Caribbean Smoking

The night was balmy. There was a moon high in the sky, and a light breeze off the nearby ocean, where you could hear the unusually high surf crashing into the beach. I wanted to end 2009 on a high note, a celebration of a year survived and a silent nod to how many great, and some not so great, cigars that I smoked during the year.

I was in Puerto Rico at a new development called Bahia Beach, which about a year from now will have a new St. Regis hotel to go along with a challenging Robert Trent Jones II golf course, and that long stretch of sandy beach. Today, there are condos, a few houses and a golf clubhouse, and not much else in an area surrounded by nature preserves, lakes and a lot of tropical vegetation. In the distance, you can see the mountains of El Yunque rain forest. 

Sitting on the patio of the condo I was staying with my family, I lit up a cigar given to me that day by the club’s assistant pro, Jorge. We had chatted in the late afternoon as I practiced on the putting green, and after exchanging answers to questions about what each of us did for a living, he returned in a few minutes with a cigar that he said had been given to him by a cigar retailer in San Juan. No name. No band. Just a well-made lonsdale; even he didn’t know what it was, but he said that he’d been given it by this man and he been keeping it now for eight months. I told him I would smoke it that night, because I wanted to give it a try in a completely relaxed setting, somewhere other than my office where I smoke nearly all the cigars that I taste every year.

From the first puff, I was struck by one of those realities that everyone knows, but often forgets. The cigar tasted different in the tropics. Better? That’s open to debate, but it just seemed like the setting was making this cigar something that it couldn’t be inside an air-conditioned office in a cold and snowy December. Maybe it’s the natural humidity in the air; it wasn’t uncomfortably steamy but I didn’t really need to keep the cigar in a humidor either. Maybe it’s the earthy aromas coming off the lush tropical vegetation that enhances the already earthy quality of great, aged tobacco. And, you can’t discount the feeling of not having a care in the world, taking as much time to enjoy every puff, and every sip of the red wine in my glass. Whatever the reason, the cigar was fabulous, a smooth, richly textured smoke with a earthy finish, and a light touch of leather. Was it Cuban? I doubt it, although it had a triple seam cap, and some of those dark earth tones on the palate. Whatever its origins, the cigar just seemed to be in perfect harmony with the surroundings, and thus, made better than it might have been in another setting.

Do you ever find that your favorite cigar tastes differently in the different places that you smoke it? Do you wish sometimes that your normal smoking place – like your car, or the sidewalk outside your home – was somewhere other than where it is? Of course, since I’m writing this blog back in my office, maybe I’m just wishing I was back in Puerto Rico where it’s 80 degrees instead of 20 degrees.
Robert Marro USA January 4, 2010 2:31pm ET
Gordon, I agree with you 100%. I have had the opportunity to smoke many cigars while in the Caribbean and yes Cuba. The cigars there were completely different than at home although, they were the same brand, same box etc. Its all about the pleasure of the smoke. The atmosphere, the timing, what your drinking at the time, who you are with or not with. A cigar is a pleasure of the senses and not just a smoke.
John Hunter Texas January 4, 2010 7:07pm ET
I used to live up in the mountains of Colorado. My balcony overlooked a nice mountain and the Elk used to come and graze in my front yard. Every night - no matter how cold - I'd light up on that balcony and take in the mountain air. For some reason, the cold dry air seems to draw better through a cigar and it was easier to distinguish flavors. I've since moved to Texas, and while Texas is a spectacular place, the hot air seems to take just a little bit away from the taste. I can't wait to hit the rockies again and enjoy my own cigar induced rocky mountain high.
Dennis M Thrasher Sr Birmingham Michigan January 7, 2010 11:49am ET
We frequently spend between 2 and 4 weeks in the Florida Keys each winter. My wife and I also make forays into Miami and visit 8th Street and the many cigar factories there (love Padilla's, always makes us feel welcome). The cigars are fresher, the atmosphere warm and welcoming to the cigar smoker and of course my mood is relaxed and mellow. Are the cigars better, is it the humidity and warm climate, yes I think so, but of greater importance is what I bring to the experience and my focus on the moment. I think it is my state of mind that is the greater variable!
Douglas Parker Rudderham Montreal, Canada January 18, 2010 8:04pm ET
I have noted that my cigar smoking experiences on Paradise Island (Bahamas)are by far my most memorable.Perhaps the humidity, temperature and being away from the office and harsh Canadian winters are contributing factors.In any event a Monte Cristo A and a tawny port enjoyed on the verandah of the Ocean Club following their signature prime rib dinner is a always a true pleasure and one which I never tire of !

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