Wednesday, March 4, 2015


February 20, 2015

Agave Fields Near Tequila
After a quick walk up the highway to the closest Oxxo for coffee, we packed ourselves into April’s van and headed off for Tequila.  The landscape of agave fields against a volcano backdrop was striking and we just had to stop alongside the road to take pictures.  It must have been THE spot to photograph agave fields because we later saw the same view in a video at the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.

The town of Tequila was very picaresque.  It was a small town, but all the major tequila brands had factories there.  In order to be called “tequila,” the liquor must be shipped from Jalisco. Even if it is actually made
Volcano in the Distance

elsewhere in Mexico, it must pass through Jalisco before being sent to its ultimate destination.  In the center of town there was a pretty church on a small plaza.  We ate breakfast in a small café overlooking the square that somehow managed to make standard breakfast fare absolutely delicious.  The chilaquiles were amazing and the coffee and licuados (a drink made from fruit, ice, and milk or water) were excellent.  Patricia and I sat on a balcony overlooking the square and I was practically chanting a mantra of, “I love Mexico.  I love Mexico.”  It was a perfect morning shared with great company.

Breakfast on the Balcony

Church Square in Tequila
Agave "Pineapples"
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks past tequila factories and outlets and through vendors hawking handicrafts to the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.  The Cuervo family had been making tequila in that location since 1758 and they are the only major tequila brand that has not been purchased by a multinational liquor company.  While the majority of their tequila is now produced in other, more modern factories throughout the region, they do still produce some tequila at “La Rojena,” the original hacienda.  Today, most of the original hacienda buildings are devoted to gift shops, a bar, and tour facilities.  It was, however, a lovely example of hacienda architecture and was very clean and well maintained.

Horneros Unloading Agave From the Oven
The tour showed us how the raw “pineapples” (an agave plant with the leaves hacked off) are stacked in brick ovens and roasted for 38 hours.  When they had cooled enough to touch, horneros (men who work in the ovens) tossed them onto conveyor belts that took them to the crusher where the juice was separated from the fiber.  While, in the past, the fiber was used to make products like rope and baskets, today it is composted and returned to the fields as fertilizer.  We got a chance to taste pieces of roasted agave, which had a light, sweet flavor and were a bit like eating an artichoke leaf.

The juice was fermented to make what they called agave “wine” and then the wine was distilled twice to produce silver tequila.  Tequila that is not destined to be sold as silver tequila was then poured into barrels and aged.  The barrels used are the exact same kind that are used to age wine and, as in winemaking, are used to impart flavor to the liquor.  We got a chance to taste the tequila in its silver form and also after it had been aged six, twelve and eighteen months. 

Tequila Aging in Barrels
 Cuervo has two lines of tequila.  The better line is made with 100% blue agave.  The line that you usually see in stores and bars is only 51% blue agave, the balance being distilled from other sugars.  Each line is then divided into silver (not aged), reposado (aged less than a year), and anejo (aged more than a year.)  Darker tequilas are aged in barrels with more char on the inside.  I had always wondered exactly what those distinctions meant, so was glad to hear them explained.  I liked the aged tequila better than the younger versions, but would never be a drinker of straight shots.
Our Guide Explaining the Different Classes of Tequila

After our factory tour, we spent a short time strolling around the town of Tequila.  The carload of New Zealanders split off from the group, thinking they might stay a night in Tequila or visit Guadalajara.  The rest of us returned to the van and then April drove Patricia and me to the main bus stop in Tequila where we quickly boarded a bus for Guadalajara.  The ride should have taken us an hour and a half, but ended up taking over three hours because there was a series of accidents blocking the highway.  The bus had been too crowded for us to find seat together when Pat and I boarded, so she ended up sitting next to a Mexican woman named Mary who worked for the Jalisco state police.  She was very friendly and the three of us had a long conversation in a combination of Spanish and English.  She had six children and worked a schedule of fifteen days on and six days off while her mother took care of the children.  She patrolled all over the state of Jalisco.  When we finally got to the bus station in Guadalajara, Mary showed us where to get the cheapest cab and made sure we were on our way before hailing a cab for herself.  It was all I could do to keep her from carry my bag.  She was extremely helpful.
The Group in Front of April's Van

Teatro Degollado
The cab took us to the Hotel de Mendoza, which April had recommended to us.  The hotel was a former convent right off the cathedral square and was very comfortable and elegant for about $70 per night.  Our room even had pillow top mattresses.  I was in heaven.  The historic center of Guadalajara featured a series of plazas in the shape of a cross with the cathedral at the center.  Our hotel was at the bottom of the cross, next to the Teatro Degollado.  We had hoped to be able to attend a performance of the ballet folklorico at the theater, but only the symphony was playing while we were there.  We didn’t attend a concert, but we did hear an orchestra playing in the Plaza de las Armas.  We checked into our hotel, relaxed for a little while and then walked several blocks to a very popular restaurant called La Chata.  There was a line out the door, but it moved quickly.  La Chata was a large restaurant with closely packed tables, but the service was very good and so was the food.  I ordered arrachera and Pat had chicken mole.  We were very pleased with our choice of restaurants.
Guadalajara Cathedral

It was dark by the time we returned and all of the historic buildings were dramatically lit.  The lighting of the cathedral was exceptionally dramatic and the changing colors of the fountain in the Plaza de los Laureles with the backdrop of the cathedral made a memorable scene.  We lingered in the plaza, taking pictures and enjoying the warm evening.  It had been a long day and we finally returned to our hotel to relax and plan the following day’s exploration.

February 21, 2015

Open Confessional
Interior of the Cathedral
We ate breakfast in a café in Plaza de los Laureles with a nice view of the cathedral.  After breakfast, we ducked into the church to see the interior.  The exterior of the cathedral is very attractive and unique with a semicircular pediment topped with stone spikes above the door and two tall, tiled spires.  The interior was pretty, with lots of cream and gold, but not particularly memorable.  While the cathedral was begun in the 16th century, it was not consecrated until 1716.  It lacked the fabulous art and stained glass that marks the cathedrals of Europe and didn’t have the aura of sheer age that make other cathedrals in Mexico impressive.  One thing that we found unusual was that the confessionals were open and offered no privacy.
Hospicio de las Cabanas

Our next mission of the day was to find the tourist office and get a good map of Guadalajara.  We had been told it was behind the cathedral, but we couldn’t find it.  Someone else told us it was next to the Sanborn’s store on the other side of the cathedral.  We walked up there and cast about before we found the store, but never did locate the tourist office.  I stopped at an Oxxo and bought a street map.  The doorman at Sanborn’s told us there was a tourist kiosk in Plaza de los Laureles and we did eventually find it, but they were out of maps.  They sent us back to the kiosk on the other side of the cathedral and this time we managed to locate it, right across from our hotel, but lost amidst a clutter of tents associated with the Guadalajara Half Marathon.  They provided us with a lot of good information, but it had taken us until 12:30 to locate them.

Orozco Mural at Hospicio de las Cabanas
After a quick stop in the hotel, we headed off in the opposite direction to see the Orozco murals at the former Hospicio de las Cabanas (an orphanage) that had been converted into a cultural center.  The murals were reputed to be the number one attraction in Guadalajara, but we were unimpressed.  Pat much preferred the work of Diego Rivera.  While I appreciated that Orozco was working in fresco and had a different style, I preferred other works of his that I had seen.  I found the murals at Las Cabanas very dark and somewhat confusing in their symbolism.  We walked around the galleries in the cultural center where there was an exhibition of modern paintings and another installation of photographs of the artists with their works which we enjoyed.  It was interesting to see the faces of the people associated with the often puzzling contemporary art. 

Finches in the Guadalajara Market
Our next stop was the marketplace, which had three levels and covered an entire city block.  It was very crowded and the vendors were very pushy.  Pat wanted to look at embroidered blouses, but it was impossible to shop with people shoving merchandise under our noses if we so much as paused to look at anything.  The array of fruit on the bottom level was attractive, although the swarms of flies discouraged me from buying anything.  There were also a couple of vendors selling all types of caged birds, some of which looked like very unhappy wild songbirds that must have been trapped.  We wandered around the market for an hour or so, but didn’t buy anything.  The experience was somewhat overwhelming, so we decided to go to the Plaza of the Mariachis to get a margarita and relax a bit.

Fruit in the Guadalajara Market
It was easy to find the Plaza of the Mariachis because you could hear it from two blocks away.  The entire plaza was filled with café tables, but the mariachi music was recorded and much too loud.  The singers were live and very talented, but the overall impression was tacky and disappointing.  We stayed long enough to finish our drinks and share a torta ahogada (a pork sandwich on a crusty roll drowned in tomato sauce), but beat a hasty retreat from the noise as soon as possible. 
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit the jewelry market that my friend, Sonja from La Cruz, had told me was the best place to buy silver.  The market was a modern, air conditioned building with three floors that
Plaza of the Mariachis with Lone Singer

Guadalajara Jewelry Market
resembled a large department store except that every counter sold jewelry or supplies for making jewelry.  It was truly mind boggling.  Pat shopped for a gold bracelet, but didn’t end up buying anything.  I finally managed to buy some simple silver star shaped earrings to replace the silver earrings I had had ever since I pierced my ears in 1992 that had broken in La Cruz.  Finally, we were overwhelmed by the selection and had to leave.  We had been standing and walking all day and were tired by the time we made it back to the hotel, so we rested for an hour or so before heading back out to eat dinner at El Mexicano, a restaurant off the Plaza Tapatia.

It was noisy downstairs at the restaurant with loud music blasting, so we decided to go upstairs.  No sooner had we placed our order than a transsexual comedian/singer arrived and began to perform an extremely loud and very raunchy show.  Even she was a bit appalled when she realized I spoke Spanish.  Shortly thereafter, the manager arrived and asked us if we wanted to move downstairs.  I wasn’t offended, but did appreciate moving to a quieter spot.  The food was actually very good and quite reasonable.  I had a plate of carnitas tacos with beans and guacamole for only 70 pesos.  After dinner, we stopped for ice cream and watched people relaxing in the plazas.  It was a warm evening and everybody was out.  The plazas were crowded and street performers were working the crowd while horse drawn carriages circled the historic district.  It was the perfect picture of happy city life.

February 22, 2015

Tapatio Tour Bus
We decided to forego eating breakfast out, so just had coffee at the hotel before setting out to buy tickets for one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours of Guadalajara.  It was Sunday, which was market day in the Tonala district, so we headed out there first.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the way.  Tonala was originally a separate village, but had been swallowed by Guadalajara.  It was famous for its Thursday and Sunday markets and handicrafts.  The market lined all of the streets of the area of artisans’ shops, making the whole district seem like one big pop-up market.  It was extremely busy and we could barely edge along from vendor to vendor.  There was really nothing we were interested in buying, but some of the art in the permanent shops was attractive.  There was a factory making heavy Mexican glassware and one could watch the glassblowers.  I was especially attracted to a shop offering mosaic lamps, mirrors and fountains.  We shopped for an hour or so and then walked back up the road to catch a bus to Tlaquepaque.
Mosaic Art in Tonala

Sunday Market in Tonala

Church in Tlaquepaque
                                                                                                                                                      The ride to Tlaquepaque took us along the freeway and was uneventful and not particularly scenic.  Tlaquepaque itself, however, was very charming.  There was a pretty church and main square and lots of colorful restaurants and boutique shops covering several square blocks.  We browsed and visited the Museum of Ceramics, which was more a store than a museum, but did display some lovely pieces.  I was fascinated by the trees painted with colorful designs that grew in the courtyard.  We ate lunch at a taco stand on the second floor of the indoor market that overlooked the street.  We had delicious arrachera and chorizo tacos for eight pesos apiece (about 55 cents.)  We browsed some more after lunch, but didn’t find anything.  We had just stepped into the long line at an extremely popular ice cream store when our bus arrived and we decided to forego the ice cream rather than wait another hour for the next bus.

Pedestrian Street in Tlaquepaque

Ceramics in the Regional Cermaics Museum 

Cafe Degollado
                                                                                                                                                   It was 4:30 by the time the bus dropped us back at the cathedral.  We were hot and tired and ready for a margarita, so decided to take a break before embarking on the third route of our tour.  After asking around for a good place to get margaritas nearby and coming up empty, we finally decided to try the café attached to the Teatro Degollado.  We ordered drinks and then decided just to eat an early dinner and continue our tour in the evening.  We were served by two entertaining young men who took our photographs and made us laugh.  We ordered chicken Caesar salads and enjoyed watching the scene in the plaza while we ate.  When we had finished eating, we returned to the bus stop near the cathedral and hopped on the Central Guadalajara loop of the tour.

Our final loop was much more interesting than the other two and took us through the modern part of Guadalajara. We passed massive modern shopping malls and huge traffic circles centered around monumental sculptures.  
Centro Magno
Plaza Minerva

Intercontinental Hotel
Templo Expiatorio
We visited the Millennium Arches, huge golden arches built in 2000 to commemorate the millennium.  They were impressive, but I couldn’t help being reminded of McDonald’s and expected to see a sign telling me how many billions had been served.  From there, we drove through a shady residential neighborhood of expensive homes, past the American consulate, and finally caught a glimpse of the Templo Expiatorio, a lacy gothic masterpiece, before returning to the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscans where the tour began.

We weren’t really ready to go back to the hotel, so walked around the neighborhood, soaking up the scenery one last time, before returning to our hotel to go to bed.

Millenium Arches

February 23, 2015

Guadalajara had at least three main bus terminals (besides the one where we arrived) and it was somewhat confusing determining where we needed to go to get a bus to Puerto Vallarta.  Eventually, we divined that we needed to go to the Zapopan station on the western edge of town.  The hotel called us a cab and for 150 pesos the driver took us twelve miles through traffic to the bus station.  We had no trouble getting seats on the next bus headed for Las Penitas, which would stop in Mezcales (closer to La Cruz than PV.)  Our bus didn’t leave until 9:45 (and, of course, it was late), so we had plenty of time to get coffee and breakfast at the bus station.

Our bus finally left the station about 10:00 and we had a very comfortable ride on the Primera Plus line, watching movies all the way to Mezcales, where we arrived about 14:30.  From Mezcales, we flagged down a collectivo right outside the bus station to take us home to La Cruz.

We dropped off our luggage and rested a bit before heading down the hill to enjoy gargantuan coconut shrimp with mango salsa at the Glorieta de Enrique, which Pat had been craving ever since she arrived and found the restaurant closed the previous Tuesday.  The shrimp there were truly spectacular.  They were large and coated with coconut without being heavily breaded.  The mango salsa was fruity and delicious and the margaritas generous.  It was not a cheap meal, but a good value for the money.  By the time we finished, we were ready to go home and relax.

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