Estelí, Nicaragua: The Diamond of the Segovias
When people think of Nicaragua, they may imagine picturesque mountains covered with jungle-like trees. They may envision row after row of endless tobacco plants and small fruit stands dotting the street corners. This is the exact picture I discovered when I traveled to this bustling metropolis. Located about 93 miles north of the capital city of Managua, Estelí is the third most populated city in Nicaragua, and a huge center for commerce.
This city is filled with some of the finest craftsmen you will find in Central America. Leather workers craft boots and belts out of whatever is available to them, including iguana. The items they create could be sold for top dollar in the American market, but in Estelí, they serve more as a representation of the artists’ talents than a means of making money. The population is one of the most generous and cheerful that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. They are humble, hardworking, and content with their lives. It is an area rich in history and culture, and in recent decades Estelí has become a haven for former Cuban cigar manufacturers, setting itself up as the unofficial tobacco capital of the country.
It is the area’s weather and soil, which differ greatly from those of the rest of the country, that makes it perfect for the production of cigar tobacco. Upon traveling north, the temperature drops about 10 degrees, and the landscape changes from brownish flat fields to lush, green mountains and farms. The soil is dark, unlike the reddish clay of Jalapa, and is filled with nutrients due to the volcanic rock that it is derived from. This makes the tobaccos grown here sturdy and strong, with hints of spice and a very rustic nature. Estelí produces, as Nick Perdomo calls it, “the world’s best tobacco.”
Although the casual cigar smoker may have never even heard of this city, it has become an iconic region for tobacco, and home to some of the world’s biggest cigar companies; Drew Estate, My Father, Rocky Patel, Padrón, Oliva, and Perdomo are all based in this very fertile area. Most factories are located within mere miles of each other, all off the great Pan-American Highway. Their fields are spread out all over the region, with many as far away as the towns of Condega and Jalapa. Yet Estelí holds the honor of being the center for production.
Much of the population works in either the fields or the factories, with Perdomo employing some 4,000 workers. They work hard and are very proud of the products they create and of the companies they work for; there are even sports leagues that pit the different companies against each other. I had the pleasure of seeing the Perdomo softball team break even in a doubleheader with Plasencia (although the second game was definitely fixed). The fans are very supportive of their respective teams and closely resemble what one may find at a Yankees game.
I must say I was very surprised with how much I enjoyed staying in this city. The people treat guests with respect and like one of their own. The simplest gesture receives such great amounts of thanks, for Estelí’s people know it is the smoker that employs them. And now I know that without the hard work, creativity, and overall attitude of the people of Estelí, the “world’s best tobacco” would be nothing more than a pipe dream.