Well, I swore I would never go to Honduras. Never; for no reason would I go. I had heard so many bad things about the safety there I thought why would I go, Nicaragua and the Dominican have the same things and I feel safe in both places.
So you guessed it, I just went and I’m back in one piece. Altadis, the makers of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, etc. invited me for an exclusive tour of their factory and fields. We are huge partners with them and I am on the retail advisory council so I could hardly say no.
I packed my bag for my two and a half day trip and landed at the Ramon Villades Morales International airport in San Pedro Sula which is in the Northern part of the country near Guatemala. For reference, most of the cigars produced are in the Southern region nearer Nicaragua.
I heard a few days before I left that San Pedro Sula was the most violent city IN THE WORLD in 2013. I was not real pleased to hear that just before my trip. I was thinking of all the bad things that could happen. Kidnapping was about the worst for me. Getting shot, would be bad but It would be over quick. Kidnapped? Well first, I’m not sure how much ransom I would be held for. How would they determine that? I kept thinking about being held captive and the conditions I would be in. I would just not do well in some dirty dank hideout, no air conditioner, no running water for showers, no toilets, and worse, no Netflix. I was having real reservations about going. To make matters even worse, I was remembering that an insurance policy was taken out on us by the company. No kidding!
So, we land in SPS, the people seem nice. There is a group of about 12 of us. They meet us just outside customs and walk us out to a super deluxe bus. Things are looking up. We were heading for Santa Rosa de Copan, the city where the factory is located and the fields are not far away. It was going to be about a three and a half hour ride. About 10 minutes in, I pulled out my Ipad, popped in my headphones and began watching the last season of “Bored to Death” starring Ted Danson. Check it out, it is a good show. I was sitting in the second to last row and pulled the curtain closed to block the sun and sat back. Five minutes later we were in stand still traffic, finally creeping through after about 25 minutes. Come to find out, I missed the “incident” since I had my curtain closed. Two freshly murdered bodies laying next to the side of the road. People crowding around them, blood everywhere I’m told. Quite the scene; “Welcome to Honduras!”
We were now on the move, travelling over the rough highways, weaving back and forth to avoid the pot holes that cover the roads. Looks like the Russians never took Honduras under their wing. About twenty minutes outside of our destination, I began to smell paint thinner. I got stronger and stronger. I asked around to see if others smelled it, they did. I asked one of the tour guides if they smelled it and they said yes, smells like fuel. I was thinking NO, doesn’t smell like gasoline to me. Wait, the bus, it’s diesel. It was diesel fuel. Strong as could be. I remember thinking to myself that if I start to feel light headed, run towards the front of the bus. Just about then, the bus sputtered to a stop, the driver tried to restart the engine, no luck. We had a cracked fuel line in the engine compartment. Not sure how It did not catch fire, it was soaked, pouring all over the motor and dripping down everywhere.
So, it’s about 5PM, getting dark and we are in the middle of nowhere in Honduras. I had cell reception so after about ten minutes; I texted my wife to tell her the situation. She texted me back and asked if we were OK, I told her that we were but that text did not get to her for about 40 minutes. Come to find out, she was freaking out and I was in trouble for the poor messaging ability on the Honduran phone system. Oh, almost forgot to tell you that our armed security escorts were on the vehicle, and following with more guys in a pickup that had more guns that I could count. They were fanned out on the perimeter looking everywhere for the bad guys to jump out of the tree line and grab us.
Our factory representatives were arranging for some of the workers from the factory to come get us. They arrived like the Calvary in about six pickup trucks to take us to the fields. The workers in the fields had been ready for us with a great show. It was dark now and difficult to really see the fields in their full glory. They had a great spread of local snacks set up and some of the workers were doing demonstrations of their jobs. It was very nice. We headed to the hotel for a much needed rest.
The next day we visited the Flor de Copan cigar factory where Romeo Reserve, Gispert, and others are made. It was a site to behold. Fully integrated with the fields nearby, box factory, rolling rooms, etc. Too much to explain here but a really nice factory that nobody ever gets to visit. It was great. Now, we are off to the Copan Ruins, a 3 hour journey in a smaller bus. It may have been the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on. Terrible roads the entire trip. I got my 10,000 steps from my Fitbit about an hour into the Journey if that gives you any indication of the conditions. The Ruins, they were fantastic. Best I have ever seen. Super cool. From there, we headed to a different hotel for the night. The Hotel Marina Copan has to be one of the nicest hotels I have stayed in. Beautiful grounds, great rooms, etc. Amazing that this hotel exists in such a tiny remote town just a few miles from Guatemala and El Salvador. Really crazy.
The next morning, a few of us were on the first bus back to the airport. Another long ride, three and a half hours to the airport again. Unbelievable roads, felt like you were on the ocean in ten foot waves. Not sure how we do not get car sick.
All in all, the locations we visited were great. Getting around was awful, really, really awful. You might be thinking that I should not be complaining, it was a free trip to Honduras. You had to experience it. Not sure if I will ever go back. If I do, we have to figure out better transportation.
The entire trip was centered around seeing the new tobacco Altadis has created in their Copan fields. It is called Yarguera. It is a hybrid strain of an old Cuban seed combines with Criollo 98. The result is unique and very tasty. We just received our first shipment of cigars made with this wrapper. Very nice and different. Check them out when you can.