Tour operator says Ian devastated Cuba's tobacco region

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A farmer works oxen to prepare a field for planting bananas in the Vinales Valley, west of Havana.
A farmer works oxen to prepare a field for planting bananas in the Vinales Valley, west of Havana. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers

Widespread power outages and severe damage to Cuba's famed tobacco region are some of the initial reports coming from a Cuba tour operator's team on the ground in the wake of Hurricane Ian

David Lee, owner of Cultural Cuba, said that while it's still too early to assess the extent of the damage, his ground team says the capital city of Havana was "spared the worst." However, power was knocked out on the entire country before reportedly being slowly restored to some parts of the island Wednesday. 

The island-wide power outage, Lee said, comes amid a month of rolling blackouts to compensate for a fuel shortage Cuba is experiencing after a fire in August caused by a lightning strike destroyed much of the nation's main fuel depot.

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"We have a few clients currently there," said Lee, who is based in Central Florida and added that he is in constant contact with his team. "We adjusted some of their experiences around the rolling blackouts, so they really were not affected. They had one full day of staying and enjoying the hotel amenities during the storm. The hotel has a generator and is never without power."

Lee said he does not expect travel to be severely impacted once power is fully restored, adding that bookings to Cuba have been stronger than ever and demand is still high, with all of November completely booked.
 
"Cultural Cuba had the busiest summer in our history, and we are sold out for November and almost full for the Festive Season, as well," he said. 
 
But damage to the island's tobacco region and its crops, which is a popular staple of many tours to Cuba, might be beyond repair, at least for this year. 
 
"The direct strike was in the western end of the island, in Vinales, Pinar del Rio, (Tobacco Country)," Lee said. "We've seen pictures and video. Unfortunately, this was quite devastating for the tobacco crops."

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