10 December 2016

The Cigar Factory

Although purchasing cigars was on my list of things to do in the DR, I found myself running out of time, stuck in a mini-hamlet, and having no idea where to go or what to buy.

Sr, Rodriguez & flying fingers
In my trips to Mexico, it had been easy enough to find cigar vendors and wade through the various sales pitches until I found a seemingly reputable, knowledgeable source. Maybe if I had still been in the capitol,I could have done that in the DR. But I wasn’t. Fortunately for me, I found a fellow traveler who seemed well acquainted with the local product. He would accompany me to San Pedro de Macoris.

Where they make them
The city of San Pedro is known for the large number of MLB players who hail from the area. For me, it was also that elusive city where the big things happened. In Boca Chica and Juan Dolio I would ask about a larger market, you have to go to San Pedro.  What about a post office? In San Pedro.  Is there anywhere I can get a light bulb, only in San Pedro.

Driving into town, I realized that I probably should have hopped on a gua gua, (mini-bus), and made a visit at an earlier date. It was a real city that one could explore. We drove past a beautiful old church and streets lined with old architecture; just the type of place I like to mosey around in. Then again, I wasn’t sure if that was something I should do on my own. Since arriving, locals had made a point of telling me not to walk around any area other than the designated tourist spots. Whether or not that was really the case, for the first time in my life I did very little exploring.

The Doña Dorada Cigar factory has been in business for 101 years., and is still family owned and operated. I believe there is a larger factory elsewhere, but the one in downtown San Pedro was more than enough to give one a very well-informed lesson on how the cigars are made.

Sr. Elpidio Rodríguez, great-grandson of the founder, greeted me at the door and soon returned to making cigars. I tried to keep up with his flying hands as he whipped a stogie into shape, walked it over to a press, put the final wrap on a different cigar, and most likely did ten other things that I couldn’t keep up with. (note the blurred pictures…. I did not move; that was rapid-fire-cigar rolling.) I asked about the individual tobacco leaves and he explained that they must age four years before they can be used. That still does not make sense to me, even though I asked him twice to make sure I had heard him correctly.

It was evident that the cigar making equipment was 101 years old. Wooden work stations, wooden cigar forms and drying racks. The presses were of steel, but appeared equally antique. After watching Sr. Rodriguez work, I wondered how automated cigar rolling could ever compete with what he was doing.

When he had finished off his work, he led me to the room with shelves of cigars, sorted into various sizes. I asked about the differences between sizes. Did they taste differently? He explained that there were only two flavors; strong and suave. The different sizes were a matter of preference. Did I want ones the size of cigarettes, or the Winston Churchill big boys? Considering these were going to large men, I chose the Churchills'.

Suddenly, it was time to go. I could have stayed another hour talking to Sr. Rodriguez, but my ride back to Juan Dolio was ready to go and I know I'd never find my way back to the bus stop.
The final product

I never did get back to explore San Pedro, but it is something I should have done. Maybe next time.