La Palma's Cuba Connection Andy Montgomery | Posted: 09 December 2015
Self guided walking holidays on La Palma
Andy Montgomery

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Self guided walking holidays on La Palma

Andy Montgomery of Buzz Trips uncovers a surprising link between the Caribbean island of Cuba and La Palma in the Canary Islands...

Ever since Columbus set sail from La Gomera in 1492 and changed the face of the atlas, it has been to the New World that the bows of sailing ships pointed as they left the Canary Islands with their cargoes of hungry men. Faced with economic ruin as mono crop after mono crop fell victim to drought and pestilence, between 1848 and 1898 alone, some 1168 Palmeros (natives of La Palma) emigrated to the Americas, 98% of them to Cuba. With steamships sailing regularly between the two islands for trade purposes, it was easier to get passage to Cuba than it was to get to the Spanish mainland, seven ships a month sailing to Cuba while only one set sail to Cádiz.

In reality, unable to find work, many of the emigrants found themselves no better off in Cuba than they were at home. Only an estimated 2% of those who fled achieved any level of wealth, returning years later to invest in the development of their homeland. The roots formed over the ensuing century ran deep, and a special bond was formed between the two islands which continues to thrive today. You'll find Cuba in the music, the language, the architecture, the fiestas and the food but most of all, you'll find it in La Palma's rum and cigars.

A RUM AFFAIR

Above the little harbour of Espindóla in San Andrés y Sauces sits Aldea, the island's only rum factory and one of the few distillers left who still uses raw sugar cane to produce its rum the Cuban way.

Due to the space that the cane pulping machine takes up, large commercial rum producers use the molasses by-product of sugar production to distil their liquor. But the young José Manuel learned his trade from his grandfather Don Manuel Quevedo Alemán who, in the mid-19th century emigrated from his native Gran Canaria as a young man to work in the sugar mills of Cuba.

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Discovering the real La Palma

With lush green vegetation in the north slowly giving way to dry, volcanic deserts in the south, it's little wonder that the islanders have become expert in cultivating a wide variety of crops which benefit from the varied climatic conditions. On a week's walking holiday here, explore plantations, forests and vineyards, and meet the hardy people who keep 'La Isla Bonita' looking beautiful.

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When he first opened the factory in La Palma in 1969, José used sugar cane grown on the island, pulping it to produce Guarapo pure sugar cane juice. When sugar cane production was pushed aside to make way for tomatoes and bananas, he was forced to import his cane in order to continue to produce rum the traditional Cuban way. Now run by its fourth generation, Aldea rum maintains a pure, distinctive, sugar cane flavour with a smooth finish and is enjoyed by rum connoisseurs the world over.

ROLL OVER, CUBA

It was seeds brought from Cuba by returning emigrants and farmed with the expertise they had learned in the tobacco farms surrounding Havana, that were first planted on the slopes of La Palma three centuries ago. Thriving in the growing conditions that so closely resembled their homeland, the tobacco plants achieved such high quality that by the 1960s, La Palma was a stronghold of world tobacco growing, producing cigars to rival those of Cuba. But at the end of that decade disaster came in the form of blue mold plague and the tobacco industry collapsed.

In the 1980s the trade of cigar making was revived but only using tobacco leaves imported from several sources, including Cuba. But one man was on a mission to revive the true cigar-making industry of La Palma. At Finca Tabaquera el Sitio on the hillside of Breña Alta, Don Antonio González García continues the 300-year tradition of producing top quality cigars by doing everything by hand. From seed planting, to harvesting, drying, maturing, rolling and packaging, every process is still carried out the way it was learned in Cuba all those years ago.

Spending five years developing a cigar made entirely from tobacco grown on his own farm, Don Antonio, the last true cigar-maker on La Palma, finally produced a cigar he was proud of. Known as 'El Mito' (The Myth), even Cuban cigar aficionados describe this pure La Palma cigar as being 'incomparable' with a strong aromatic body cushioned by an elegant creaminess.



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