I’ve been traveling to cigar country for 13 years. They’re wonderful places, but if you’re visiting a tobacco field or a cigar factory, odds are you won’t be sleeping in a Four Seasons Hotel. There’s even a chance you might have a close encounter with something exotic.
Like a tarantula.
My close encounter with the Arnold Schwarzenegger of spiders took place back in September 1999, long before we had blogs on this Web site. I was looking through some old photos today, which reminded me of the incident, so I thought I’d share it with you here.
It was my first visit to Central America. I started in Nicaragua, spending about one week in cigar factories and tobacco fields, then drove along the Pan American Highway from Estelí, Nicaragua, to Danlí, Honduras. I met with a few cigarmakers, visiting a few factories in the town, and then I drove with Christian and Julio Eiroa to their farmhouse in the Jamastrán Valley.
The house was beautiful, and the Eiroas are wonderful hosts. They made me feel right at home. As you can imagine, you don’t grow tobacco in big cities—these are farms, out in the middle of nowhere. It was a good drive to the farm, and we arrived after the sun had set. As we drove up a hill to the house, I saw some kind of deer running away from the headlights.
We had a great dinner, and soon it was time for bed. I went to my room, and felt like reading a bit before turning in. The lamp by the bed wasn’t plugged in. I saw the outline of an outlet behind a pillow, so I took the cord and moved the pillow to plug it in. And that’s when I saw the tarantula.
Don’t call it a spider. I know tarantulas are spiders, but calling this thing a spider is a gross understatement. It was bigger than a hockey puck and it was covered in hair. And it didn’t look happy.
This is the time in the story when I should mention that I’m afraid of spiders.
So what did I do? First of all I figured no one back home would believe my story, so I grabbed my camera and snapped a photo. Check it out.
The spider, clearly upset at having the cushy pillow removed, had backed up, putting four of his hairy legs against the wall. The other four are spread out on the bedspread. This guy was ready to do some damage.
I outweighed this spider by more than 200 pounds, but I was clearly outgunned here. I needed help. I called for Christian.
At first, he thought I was lying. (Glad I took that picture.) “You mean a spider,” he said with a smile. “No, a tarantula,” I said, spreading out my arms to try and give him an idea of the size of this thing. He went into the room, raised an eyebrow, and left. He came back quickly, carrying a plastic cup, and scooped the thing up and covered it with a plate.
Brave guy, that Christian.
He tossed the tarantula outside, and I somehow managed to fall asleep that night. The following day, we toured his fields in Jamastran and smoked the prototype versions of what would become the Camacho Corojo: the cigars were fantastic.
A few things happened with the Tarantula Incident. First, it gave me a great story for dinner parties. (The wife loves it.) Second, it cured my fear of normal-size spiders. Every arachnid I’ve encountered since seems tiny and innocent compared to that Honduran hulk.
I’ve had my share of other cigar country adventures since, from erupting volcanoes to a tree that collapsed due to an overload of iguanas, but those are stories for another day.