The next several installments will attempt to recap my trip to Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari in Esteli, Nicaragua. The trip was from March 9th the the 12th, 2011. My son, Corey, went on this trip with me, along with 9 others from a couple other groups who we didn’t know prior to this trip. I would recommend this trip to any rabid cigar nut, it covers all aspects of the cigar manufacturing process and the folks at Drew Estate bend over backward to make sure you have a good time.
We awoke bright and early in the Crown Plaza Hotel in Managua, said to be the nicest hotel in Nicaragua. They had fairly good free wireless in the lobby, so I took a few minutes to call home using Skype, wihich worked remarkably well and cost pennies. If I had used my cell phone to call or text I would have been in for a very large bill I think. Anyway, we had a fairly good breakfast at the hotel, although the waitstaff could have been more attentive. We checked out and boarded the bus for the 2 hour drive north to Esteli. The Pan-American Highway connects Managua and Esteli (and pretty much connects South America with North America), and it’s slightly different from what we think of when we think of a “highway”. It’s basically a 2 lane road, with the occasional cattle crossing, school crossing, etc. It’s just a totally different place than most of us are used to. Someone saw a goat being carried on a motorcycle, and I think it’s mandatory if you own a pick-up truck to have people riding in the bed. As a matter of fact, just about every truck we saw on the roads had men and boys riding on top of the cargo. Also fascinating to me were the homes that were along the highway. Most had no doors or windows, and building materials ranged from concrete and masonry to wood to corrugated metal to parts of old buses. What struck me as funny was the bright orange satellite dish that seemed to be mounted upon each roof. Many cigars were consumed upon the ride, as there was always a seemingly unlimited supply of Liga Privadas, Chateau Reals, Joya de Nicaraguas and Tabak Especiales. Along the way, Jonathan Drew told many great stories.
As we pulled into Esteli we started seeing cigar factories. We passed the ST Group’s CAO factory, Kiki Berger’sTabacalera Esteli, and I’m sure some others. We arrived at the enormous Gran Fabrica Drew Estate and were treated to a delicious lunch, the first of many wonderful meals at Cigar Safari. I don’t know what it was we ate, but it was good. There was rice and fries, and it might have been pork on a tortilla in a sauce with rasins and pineapple and other fruits. I don’t know what the names for these were, but they sure were good. We ate outside next to the pool, which would be our dining area for the rest of our stay. Absolutely beautiful place.
We were told that out luggage would be taken care of and our rooms would be assigned when we returned from our first tour. We loaded back on the bus, lit some cigars, and headed for the Joya De Nicaragua factory. We filed into a conference room and met Mario Perez, the sales manager for Joya de Nicaragua. In exceptional English, Mario related the history of Joya de Nicaragua, the oldest factory in Nicaragua, from the Cuban Revolution through the Sandinistas, through the US trade embargo to the present. There are actually workers in the factory who have been there from the beginning, which is quite a feat! He took us into the factory and walked us through the sorting rooms where we watched some de-stemming, and wrapper sorting as well as weighing and counting. It’s incredible to see all of the steps that happen before the tobacco even gets to the hands of the buncheros and roleras. Also, there is very little waste, even the stems and small bits are used someplace in the process, if only to absorb odors in the new boxes. We watched a pair (a buncher and a wrapper) making Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta Lanceros (which we had sampled the evening prior and were exceptional). The skill involved in bunching this size cigar is incredible, and fascinating to watch. After the bunches sat in the press for a while the wrapper was applied, which is another skill in itself. In another area the finishing touches are applied, as the Cabinetta gets a second wrapper of dark Nicaraguan maduro on the last two inches of the cigar which contrasts with the Ecuadoran Connecticut nicely. I really like the Cabinettas and smoked several on the trip. After watching the rollers and taking in the sights and sounds of the factory, Mario sat us down and we went through an exercise where we would choose our own blend to be rolled the next day. They had arrayed before us Seco, Veso and Ligero leaves from Jalapa, Condega and Estili, as well as three choices of binders and three choices of wrapper. I used the Dark Corojo wrapper that is used on the Antaño Dark Corojo, a Sumatra binder, a Condega Seco, Esteli Viso, and Ligero from Condega and Estili. As I look at it now, 30% Ligero might make for a fairly strong cigar, but Corey went and extra step farther and really loaded up the Ligero. We each received 5 robustos rolled to our own specifications, which is really very cool, I look forward to trying them after they rest for a few months. After touring the packaging area (interesting to note the quantity of cigars going to the European market, they sell quite a few cigars in countries other than the US), we said goodbye to Mario and the Joya de Nicaragua Factory, and returned to Drew Estate.
Here’s a little video of some Cabinetta Lancero rolling:
When we got back, Pedro assigned us our rooms and we freshened up a little. Corey and I got the “La Vieja Habana” room, which had 2 beds, a TV, and a cool La Vieja painting on the wall. The vaulted ceiling had beams that I later realized were in the shape of veins on a tobacco leaf. The rooms in our building were arranged in such a way that two rooms shared a bathroom, so there were 5 rooms in our building, one of which was the “Liga Privada” room, which was Steve Saka’s room. The next building housed a lounge upstairs, along with Jonathan’s office, a room downstairs with some treadmills (Take A Cigar For A Walk?) along with several rooms facing the valley. There were more rooms on the other side of the pool/dining area as well. I can’t imagine that another cigar factory has such grand accommodations as were provided for us. By now it was time for dinner, which was a selection of pork, chicken and beef with tortillas and rice and beans. Another meal that was pretty much outside my comfort zone, but absolutely fantastic. As we were eating, Nimish Desai, Rocky Patel’s cousin, joined us, as well as Kiki Berger of Cuban Crafters, along with Luis Mariano Garcia of Oja Cigars and a couple of gentlemen who owned shops in Houston. Alan, one of our group, was surprised by the later two as they are the proprietors of his local shops. You never know who you are going to run into! We had the good fortune of spending the evening talking with “Don Kiki” and Luis, and Steve Saka joined us for quite a while as well. Steve is always good for some hilarious stories, and didn’t let us down. I actually smoked an Acid Kuba Kuba maduro as the last cigar of the day and it wasn’t too bad, not that I could taste much after a day spent smoking almost non-stop!
We packed it in around midnight after an action-packed and fun-filled day of traveling, touring, eating, smoking and generally having an amazing time. Stay tuned for day 3.
We have a tie! I need JohnG and freakboy791 to quess how many cigars my son Corey smoked on CigarSafari to break the tie! Leave your guess in the coments of this post and I’ll announce the winner in the “Day 3” post.
Until the next time,