When Christopher Columbus sighted land on October 12, 1492, he was expecting to find the gold and riches of the East Indies and the Orient. Instead, he and his crew found people unlike any Europeans had ever seen before, people with strange customs and costumes. Because the explorers thought they were in the East Indies, the Spaniards called these people Indians. Columbus and his crew did not find the gold they were looking for on the first islands they explored in the Caribbean, althought gold would soon be discovered in other parts of the New World. But they found something else that was to become almost as valuable.
In his journal of October 15, 1492, Columbus wrote:
We met a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him a piece of bread whice the natives make, as big as one's fist, a calabash of water . . . and some dried leaves which are in high value among them, for a quantity of it was brought to me at San Salvador.
A few days later a landing party Columbus had sent ashore returned to report that the natives "drank the smoke" of those curious dried leaves. This was astonishing to the Europeans who had never seen anything like smoking before. For a long time they were puzzled and disgusted by this strange habit. But soon they, too, would be drinking smoke from those leaves, and spreading the plant and the habit of smoking it all over the known world.