Portrait of Alberto Vitamina

    Suerte is the Spanish word for luck, which seems to describe the life of Alberto Vitamina. He lives in a comfortable house in the beautiful and fertile Valle de Viñales. The tobacco that he and other farmers grow in this valley is reputed to be the best in all of Cuba, and the government buys it to make the finest cohibas sold in Havana. Since the early 2000's he has been allowed to keep 10% of his crop to roll his own cigars, which he sells to visitors to his farm...and smokes himself, of course.

    We were fortunate to meet Alberto one hot Saturday afternoon. We had traveled to Viñales for the day, stopped at a street fair, then had a delicious lunch at a restaurant just outside of town that serves its own organically grown food. Before heading back to Havana, Steve Anchell directed our taxista down what seemed to be a randomly-chosen road where we noticed Alberto and his large family gathered outside their house. We stopped, our guide Anay talked to them for a bit, and we found ourselves invited in to talk, tour the farm, buy cigars, and get to know these wonderful people. We also took many photographs of Alberto, his family, and his farm, and I feel fortunate to have made this portrait of him.

    We learned that in addition to growing tobacco, Alberto and his family also own a paladar (a restaurant and bar that is another one of the capitalist ventures permitted by Raul Castro as a way of improving his country's economy.) Alberto told us that he hunts wild pigs that feed on acorns in the nearby mountains, which he roasts and serves to visitors at fiestas at his farm. In the most fortunate turn of events of this day, we will be returning for one of Alberto's pig roasts in December.

    While reboarding our taxi for the return trip to Havana the sliding side door fell off the van. One might think that our luck had just run out, but things like this are just a fact of life in Cuba where the inability to replace, maintain, and properly repair equipment is endemic. When these things happen, I say they are “Going Cuban.” We were unable to effect repairs, so I, as Steve's assistant on this trip, was tasked with taking our group to Alberto's paladar for beer and snacks while Steve and Anay rode the now door-less taxi back to town to find another van.

    They were successful in their search, and, fortune still smiling upon us, returned with a much nicer van for our return. It seems the only person in this story who was not lucky was our first driver, who we left behind with his broken van. But, there was that street fair going on in town, so maybe his luck improved as well.