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Archive for June, 2011

When you live in a small town the day-to-day can get a little monotonous (and in Trinidad, a little hot) so when Kristi and I need a break we usually hop on a bus and take a little two-day trip.  Our latest of these mini-vacations was to the city of Santa Rosa de Copán in the western part of Honduras.  Santa Rosa is a city of about 50,000 people that includes several restaurants, commerce and a cigar/tobacco industry.

We stayed in one of the nicer hotels where we enjoyed some poolside beers and got our cable TV fix for the month.  The climate in SRC was 10 or 15 degrees cooler than Trinidad as an added bonus.

We spent our time browsing the market and shops, eating at Zot’s (kinda like Macado’s without schooners) and other ex-patriot owned restaurants, and checking out the Spanish colonial architecture.

Catholic cathedral off the central park

This building was occupied by a micro-financing organization

Military Batallón

The trip highlight was touring the Santa Rosa cigar factory.  The cigar factory was very cool but unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take any photos!  For those interested in the workings of a Central American cigar factory, this is what we learned:

In 1765 the Spanish established the Royal Tobacco Factory in Santa Rosa setting they city on course to become the tobacco capital of Honduras.  The original buildings no longer exist but tobacco is still the big industry in SRC.  The current factory, La Flor de Copán, produces about 20 brands of cigars that are sold all over the world.  Only three of the brands are sold in Honduras.  The rest are owned by other cigar companies like Romeo and Juliet.  The notable brands found in Honduras include Santa Rosa and Flor de Copán.

This particular factory has about 850 employees working 8 hour days.

Here is a rundown of the process:

  • Tobacco is harvested from the farmlands surrounding SRC then shipped to the city for processing.  Only the filler tobacco is from Honduras, the wraps (capas) are imported.
  • The filler tobacco is sorted by type and left to ferment in large stacks (1,500 lbs of tobacco per stack) for 1 to 2 years in a humidified building.  The inner temperature of the stack reaches about 120ºF.  The tobacco must be continually rotated so that the tobacco ferments evenly throughout.
  • After fermentation the filler tobacco is deveined by hand, stretched and pressed.  While being deveined the tobacco is sorted by color.  Different types of tobacco come from different farms in the area.  The color and strength of the tobacco depends on the strain, soil, elevation, growing season and other factors.
  • After deveining, the filler tobacco is dried for another year in 100 lb sacks in another building that is climate controlled to be cooler and drier.
  • Wraps or capas are the outer leaves of the cigar and for this factory are imported from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Mexico.  These leaves are deveined with a simple, human-operated machine that is more precise so as not to damage the leaf.
  • Next the filler tobacco goes to the boncheros who form the filler into the typical cigar shape.  Depending on the brand and type a blend of different types of tobacco is used in a single cigar.  The bunches also vary in length and thickness depending on brand and type.  The bunches are put in a mold and pressed for 30 minutes per side.  We found the title bonchero hilarious.
  • The pressed bunches are then sent to the rolerosRoleros wrap each bunch with the imported, finer tobacco leaves, the capa.  Their precise work is done surprisingly fast.  Using a blade and an adhesive the rolero finished a cigar in about 30 seconds.
  • Between rolling and packaging the cigars, or puros, are reviewed three times.  The first review is for density of the bunch and a vacuum-like machine checks for the desired level.  Density is important for a proper burn rate.  The next two reviews are to ensure that the cigar is rolled perfectly and that there are no weak spots or cracks in the capa.
  • After the cigars are approved they are sorted and packaged in cellophane then boxed.  The boxes, usually made of cedar or ply-board, are manufactured and painted or stamped at the factory as well.

Because we weren’t permitted to take photos, from memory I drew some very technical schematics to illustrate the cigar manufacturing process:

Disclaimer: The art teachers at Fuquay-Varina High School are in no way responsible for the quality of my drawings

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Last week we decided to have a little shopping day.  Nothing like the marathon day we spent at the mall in San Pedro, but rather a day in and around the city of Santa Bárbara buying vegetables, craft supplies, and gifts to bring home on our upcoming trip to the States.

This is a really awesome tree in front of our house. The pictures don't quite do it justice but it is so red it looks like its on fire. The truck in the foreground comes to town 3 times a week to sell vegetables.

Another view

When we first visited Santa Bárbara we didn’t really like it – it was loud, crowded, and definitely had more of a “city” feel as opposed to the laid back “pueblo” vibe of Trinidad.  Over the course of the past year we have come to appreciate certain aspects of Santa Bárbara such as the vegetarian restaurant where you can always get a delicious salad, the bustling city market which has a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, a mini-supermarket (key word mini) which usually has peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, and tea bags, and of course the blessed bakery/ice cream shop that sells coffee granitas!

Our shopping day also included a stop in the small town of Arada to visit an amazing women’s co-op that makes the most beautiful baskets.  Arada is only a short 15 minute bus ride past Santa Bárbara and although there is little to nothing going on in town it is a very nice place with cool breezes, pretty streets lined with neat houses, and home to arguably the best craft makers in Honduras.

We first met the leader of this co-op almost a year ago at (where else?) the mall in San Pedro.  There happened to be an artisan fair set up that day and this brightly colored fan caught my eye, which David sweetly bought me for my birthday!  I loved the women’s crafts so much that I scribbled down “Arada – Noncita” (name of the lady) on a random piece of paper in my purse and filed it away for later use.  Four months later we showed up in town and asked around until we found Noncita’s house!  She answered our calls of “Buenas!” and led us into her front room which was loaded down with baskets, fans, purses, coasters, trivets, keychains, etc.

Baskets galore

Christmas gifts - total cost approximately $50

We bought even more good stuff for family & friends during the most recent trip but I don’t want to spoil the surprise with photos!  If you’re lucky enough to know us in real life (ha!) then you will see soon enough 🙂

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