After the mayhem of the previous night’s events involving grown men and women pushing, yelling at and crowding around each other in order to purchase a couple of boxes of Bolívar New Gold Medal cigars, I was looking forward to a more laid-back day full of photography at a Cuban cigar factory.
Thankfully, that is pretty much what happened.
The day started with me working in the dark before dawn, with the car’s headlights and the glow from my laptop screen as the only light around. However, soon after the sun rose I was on my way to the building where some of the most recognizable Cuban cigars in the world are rolled: the Partagás factory.
The Partagás factory has occupied multiple buildings since it was founded, with the most recent location in central Havana on the corner of Calle San Carlos. I have visited it a few different times over the years, and I have never actually seen a sign—or really any obvious indication—on the outside of the building signifying what is inside. It is a large building somewhat reminiscent of a bank in a line of large buildings, fairly unassuming until you walk through the doorway.
Immediately upon entering, I can’t help but notice a few things almost simultaneously: the prominent location and sheer size of the poster showing Fidel Castro smoking a cigar is impossible to miss, while the four-story atrium that makes up the factory interior has always reminded me of a more rectangular version of the building depicted in the movie Dredd, presumably sans the drugs, crime and murders.
Groups were formed and handed over to guides, who then led people up cramped stairways with low ceilings to the second floor, where the tour started in a room full of workers stripping veins out of tobacco leaves. It is hard, back-breaking work, especially when you consider the position that each worker has to sit in for hours at a time.
Then it was down another small stairway to see some cigars being rolled in a rolling room, where cigars are pressed and rolled.
I was a bit taken aback by the small number of rollers that were actually working—the room was only about a fifth full when we went through—but there were some people on lunch, so that may have been at least part of the reason why.
From there we moved on to a couple of different rooms where cigars were being color sorted and banded.
Specifically some of the Bolívar New Gold Medal as well as the Bolívar Libertador, an exclusive release for Habanos S.A.’s La Casa del Habano (LCDH) stores.
We were then told that the boxing area where the final cigars are packaged in boxes was closed for the day and that the tour was basically over, so I decided to see if I could find someone to help me with a little project I wanted to try out. The team in charge of media for Habanos S.A. is full of very helpful people, and after a bit of explaining, I was passed on to an individual tour guide who took me all over the factory while I carried a 360-degree video camera. (Note: the resulting file is massive, meaning there is no way for me to upload it while here on the island, so go to our YouTube channel next week to see it.)
That little project took about an hour to complete and after I was done and had thanked everyone for their help, I traveled back to the convention center to upload some photographs on the (mostly) reliable internet connection there before heading to dinner. Then it was time to get a bit more work done before trying to actually get more than three hours of sleep in anticipation of the huge day covering the final Gala night’s activities on Friday night.
This story is part of halfwheel’s coverage of the Festival del Habano XXIII, the 2023 edition of Cuba’s annual cigar festival. For more coverage of the festival, click here.