Back Home in Panama

We are on the turbo-prop commuter flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, and through the clouds I recognize the Pacific coastline of Panama coming into view. We’ve been traveling for over three weeks, and the now familiar landscape surrounding the city of Davíd below us evokes a visceral sense of contentment that comes with knowing we are almost home.

It seems remarkable to experience this sense of pleasure when I reflect on the fact that we lived in Panama for only three months prior to this trip. I compare living here to falling in love. Panama is like an attractive woman with a personality and charm that is irresistible. When you are with her you are immersed in a sensation of heightened pleasure. Food tastes better. Colors seem brighter. We have all experienced something like that. Likewise, when you are apart you can’t wait to see her again. It’s like that. And so I am comforted to be back in Panama.

From The Big Apple to The Big Easy

I’m cruisin’, Mon!

We flew to New York City October 20th from Tocumen Airport in Panama City to board the Norwegian Star for a repositioning cruise that ended in New Orleans two weeks later, our objective being to complete the International Guide Academy’s Certified Tour Manager Training. The seven days at sea were our classroom days. There were twenty-two of us in the class from five countries. Many had no prior group-leading experience. Ultimately, we learned a great deal and we all passed the course.

We were just a couple days ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which impacted a number of the guests on the cruise who didn’t know for several days if they had intact homes to return to back in The Big Apple. Nevertheless, spirits were high and we lucked out with great weather the entire cruise.

Our cruise ended in New Orleans. This was my first visit to The Big Easy, and it is like no other city I have ever visited. Total strangers walked up to us tourists (the camera hung from the neck is an obvious tell) to ask where we were from and if we needed help finding anything. The beignets were so good in the morning that I went back for more at lunchtime. Standing on the banks of the Mississippi River evoked recollections of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. Incredible music wafted from every direction. If ever there were a city I would want to revisit it would be New Orleans.

Florence brings a gift to Marie Laveau, The Voodoo Queen.

We had one last duty to perform before our departure. It so happens that my wife, Florence, had visited the grave of Marie Laveau, The Voodoo Queen, back in 2005 before we met, and wished for a husband. As this wish was obviously granted, Florence was obligated to return to Marie Laveau’s gravesite with a thank-you offering (because you don’t mess with voodoo). Florence had picked out a ring of beads to honor her pact, which she dutifully placed on the tomb with a blessing of thanks. We were immediately engaged in a conversation with a local visitor to this famous site, after which we turned our attention back to the tomb. The ring had disappeared. It had not fallen to the ground, and no one else had approached the site during this brief encounter. We are at a loss to explain this event other than to say that perhaps The Voodoo Queen recognized the gift as genuine and took it with her to wherever she now resides.

Now we can head for home.

Have a cigar!

Today I learned more about cigars than I ever thought mattered. Apparently it did matter because, even though neither my wife nor I smoke, we both bought cigars to try. Talking with the owner of Panama Caribbean Tobacco, David Reynaga, we learned how tobacco is grown, dried, prepped, sorted, rolled, shaped, finished, labeled, packaged, and ultimately marketed and sold. We were told the gift cigars we bought for $4.00 would retail in Panama City for at least $7.00, and in the U. S. they could sell for $15 or more.

The pipe-shaped cigar in the pipe-shaped box is a quality cigar and a novelty.

There were a few surprises in store, like cigars in shapes like a pipe, a hockey stick, and pencil-thin miniature cigars. There was even a monster cigar, and no serious cigar lover would attempt to light up such a manly smoke without a couple hours to kick back and contemplate life’s simple pleasures.

I was told you don’t inhale cigar smoke. The pleasure is in tobacco’s earthy aroma and the fragrances released in the smoke, not unlike incense. A major difference between cigars and other forms of tobacco like cigarettes is that you don’t light a cigar unless you have 30-60 minutes to relax and enjoy the experience. Cigar smoking is a social activity; like drinking fine wine, it is seldom done alone. Another difference is that cigars are not habit forming. When I asked about nicotine cravings, I was told nicotine isn’t what gets you hooked on cigarettes. It’s the other chemicals, the ones the tobacco industry won’t talk about, that make you chemically dependent on cigarettes.

Owner, David Reynaga (on right), loves sharing his knowledge. His company produces the only 100% Panamanian cigar, a great choice for the connoisseur.

Whether or not you have the urge to light up a cigar, the tour of Panama Caribbean Tobacco in Concepción, Chiriqui, Panama, is well worth the trip. Entry is free of charge. To find the place, leave the Pan American Highway in Concepción on the road to Volcán, about 19 km. west of David. The turn is well-marked driving west. Drive 3-5 minutes and look for the green building next door to and just before the Terpel Gas Station on your left. Say “hi” to David for me.

This monster cigar is the largest custom made cigar I have ever seen.

Cigars made petite and mild are designed for women. Florence hasn’t tried one yet.


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