Cuba & Costa Rica Blog
About this blog
Written by Cuba and Costa Rica expert Christopher P. Baker, this blog will update readers on life in these two diverse and exciting countries.
- Last blog post on Costa Rica and Cuba
- First-ever group motorcycle tours of Cuba successful
- Cuba’s Mariel port readying for Panama Canal expansion
- Musings on wildlife encounters on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
- Cuba’s Steam Trains puffing their last gasp
- My top five thrilling activities in Costa Rica
- Cuba’s fun February festivals include Harleys, Books, Cigars
- Five top volcano viewing experiences in Costa Rica
- New road along Costa Rica / Nicaraguan border mired
- Cuba’s Hotel Campoamor at Cojímar to be restored?
- Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez honored in new book
- Christmas challenge for Costa Rica’s sexually abused girls
- Costa Rica opens Chinatown in downtown San José
- David Soul films Hemingway’s car restoration in Cuba
- National Geographic Expeditions receives license for Cuba tours
Alejandro Robaina, Cuba's legendary cigar ambassador dies
Cuba’s most revered tobacco grower, Alejandro Robaina, died of cancer last Saturday at his home at Finca El Pinar San Luis. What a loss! Robaina, who was 91, achieved worldwide cult status among cigar aficionados for the unrivaled quality of his wrapper tobacco. So renowned are Robaina and the leaves he produced that the Cuban government even granted him his own cigar label. There's even a Cuban postage stamp with his visage.
Habanos S.A., the state company that distributes and markets Cuban cigars, honored Robaina as 'Man of the Year 2001.' Its website correctly noted his "extraordinary human sensibility and charisma." I fondly recall the times he led me around his finca, always accompanied by his good humor, sharp wit, and even sharper eye for pretty ladies. When I last visited him, in November 2009, he was ill and confined to bed.
Robaina began work in the fields at the age of 10, a year after he smoked his first cigar: The Robaina family has been farming their 16-hectare vegas (tobacco fields) in the Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Río, in western Cuba, since 1845. Vuelta Abajo is to tobacco growing as are Bordeaux or the Napa Valley to wines. Yet Robaina's silken leaves were known as the best of the best of the best. They were used as the all-important wrappers for top-of-the-line cigars renowned for their smoothness and richness, such as Cohiba Espléndidos.
(After the Revolution, Robaina refused Fidel Castro's entreaties that he join a cooperative. He remained an independent grower. Castro held no grudge: he personally handed Robaina his 2001 award as the country’s best tobacco grower.)
As his reputation grew, the state adopted Robaina as a roving ambassador for fine Cuban smokes; he became known as the 'Godfather of Cuban Cigars.' Guests at Finca El Pinar San Luis are received in a reception room full of photos of Robaina with various heads of state, fashion models, and other celebs on his various world tours. Eventually, in 1997, the state created a new cigar brand–Vegas Robaina–in his honor. They come in five different strengths and are sold in cedar boxes adorned with a label showing Robaina holding a cigar against a lyrical Vuelto Abajo backdrop.
Finca El Pinar San Luis, near the sleepy town of San Juan y Martínez, is a de rigueur stop on a cigar tour of Cuba and is open to visitors for 40-minute tours (CUC2). It is run by Alejandro's grandson, Hiroshi. December and January are the best times to visit, as is August 5, when local guajiros (peasant farmers) make a pilgrimage to a shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Nieves (patron saint of tobacco) beneath a ceiba tree in the finca’s garden.
For further information about visiting Finca El Pinar San Luis and travel in Cuba, buy Moon Cuba
For further information on Havana, buy Moon Spotlight Havana.
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker