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Travel

Day 9 - Sept. 26

Posted October 20, 2015

WRAL's Leyla Santiago with Oreste Diaz Blanco in Vinales, Cuba.

A delegation of North Carolina agriculture leaders arrives tomorrow.

This is our last day to gather any other interviews or video we want for the documentary before we have to focus solely on the delegation.

Since we don’t know how rushed or chaotic it may be traveling with the delegation, we asked Andy to take us to Viñales, a town known for producing some of the best tobacco on the island. It’s about an hour and a half from Havana.

It is an area with stunning scenery. With so much natural beauty, I wondered if hiking was popular among tourists. I asked Andy.

“What’s hiking?” he said.

I explained and he told me it was not a thing in Cuba.

When we arrived in Viñales, we picked up Ariel. He works for one of the tourism companies. He knows this area well and explained that it is becoming popular among tourists. I told Ariel I wanted to meet a farmer, and he told me he would take me to the best tobacco farmer in the area.

We pulled over in what seemed like a random spot and Ariel said, “This is it.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. All I saw was the road, a small house off to the side and what appeared to be a trailhead . Ariel looked at me and said, “Those shoes should be fine. They might get a little dirty.”

We grabbed our equipment and headed down the path. There was quite a bit of mud. At one point, we came across a pig bathing in the mud.

About half a mile in, I turned to Andy and said, “By the way, this is hiking.”

We continued on until we reached a curing barn. Inside, Oreste Diaz Blanco was smoking a cigar while sitting in his rocking chair. I asked about his farm and family history. Our family histories are actually quite similar. Both of our families are from the Canary Islands of Spain, and both ended up in the Caribbean. My family went to Puerto Rico. His family settled in Cuba.

He gave me a big hug and joked, “This is my favorite Puerto Rican.”

Oreste runs the farm with his brothers. He listed off all the crops they grow, which included coffee. With a smirk on his face, he told me the best coffee is grown in Cuba. He knew I would take issue and I did. I stood by Puerto Rico’s coffee. We laughed together.

He walked me through the entire process of growing tobacco - what the seeds look like, the timeline, how they make the cigars, etc.

He was very welcoming and answered my questions. Although, when I asked him if he liked the idea of more trading opportunities with the United States, he dodged the question.

"Oh I don't know. That's up to the government. I can't answer that question," he said.

When it was time to leave, I felt like I was saying bye to a friend. I had forgotten about the long and hot hike in. Until, of course, we had to take it back out.

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