While I got to bed at a reasonable hour Tuesday night, I was still only able to set my alarm for less than six hours of sleep.
After putting off getting out of my bed as long as I could, I got dressed and headed downstairs to the area where the buses assemble and attendees start their day. Each morning, Procigar buses attendees from three hotels to the Hodelpa Gran Almirante, from there everyone boards the bus they are assigned to and leaves for their destination. That means if you stay at Gran Almirante, you get more sleep—probably close to an hour per day—than the others. I am lucky and stay at the Almirante, which is predictably sold out.
My tour was La Flor Dominicana, which is rare in the sense that it’s offered on two different days due to the popularity. Still, we packed into a large bus, which very quickly had only a couple of seats left. From there, we made the drive to La Canela, which is where the farm co-owned by La Flor Dominicana and Jochy Blanco of Tabacalera Palma is located.
Patrick and I did this tour a few years ago, but as is often the case, all it takes is a few months and things can look drastically different. For one, the weather was much better. The last time I was at La Canela the big yellow bus was struggling to get out of the mud because of the rain, this time we were greeted by a bright sun.
I certainly remember a coffee set-up, but this year seemed much more elaborate. There was the regular offering of coffee, beer and water, as well as donuts, bellinis, coconut milk—out of freshly chopped coconuts—and roasted marshmallows.
As we consumed food and drink, two Paso Finos walked in their signature movement and eventually Litto Gomez, La Flor’s co-founder, got on and rode the horse. Of note, he didn’t ride the horse into the tobacco field like La Flor’s famous ad.
From there it was off to the tobacco barns. As we waited to go inside one thing became very apparent: there were a lot more people than last time. It was challenging to get everyone inside the barn and even once that happened it was oftentimes even more difficult to hear what was going on.
Barns are different from country to country, but there are some similarities. Most farms are using eucalyptus wood for the interiors and that’s no different at La Flor.
In Honduras and Nicaragua, you are likely to see hard materials on the roof, in the Dominican Republic—and Cuba—you are more likely to see the leaves, even at the larger and more modern barns like the one pictured above.
Barns are some of the coolest places to take photos because of the mixtures of light. Here’s someone posing for another photographer.
And here’s Tony Gomez taking a picture for his Instagram account.
The largest difference at the farm between our last visit and now is the size of the farm—which has gotten bigger—but the easiest thing to spot were the new shade crops. Gomez is using a much darker shade—70 percent instead of the 30 percent normally used—to try to grow wrapper.
He said he tested it in the greenhouse last year and liked the results a lot. We went to one area of the farm where the darker shade was being used and Litto showed us the leaves, which he hopes to use for wrapper. One advantage to the leaves in here are they are thinner—which should mean faster processing—and the plant was able to get more leaves than the ones from the 30 percent shade.
Yes, that is not Litto’s traditional hat. #hatgate
I am certainly part of the problem, but if you don’t like cameras, cigar festivals can be intimidating.
After another coffee break, we headed to the factory in Tamboril for lunch and a tour. As on the prior tour, there was a pig roast, which always goes over well. La Flor definitely added some new features to its tour: an artist drew caricatures of five guests and dancers performed for us.
Eventually, Litto Gomez himself took the stage to perform the tango. That particular act was inspired by the company’s new La Volcada, which itself is named after a part of the tango. Gomez grew up in Uruguay, which is where the tango was created.
The factory tour was admittedly a bit chaotic with the sheer number of people. While there was eventually room at the farm, there were some areas of the factory—like the company’s beautiful aging room—that couldn’t fit half the tour attendees. It also made taking pictures very challenging.
The Tabacalera La Flor S.A. expansion is almost complete. The area behind the workers is part of the new area and Gomez told me he is just waiting on the tables for the workers.
Of note, the once all-male rolling room had two females working in it, another change from 2015.
Just as our tour was wrapping up, it began raining—and raining pretty hard. After taking shelter for 10 or so minutes, we boarded the bus and headed back to Santiago.
The above mural was done with spray paint and took two days to complete.
Wednesday night’s dinner is the least important of the three nights. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it pales in comparison to Thursday’s white night and the gala on Friday. It’s described as the traditional Dominican night—which fortunately means another pig roast—and this year Procigar added a variety of Dominican street food stations, which were welcome additions.
It’s worth nothing that Procigar tries each year to make improvements, even though there probably is not a large list of complaints. It’s nice and it keeps it exciting as many of the atendees have been coming for years, some even a decade.
Procigar hands out custom boxes for each of the three nights, Wednesday night’s is above.
Unfortunately, the music was much louder than I can ever recall before. I stayed through the annual dance contest, albeit, I opted not to defend my third place finish from last year, as no one needed to see that again.
Overall, the dancing was much better—and not just because I wasn’t doing it—and the couple in the right of the picture was crowned one of the co-champions. Shortly thereafter, I grabbed an Uber—which works very well in Santiago—and headed back to the hotel.
I planned to have a cigar and a drink to unwind before getting to bed at a reasonable hour. As is often the case, that was not what happened. Instead, I was joined by almost the identical group of people I spent Wednesday night with last year plus a few additions that included Manny Iriarte and Felix Mesa.
At 2 a.m. I opted to call it a night just as another bottle of red wine was appearing. As it turns out, some managed to stay downstairs until almost 6 a.m.
Tomorrow I’ll be at PDR Cigars, one of the few factories I haven’t been to.
Disclosure: Procigar paid for my registration, which includes lodging and access to the events.