In my most recent trip to Nicaragua I was fortunate to attend Puro Sabor 2018. Puro Sabor is a celebration of the Nicaraguan cigar industry and the people who make it so wonderful. I had previously been to Nicaragua once before, in the fall of 2015, and I was so grateful to be able to go back again. Since there’s so much to cover about this trip I’ll break it into a series of different articles each covering different aspects of the trip itself. One theme that I hope you’ll notice in all of these articles is the people. The people are the most important aspect of every piece of the cigar industry in Nicaragua. Nothing is more important to the industry than its people and it’s the relationships that make the cigar industry in Nicaragua so beautiful and so wonderful.
I flew in to Managua a day early, to save a bit on airfare and to give myself some extra time to acclimate to the surroundings. After arriving in Managua I was greeted by some staff from Puro Sabor and taken to a hotel across the street from the airport. There, I got all signed in for the festival and received the pack that was provided for all guests of the festival. This pack was absolutely stuffed with wonderful cigars and seemingly endless amounts of swag.
I then met some new friends on the road to Granada, who asked if I would like to accompany them on a short detour to see the Masaya volcano. I graciously accepted and we made our way to see the volcano. Since Nicaragua is well known as a Volcano destination, I was grateful for a chance to see one for myself. It exceeded my expectations.
We were fortunate that day because the wind was moving away from us, so the thick and heavy gases coming from the volcano were pushed away from us. This made it easy get great views of the crater. I have to say that I enjoyed the element of danger, considering this volcano last erupted only 13 months prior to my visit. That made it a little more interesting. The most amazing part to me was the way they had the entire park set up.
I suppose I shouldn’t consider it so strange, but it was not much different than many national parks and state parks that I go to in the United States all the time. The brown signs with yellow lettering, the booth where you pay your fee to enter the park, and the small building with souvenirs and refreshments. The entire park was very well run and maintained. The views were spectacular and I hope to go back again someday to see it again.
We made our way from Masaya to Granada and I checked into my hotel. The hotel Colonial in Granada was a very nice place to stay. Although it was a small hotel, that is no different from any of the other hotels in Granada. But even being small the room was comfortable and clean, the pool areas although small were clean and well-kept.
That evening I decided to walk around and see the town, and since the NFC championship game was happening at the same time I was fortunate enough to find that game playing on a television in a restaurant right next to my hotel. I decided to sit down and have a meal while watching the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles compete. Although I am not a Minnesota Vikings fan I was still somewhat hopeful to see them victorious, but it was not meant to be.
Being the Gringo that I am I couldn’t read most of what was on the menu but I didn’t understand the word carne, so I ordered that and was not disappointed. I was served a plate with a beautiful steak rice and beans fried plantains and a small salad of lettuce tomato cucumber and onion. After the meal I stayed to watch the rest of the game and enjoyed of course a nice RoMa Craft cigar. Since the day was filled with travel I found myself tired so turned in early to face the next day with as much energy as possible.
That next morning after a quiet breakfast at the hotel I took in some more of the sites around the city of Granada and stretch my legs a bit. I then spent a few hours touring the Mombacho Factory. I will cover all of my factory visits in a separate article, but suffice it to say Mombacho, was a great experience. As the Mombacho tour was winding down I just so happened to see none other than Jim Robinson, better known to cigar lovers as Island Jim, stroll in by the fountain in the courtyard.
I called down to him from the upper level and was greeted by the famous yellow sunglasses and a friendly wave. In all honesty I was curious to see him because he is not directly in the Nicaraguan cigar business. Turns out he was just in town to say hello to some friends and visit for a while. As we relaxed on the steps of the Mombacho factory for a few minutes, Jim asks if I have any plans the rest of the day. When I say that I really had no plans he says “You’re going on a boat tour with me”. Now there was no way I was turning down an invitation like that.
We take a car to a marina nearby and board a boat to tour the Islets of Granada. Jim invited quite a few people on the tour, many of whom he had met only hours before. That’s one of the great things about cigars, they make fast friends. Nick Syris was also one of the guests on the tour. Nick is the owner of LH Premium Cigars, and soon to launch a partnership in a new cigar line with Jim. As the boat launches out to Lake Nicaragua, I find myself mesmerized by the Islets. I come to learn that they were formed when the Mombacho volcano erupted thousands of years ago. Many of the islets are developed with houses, even hotels and schools can be found among this rocky neighborhood.
Along the way through the islets, we stop at one of the locations that is known for monkees who will come right up to your boat, so long as you have treats to share. We were fortunate enough to be greeted by some furry friends and get some nice pictures along the way.
Then we made it to our destination. One of the Islets that Jim simply called The Pirate Restaurant. It was a beautiful spot with abundant drinks, a fantastic staff, good food, even WiFi and a nice pool. It was such a great experience to enjoy a meal of fresh caught fish and fried plantains on this tiny island, and with the Man known as Island Jim, no less. We devoured the food, then relaxed with cigars while taking in the beauty of this little island restaurant.
When we returned to the mainland, We each made our way back to the Mombacho factory again and relaxed for a bit. I decided to stroll back to my hotel and rest before walking into Granada for a late dinner and drinks. As luck would have it, I ran into Nick at, of all places, an Irish Pub. That’s right, an Irish Pub with fish & chips, Guinness, and most of the other types of fare you would expect, only nestled in the heart of Granada. Nick was hanging out with Randy, who is in the river Tugboat business in Illinois, and came to Puro Sabor simply because he loves great cigars.
We had this wonderful spot right on the street where we could enjoy our cigars and eat and drink, which we did for many hours that night. After a while, Jime joined us, along with one of the local street vendors who happens to be deaf and mute. Jim tells us that over the years, he has become almost like a sponsor to this street vendor, who recognizes Jim immediately and joins us at the next table. We drink and enjoy our cigars until late into the evening, until I decide to walk back to my hotel in hopes of getting a little rest before the next day brings a full schedule of activities.
Of course, I barely make it three steps in the direction of my hotel when I hear “Matt!” and I turn so see Claudio and the rest of the team from Mombacho cigars waving me over. They invite me to join them and enjoy some Flor de Cana rum, and great conversation. As tired as I was, and as much as I didn’t need any more libation, I just couldn’t say no. It was really great to get to know Claudio a little better, and just laugh together while enjoying some great Mombacho cigars and local rum. I made it back to my hotel room at about 3 am, and unfortunately found myself the next morning in no condition to join the rest of the festival attendees for the beach excursion. I slept in and recovered, then spend some more time later that day doing some personal tours of Granada.
Even weeks after the trip, I am still taken by the beauty of Granada. It is a city that seems to have stood still, and many consider to be the most beautiful city in Central America. I strolled the streets, enjoying my cigars and meeting the great people of the city.
This was a great chance to recharge and prepare myself for the real meat of Puro Sabor, like factory and farm tours, wonderful events, and the fantastic people who make the Nicaraguan cigars that we love so much. I will be covering those aspects in future articles right here on Blind Man’s Puff, so please check back often.