Day 1 of the Cigar Safari started for C4ddy and myself on Saturday April 13, rather than Sunday April 14. We wanted to arrive in Managua as early as possible so as not to miss any of the activities.
Due to the way flights were arranged, the only choices we had were to fly into Managua the evening before (8pm) or fly into Houston and lay over until the morning flight. Litui decided he was going to do the same thing, but flew into Houston earlier.
Hearing that we had a 9 hour layover in Houston, Speedgeek (from Reddit /r/cigars) decided he would fly into Houston to meet us for an impromptu herf.
We arrived at the Calgary airport with several hours to spare, and it turned out to be a prudent decision. Blowing snow and cold weather rolled in shortly after hour arrival, which delayed our departure and resulted in other passengers showing up late to the airport.
Our flight to Houston was fairly uneventful. We arrived quite late, after 11 Houston time, and unfortunately everything was closed. Speedgeek met us at our gate, with a screen held up that said 'C. Surgeon'. He advised it was a bit of a challenge finding our gate as none of the flight boards had our flight or the arrival gate listed. Litui met us at arrivals and we collected our baggage and headed to the airport hotel to organize and start smoking.
Weather was quite pleasant, over 20 degrees Celsius, about 60 degrees F, which was a great change from the nastiness we had left behind. After a few hours of smoking, Litui decided to get a few hours sleep before our morning departure, and the rest of us headed off to the waffle house.
Grease, meat and eggs turned out to have magical restorative properties and managed to keep us reasonably alert until the morning. After eating we saw Speedgeek off to his morning flight and then met up with Litui a few hours later for second breakfast.
The flight out of Houston was on-time, the landing in Managua was interesting. High winds buffeted the plane around as we came in.
Customs was relatively uneventful. We paid our $10 requisite fee for tourist card and met up with Pedro to load our luggage on the bus and start the safari.
A cigar and several beers tied us over as we made our way through Managua to El Tiscapa for lunch. We were advised in advance that this would be one of the better restaurant experiences we would have, and we were not disappointed.
Pulled pork, steak, queso frito (fried cheese cubes), chips and black bean sauce, various salsas, fried plantains and of course delicious Nicaraguan rum and beer were enjoyed. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Tom Navarro, Drew Estate ambassador, and his lovely wife Gloria. Across from me was Johnny Brooke from Drew Estate.
JD and Willy Herrera showed up shortly after we were seated, and we spent the next few hours introducing ourselves to everyone and trying desperately not to forget names.
After lunch we piled back onto the bus (where I lit up my 3rd cigar of the trip), and we headed off to Granada for a boat tour. Pedro and JD pointed out the Spanish influence on the architecture as we zipped through town on the way to the lake.
Around the lake were a number of young kids making flowers and animal shapes out of the reeds growing there.
Lake Nicaragua is a freshwater lake and stretches a staggering 8,264 square kilometers (3,191 miles). The tour took us around to various islands that were created by volcanic eruption. JD told us that there were actually sharks in the lake, and to be honest I thought he was pulling my leg. Later I looked it up and sure enough the lake is home to a variety of species of sharks and other creatures.
The White Cliffs of Nicaragua
On each island someone had built huge estates with amazing architecture. We saw fisherman casting nets into the lake and islands full of spider monkeys.
Back on the bus and on our way back into Granada and the Hotel Colonial. The Hotel Colonial had beautiful stonework and a big pool in the center with an open air roof. I headed upstairs to drop off my luggage and finally change into shorts from jeans.
We headed out from the hotel and a walk through the square to a restaurant highly touted by JD. We had reservations that dinner could possibly top the great lunch we had, but after looking over the menu I thought we might be in for another culinary treat.
I lit another cigar, ordered up a delicious 12 year old Flor de Caña rum, cream of asparagus soup, a delicious steak, and a cheesecake desert. Each part of the dinner was better than the last culminating in the amazing cheesecake desert. The entire time I enjoyed a Herrera Esteli Piramide. We got a chance to talk with Willy and JD throughout the dinner and then we all made our way back to the hotel.
I stayed up quite late talking with Greg Shahbazian from Hollywood Smoke, Giovanni and Tom Navarro who gave me insights about how he came to be the Drew Estate Ambassador.
At this point I had been awake for more than 40 hours and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Day 2 we head to Esteli and have our first factory tour.