sweet, fragrant smoke.
Sadly, Juan gets to prepare just 10 percent of his crop this way; the rest is given to the government. Adding chemicals to ensure the cigars stay fresh for up to 10 years, the finest cigars are produced for export, including Fidel Castro’s preferred brand, Cohiba, and Montecristo – preferred by Che Guevara.
I like this image because it’s timeless, because it conveys the hot, rustic atmosphere inside the hut. It’s manly, and serious, and sweaty, and quite real. And because on my travels I find it fascinating to trace things back to where they originate: chocolate, coffee, tea, rice… and cigars.