By Steve Siciliano
My wife and I were cruising in the Caribbean last week and while on shore in Cozumel we spent a few hours sitting at a shaded table outside a waterfront bar. While we sipped Salty Dogs (Grey Goose vodka, grapefruit juice and a slice of lime in a salt rimmed glass. Refreshingly cool on a blistering hot afternoon), we watched roaming peddlers hawking wares to hordes of meandering tourists. One peddler standing on a nearby street corner was waving a small box above his head and when he glanced in my direction I motioned him over to the table.
"How much?" I asked after inspecting the cigars in the glass-topped box.
"Fifty dollars," he said.
"How do I know they're real?" I asked him.
He assured me that the five cigars were authentic Cuban Cohibas.
"Hmm," I said. "I'm not sure I like the way they look."
"Forty dollars," he said.
"But they look pretty rough."
"Thirty-five," he told me. "The best price."
"Let me think about it," I said.
I handed the box back to him and he went back to hawking the cigars on the crowded sidewalk.
I knew the Cohibas were fake. I knew they were fake as soon as I looked at them but the stash of cigars I had brought with me on the trip was running low and I was willing to take a chance on the bogus Cubans if I could get them at a good price. "How bad could they be?" I thought to myself.
After I paid our tab I stuck a twenty in my shirt pocket and as soon as we got up to leave the peddler walked up to me.
"Thirty dollars," he said.
"No," I said and kept on walking.
I stopped and took the bill out of my pocket. "This is all that I'll pay," I told him. He handed me the box and I handed him the twenty.
Later that night in the cigar lounge on the ship I fired up one of the bogus Cohibas. It was harsh and bitter and had the acrid aroma of burning oak leaves. I discarded the cigar after three puffs. I gave three of the fake Cohibas to three fellow cigar smokers I had met on the trip after warning them how awful they were. I tossed the last one in the waste basket in my stateroom.
One of the things I like about traveling is the fact that sometimes you have to take calculated risks. I knew those sticks weren't authentic Cohibas, same as I knew they weren't worth the $50 asking price. What I didn't know was if the fakes would be any good or even smokable. I took a chance and came up short. It happens sometimes. How boring would traveling be — for that matter, how boring would life be — if the weather was always perfect, all scenarios were guaranteed and all cigars were Cuban.