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Traveling through Central America every month, you meet a lot of interesting people. Most of the Americans I come across on my flights are tourists heading out in search of some of the lesser-known vacation spots located off the beaten path. During my travels, one place I continually heard about was Granada. On one of my recent trips to cigar country (Esteli, Nicaragua) this past spring, I was winding down a 14 day factory visit and decided it was finally time that I discovered more of what Nicaragua has to offer.
The previous night I was out with some factory owners, including Abdel (AJ) Fernandez and Pepin Garcia, enjoying rum and live music, so my early morning departure was moving slowly. I crudely stuffed my clothes in my bag, grabbed my map and called my driver. When he arrived at the house I tried to show him Granada on my map and much to my surprise he needed little direction, as most Nicaraguans are all too familiar with this historic and popular town.
We drove due south from Esteli on the Pan American highway, swinging around the capitol city of Managua. For 14 strait days my diet consisted of rice, beans and churasco steaks so as we passed a Papa Johns pizzeria, my nostalgia for American food kicked in and I insisted we pull over for a slice. Back on the road, we finished our two and a half hour expedition.
Granada is referred to as the "Capital of Central America" on account of its age, which dates back almost 500 years. The city was named after the Andelusian city of Granada and is situated on Lake Nicaragua at the base of the Mombacho Volcano. This location made Granada a logical first settlement for the Spanish, ideal for farming and agriculture on account of its fertile volcanic soils and also ideal for trade with easy access to the Atlantic Ocean through the San Juan river, which feeds the lake. The Mombacho Volcano, which is now inactive, blew its top hundreds of years ago forming over 300 small islands off Granada’s coast giving it the nickname, “City of Islands”. These small multi-acre islands are owned by some of Nicaragua’s most elite members of society and are used as private getaways with extravagant mansions.
Pulling into the city was like going back in time. The Spanish influence was evident in the city’s architecture. There is a large open park at the center of town that is surrounded by beautiful hotels and buildings, including a world famous Cathedral that draws tourists from all over the world. Upon further exploration of the city, I was completely taken back by its cleanliness. Most cities in Nicaragua, and most in Latin America for that matter, are not known for their clean streets, however, Granada was very well kept with old cobblestone streets that were bustling with people. Unlike many of the country’s other areas, Granada appeared untouched by the violent conflicts which plagued the country during the 1980s.
After exploring the city, I was excited to get to the lake. As we drove down the main street toward the water, banners and signs were positioned on every corner, supporting candidates for the upcoming mayoral elections. Arriving at the beach, I was amazed by the vista. In the distance, I could faintly make out the outline of Ometepe, the volcanic island at the center of Lake Nicaragua, which is home to some of the world’s best tobacco. I had the pleasure of visiting Ometepe earlier this year. I took a boat tour of the smaller islands of the coast before heading back to my hotel at the center of town.
During the evenings, I had the pleasure of discovering a different side of Granada. Home to a plethora of restaurants, the food was some of the best, most authentic Latin cuisine I have ever come across in all of my travels. Over the next few nights I would always try a new restaurant, swearing that each one was better than the previous. After dinner, I met up with a group of Americans and we made our way down to the many bars along the lake, where there is live music every night.
Waking up the next day, I made my way to a café near my hotel for lunch. Having smoked the last of my cigars the night before, I asked the waiter where I could find a decent cigar shop. A few moments later he returned with a cigar and told me it was on the house. Upon inspection, I immediately noticed the band which featured the name of the restaurant. I appreciated the gift, but was a bit disappointed that I was stuck with what I figured would be a mass marketed private label blend. I lit it up almost immediately and recanted my thoughts as my palate was consumed by what I can only describe as a raison like flavor and aroma. I must admit that I had never tasted anything quite like it in a cigar. I inquired as to where the cigars were made and was shocked to find that they were rolled at a small factory in town. In all of my research, I was unaware there was a cigar factory in Granada. I finished my meal and went back on the job as I searched for the blender who made my lunchtime smoke.
Within minutes I found myself in front of the Dona Elba Cigar Factory. Walking in, I was greeted by the owner, Silvio Reyes. Silvio looked familiar to me for some reason and I would later realize that it was his picture I was seeing on all of the posters around town. Silvio would be the next mayor of Granada and he was well known and liked by all of the residents of the city - I quickly found out why. With a glowing smile and unmatched hospitality, Silvio invited me in and offered me a cigar. As we both lit up I began asking him questions about his blends and specifically inquired about the unique aromas in his tobacco. With wide eyes, he shouted out in Spanish for one of his employees to bring him a hand of the “Mombocho” (a hand is a term used for a bunch of leaves tied together).
He eagerly presented a dark bunch of leaves for me to inspect. Putting my nose into the center of the bunch, my senses were overwhelmed with the same flavor I was finding in all of Silvio’s cigars. He went on to explain that for several years he had been growing experimental tobacco crops in Granada at the base of the Mombacho volcano. Silvio’s family owned a great deal of land and much of it had never been used for growing, making it ideal for tobacco. In fact, he grows his tobacco without the use of any pesticides or fertilizer making the tobacco grown on this virgin volcanic soil 100% organic. For his seeds, he was using a hybrid of a Cuban and native Nicaraguan variety which yielded a strong and tough leaf that requires three times as much fermentation as normal tobacco. I have been all over the world studying and smoking different tobaccos and I must admit that what I saw at this small factory in Granada was a first.
After spending the afternoon with Silvio, he prepared a small bundle of cigars for me and gave me a few hands of his organic leaf to show my collegues in the US. Time was short and I was late meeting my driver for my return flight. As I raced into the airport, I almost forgot my cigars in the car. The entire trip home I could not stop thinking about the few days I spent in Granada. The city was beautiful, cultural and relaxing. Its rich history provided a seemingly endless number of attractions and to top it off, I had discovered a small cigar factory that was doing innovative things with tobacco that the world had not yet seen.
Published Tuesday, July 08, 2008 2:42 PM by
July 8, 2008 6:43 PM
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About Alex Svenson
I enjoy at least one premium cigar everyday and have the privilege of working directly with every major cigar maker in the industry. I love developing new and exciting cigar blends and bringing only the best this industry has to offer to our Cigar.com clients.
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