Tobacco Farming – Orlando

We met Orlando quite by chance early one morning while we were photographing. After introductions he invited us back to his farm to photograph.

Now, Orlando is a businessman as well as a farmer. He caters to tourists, providing horseback rides, guide service, and tours of his farm. We all knew this, but he was such a nice guy and the photo-ops were great. Besides, it was only 8:00 am and the light was good. What photographer would want to go on a tour at noontime?

We walked back to his house and went inside.

We were offered coffee.

Orlando lit a small wood fire

Then got to work grinding some beans.

His mother, Marta, took over in the kitchen.

She put on quite a show smoking a cigar and boiling the water…..

…..and making the coffee.

The coffee was good!

Next, we had the cigar rolling demonstration.

One for me.

Of course we bought some cigars and even some guayabita rum.


Tobacco Farming – Vinales

The western province of Pinar Del Rio in Cuba is noted for producing some of the finest cigar tobacco. The little town of Vinales is a favorite destination of mine.

In late January and early February the tobacco is harvested by hand.

The leaves only have a short span of optimal quality. A few days one way or another can make a huge difference. It takes skill to know which leaves to cut and when.

Of course, all the work is done by hand.

A razor sharp hook-knife is used to lop off the chosen leaves just below a split in the stalk.

This allows the cuttings to hang freely over a pole. Later the poles are stacked in a barn to dry and cure.






Yo Voto Si

Sunday, February 24th, the people of Cuba ratified the new constitution.

It was  a slam dunk.

“Are you voting yes? I would ask my friends.

“Of course” was the standard answer that accompanied the astonished look that I received.

The whole campaign was preceded by months of propaganda. Signs, billboards, and community organizers all urged people to participate in discussions and share their concerns ….. before voting “yes”.

Most of those who did not favor the new constitution simply did not vote. There were scant few who voted “no”.  Why take the chance of being singled out for retribution?

Voting places were set up according to one’s municipality.

School children were in their uniforms and helped.

As I understood it, there was not a secret ballot and anyone could check the sheets to see how their neighbor voted.







We Are The Entertainment

We were about half way from Havana to Vinales when our taxi driver slowed rapidly. I detected, almost instantly, the smell of coolant on hot metal. We had blown a hose.

Luckily, the hose had split right next to the clamp, so all that was necessary was to loosen the clamp, shorten the hose, and re-attach it.

Of course, we would then need to re-fill the radiator. That proved to be the hard part.

We donated all the drinking water we had in the car, but it was not enough.

We drove about a mile and stopped to ask this farmer where we could get water. He was grazing some cows and told us that there was water right under this bridge.

Our driver made two trips to the stream to fill the radiator.

The farmer enjoyed the show and had a good laugh.

He wore no shoes.

I asked him where his shoes were and he just motioned to the other side of the road. I hope he had some.

Can’t Live Without Water

Whenever I visit Havana, I always set aside one whole day to visit with this wonderful family on their farm.

They live about 45 km south of Havana, near San Jose de Las Lajas.

I’m treated like one of the family now.

I sit on the porch, relax in the quiet, breathe the fresh air, converse, and reflect on how fortunate I am to have these beautiful people as my friends.


I pass out gifts that I have brought: vitamins, poligrip, zantac, Kool-aid, underwater flashlight for the brother that spear fishes, crankshaft and piston for the motor on the bicycle, towels and soap, coffee, clothes for the two children and of course chupa chups.

I make a new list of things that I will try to bring next time: cold medicine, aspirin, and more vitamins for the children, sneakers and socks for the women, movies in Spanish,  bandaids, neosporin, a knee brace, duct tape, cell phone ….. The list goes on and on.

The women always come up with something deliciously prepared. Congris, salad, and some kind of meat. I bring the Rum, cola, orange soda and, lately, chocolate from the U.S. for dessert.

The children usually want me to read to them. I read “The Cat in the Hat” (in English and Espanol). I read the English and Melany reads the Spanish, but I always tell her that next time she will read the English.

The water on the farm comes from a well via a hand pump. This water is needed for cooking, drinking, washing clothes, bathing, and flushing the toilet.

Lately, the old well pump has been breaking down regularly. It’s an American made pump, so it’s old. The casting is cracked and broken. The parts below ground have been welded and re-welded. Everything is wired together. Just last week the pump broke for the last time.  A similar pump is impossible to obtain new and any used pump that might be found would surely have issues.

The neighbors have been donating water, but it’s 1/2 kilometer away and must be hauled  in a horse-drawn cart.

The wife of the youngest brother on this farm finally e-mailed me and told me of their troubles (apparently the men were too proud to ask for help). Sometimes it takes a woman to get things done!

I was able to transfer enough money for them to purchase a submersible pump. (although the search is still on for a suitable size, I am assured that water will be flowing soon).

Again I wish to thank my small group of friends for their generous financial support and trust in me. These are all friends who appreciate the difficult task of survival in utter poverty.

Thank you Rob, Victoria, Louise, Kate, Susan, Pamela, Tracy, and Faye.

Check out the series:

Living Off The land


One Afternoon

A typical walk for me starts without a destination and without an agenda. At the first intersection, I decide almost subconsciously, which way to turn. I might see some interesting activity in one direction. Or, I might realize that I haven’t walked a certain street in a while. Of course, if I encounter a street that I think I haven’t been on before, I’ll choose that option.

When I’m in the right mood, I like to walk very slowly, stopping often to watch and see what is happening around me. I wonder where people are going, what they are doing, what they are buying, and what they are talking about. I want to know where they live and how they live.

Sometimes I feel badly for them, but often times I am impressed with their openness and honest good nature. People always ask about one’s family.

I make eye contact with people, hoping for a smile, a nod, a wave, or a few words.

I’m never disappointed.

These images were all made in one typical afternoon in Havana.