Saturday, April 16, 2011

Florida by way of Havana and Estelí

I came to Estelí with two objectives: to see a cigar factory and to score a box of the favorite torpedo cigars I had discovered the last time I was in Nica. I was surprised arriving in Estelí to see so many tourists walking about. It wasn't a touristy place with much touristy infrastructure or things to do. There was a cigar factory tour offered at our hostel but we were more interested in the free tour we saw listed on WikiTravel.

We showed up at the factory, which was an unmarked building on the edge of town. The attendant seemed surprised to see us and when I asked about the tour, she fetched a sharply dressed manager. When he found we spoke Spanish, he lit up and led us around a few rooms, showing us the various stages of cigar making. To conclude he took us to the drying room and handed us two of the freshest cigars I've ever smelled ("they are almost done!"). When I inquired about buying a particular box of cigars he called up an associate ("He's Cuban, he knows everyone!") who arrived with a cigar in hand. Although it was 2pm, 95 degrees and humid as hell, we lit up our own cigars and got down to business with Arturo. But as it is in Latin America, we got the pleasure of getting to know our present company first.
Arturo had stayed in Cuba after the Revolution of '59 but soon found that his business of exporting cigars was obsolete after the Communist Party took control of the tobacco industry. He moved to Estelí with many other Cuban tobacco workers because the soil and climate was similar to back home. Ironically, it was twenty years later that the Sandinista Communists took over much of the tobacco production in Estelí, once again, putting Arturo out of a job. He moved to Florida where he had some family and had only recently returned to Estelí because "the medical care here is so much better, and free!" He captivated us with the specifics of his Cuban escape ("we just all got on a boat any way we could, swimming, whatever!") and subsequent adventures, but when he got into talking about his ex-wives, I took the opportunity to get back to business. 

When I asked him about getting a box of the J.L Salazar Reserva Torpedo, he gave me the same response every Nicaraguan had given me before: "You don't want a box of Padron's?" He made a couple calls while we finished our stogies. "Good to go." Hit lit a brand new cigar ("I smoke three maybe, four a day") and took us down some backstreets until we reached a communal housing area for cigar factory workers. We met our man, who didn't bargain much but still gave me a good deal on a box of my favorite cigars. $60 for a box of 25 cigars is an ok deal in Nicaragua but it's a steal when you factor in getting to spend an afternoon with a guy like Arturo. 

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