Smoking Down Mexico Way
Posted: Nov 15, 2007 5:05pm ET
Cruised the west coast of Mexico last week on Holland American with hopes of scoring some Havanas, but got a lesson in caveat emptor instead.
The ship (Oosterdam) had a selection of nice cigars—including Fuentes—and a comfortable smoking lounge, but no Cubans as the tour originated in the U.S. (San Diego). So if I were to score I had to do it on land.
The first stop was Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Baja Mexico, where plenty of Cubans were advertised, but none appeared to exist. Of course, Cohibas are most represented and also the easiest (for me at least) to spot as fakes. (See the Counterfeit Gallery on this site for examples.) For some reason few seem to be able to get that checkerboard pattern on the band and its colors right. Saw all sorts of variations—the bottom color too orange or canary yellow, top color bluish, badly shaped squares, squares too far apart, wrong number of columns of squares, wrong font or size of lettering—but the most egregious fakes came in a box with a Plexiglas cover with five Esplendido-size cigars, each one of which had a different-looking band. I asked them to send me the name of the customer who buys that because I'm still trying to unload some prime real estate in Love Canal.
In retrospect, I think I was visiting the town too early (9 a.m) because everyone I met seemed too hung over to direct me to the local La Casa del Habana. They were, however, able to point out pharmacies that sold, as well as cigars, over-the-counter Prozac, antibiotics and steroids. I wonder if they were Fugazis like the cigars.
I sort of breezed through Mazatlan by car and didn't see a lot of cigars advertised, but you will be happy to know most every kind of American fast food is in evidence. Why experience a different cuisine just because you happen to leave the U.S.?
In Puerto Vallarta, we walked down the Malecon that skirts the waterfront and saw all manner of stores touting cigars (none real) as a sideline. You can buy clothes, drugs and food alongside your cigar purchasing experience. One place even hawked cigars as some sort of bait and switch to buy a timeshare. So I've got that to look forward to one week of every year.
We asked around for La Casa del Habana and everyone redirected us to the Vallarta Cigar Factory where they have a small rolling operation making Mexican cigars as well as a walk-in humidor with a medium selection of Havanas. While they were realistically priced—not the bargain-basement rates offered on the street—they had the distinct advantage of being authentic.
I bought a handful and shared them onboard. Anyone else have a similar experience?
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