Cigar Tours in Esteli

We weren’t quite sure what we had signed up for today (most of the more exciting trips start that way) but we knew we were being picked up at 9:30. Orlando turned up right on time and although he didn’t speak any English we managed to cope throughout the day and actually ended up learning a fair bit which was great.
He took us for a drive in a huge loop around the countryside surrounding Esteli. We were so glad that we had decided to take a guide as there wasn’t a chance we would have found the spots without him. You can tell that tourism is certainly embraced here,it’s just that things aren’t overly well signposted and a lot of the paths aren’t too obvious.
Orlando took us to a couple of viewpoints and we got to gaze over some quite beautiful countryside that was more or less uninhabited. We were meant to visit El Jalacate, a place were a man had carved some amazing animals into stone but unfortunately it was shut but Orlando managed to show us some other carvings.  
The best bit of the tour though he saved for last which was the Salto Estanzuela (waterfalls). The area is going through a drought at the moment so there wasn’t a lot of water flowing but enough to create a really quite beautiful waterfall. It was yet another great viewpoint and the end to a good tour where we got to appreciate the beauty of the countryside around Esteli.
Our plan for the afternoon was to visit a cigar factory and go on a tour. We had been told where the factory was, and while they didn’t officially do tours we apparently could ask and give a tip and then get a tour. Sounded like a great idea!!
We found the place soon enough and were let straight in by the security guard. He then asked us if we wanted a guide and we said yes and he introduced us to one of the managers!! He not only spoke perfect English but had an absolute passion about cigars.
We were taken through the whole process in the factory from start to finish. He showed us where the leaves first came into the factory to how they were dried and then fermented. To where they were rolled and finished. Then to where they were packaged and made ready for delivery.
This particular factory made cigars for different companies all over the world and could make just about any specification of cigar and put it in just about any packaging.
The highlight of the tour had to be when he was explaining how the cigars were made and how the different flavours and tastes were created. The different leaves all have different flavours and it’s one group’s job to discern what flavours they have and that’s done by smoking a sample of the leaf!!
They then use a combination of the leaves to make the cigar. He demonstrated this by making a couple of cigars right there and then. We were in a room surrounded by boxes of leaves with numbers on the side and he began plucking some out and then got one of the boys to go a get a couple of bigger leaves to wrap them in.
In no time we had two perfect cigars and we got to light them right there and then!! It was noticeable the difference in tastes and once we decided which one we preferred we took one and he took the other and we continued our tour whilst smoking cigars!! 
In a Nicaraguan cigar factory, having an unofficial tour while smoking big fat cigars…classic. We were in awe of our guide and his expertise, but when we complimented him on his knowledge he brushed us away and said that he had met a Cuban who with just one puff of a cigar could say which region each leaf in the cigar came from. Fingers crossed we meet this man!!
In fact there was another group in at the same time but their tour looked a little more official and they must have wondered who on earth we were wandering around with a manager, smoking!!
It was a definite highlight and along with the “cool” factor it was interesting too. We both had a great time and bought a couple of cigars at the end (for $2) and these were the most expensive we could get!! We would have got more but he warned us that it was difficult to send them back to Australia or Europe plus we are off to Cuba soon!! T

The ladies selling their bags of fruit on the side of the road. We must have bought a hundred bags by now I reckon.

Stood out on the “feet of death” overlooking the countryside around Esteli.

The local cafe had an interesting collection behind the counter.  We are not sure but we think that’s a rocket launcher and maybe a land mine.  We are just a stones throw from the border with Honduras so anything is possible really.

Some patterns etched into the stones.

The countryside here in Nicaragua is so lush, green and beautiful.  Also seems to be very sparsely inhabited.  There are a couple of houses here but they have no electricity or running water.  They get their water from a well and we have seen huge piles of firewood for cooking (It’s so hot that it’s definitely not for heating) outside homes everywhere.

The woods were scattered with stones which had been carved into all sorts of wonderful shapes and animals.

The waterfall was truly beautiful but we needed a 360 degree shot to truly appreciate that the walls almost completely surrounded us.

A typical street in Esteli.

The boys at the cigar factory screen printing the covers for the boxes.

The tobacco leaves fermenting.  They are placed in these piles by hand, then rotated by hand.  They are tested to see if they are ready by being rolled and smoked.

The ladies sorting the leaves into different sizes, thickness and quality.  Again all by hand.

Our man preparing to roll the cigars.

Rolling them just on a bench in the store.  I think he might have done this before.

Sarah enjoying the cigar.  The boxes behind are all full of leaves waiting to be rolled, and that was where our guide just casually wandered around picking out different combinations for the cigars.

Smoking the cigars in the factory!  With the stacks of mold boxes behind and the lady rolling the cigars in front. 

We could have watched this lady work all day it was captivating watching her hands roll the cigars.

All the different shapes she had rolled that day.  Apparently the more shapes they can roll the more money they can get.

This machine is the “draw tester.” The cigar is placed in the end and it makes sure that the airflow is correct.  This was easily the most high tech piece of machinery in the whole factory!

All the cigars waiting to be boxed and shipped.  Each little package is a different order.

The final process of boxing up the cigars ready for shipping.

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