We visit Tequila and drink tequila. Confused? You won’t be.

First, please open this link for a Happy New Year gift for everybody. It’s a YouTube video of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by an award-winning all-female mariachi band from right here in the state of Jalisco. They’re very good. Runs about six minutes. All traditional mariachi instruments, plus a non-traditional piano. Enjoy!

Speaking of Jalisco, did you know that tequila is only made here in Jalisco (and just a few places in some nearby states)? On the day after Christmas, Leslie, Stephanie and I went with a small group to a boutique tequila distillery just outside the village of Tequila, about 90 minutes northwest of the Lake Chapala area. We learned a great deal about tequila-making, and we tasted 10 or 12 different tequilas. Then we spent some time in Tequila itself, where Stephanie had a great idea: “Shouldn’t we drink a margarita in Tequila?” Well, the answer was yes, so we closed our day with margaritas at the Jose Cuervo gift shop and bar.

I found a very good explanation of tequila-making on a website called The Spruce Eats. There’s also a Wikipedia page that offers much more detail, if you’re interested.

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Javier explains how agave plants propagate.

Our excellent guide, Javier, started us out in the agave fields at Tequila Selecto, a small distillery that makes many different kinds of tequila. We learned that it takes seven years of growth before an agave plant can be harvested. During that time, the plant shoots out rhizomes that are removed from the mother plant and transplanted in another field. Javier said the agave plant, “makes little kids.”

Harvesting the plant entails chopping the leaves off and digging up the ball, called a “pineapple” because — well, it looks like a pineapple. He then walked us through the process of roasting the pineapple, fermenting and distilling the liquor. Some tequilas are distilled twice, and some even three times.

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The “pineapples” will be roasted for three days in the building behind the pile of plants, or in the tanks to the left for several hours.

There are several different kinds of tequila. Javier said the white tequila, also known as blanco or silver, is his favorite. Silver is not aged. It goes straight from distilling to the bottle. Reposado is aged in oak barrels from three months to a year. It’s a slightly darker color and tastes more oaky. Añejo is aged from one to three years and is even darker and smoother. There’s also an extra-Añejo that can be aged up to 10 years, and a crystallino, which is aged tequila with the coloring removed.

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Tequila is aged in oak barrels to make reposado and anejo tequilas. There were hundreds of barrels in this warehouse.

According to Javier, you should only buy tequila that is labelled “100 percent agave.” Tequila is made from the blue agave plant. There are other types of agave, but they are used to make other liquors, such as mezcal. He also gently chided North Americans who “do tequila shots.” He said, “That’s not how you drink tequila. You sip tequila.” When you have really good tequila, sip it neat. No rocks. No salt. No lime.

So what’s the best tequila? Javier had the answer, and it was the best piece of advice he offered: “The best tequila is the one you like.” Of course, that means you must “do your homework.”

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At this small distillery, labels are applied by hand.

After lunch in an open-air restaurant overlooking the beautiful Sierra Madre Mountains, we went into Tequila for some free time. The biggest tequila producers are in Tequila, including Jose Cuervo, Sauza and Patron. However, Javier says bigger isn’t always better. He recommends trying a few of the less-well-known brands. Quite a few of our tour group left with bottles from Tequila Selecto.

If you come to visit us here in Ajijic and are so inclined, we’ll be happy to accompany you on the tequila tour! But be sure to check your luggage so you can take a bottle home. You can’t have liquids in a carry-on.

As this year ends and we look forward to 2019, Leslie and I are focused on finding a long-term rental property we’ll be happy with for years to come, and learning more Spanish. Stay tuned!

My closing last time included Prospero Año Nuevo, or “Prosperous New Year.” But today the locals are greeting us with a simple, Feliz Año! It’s always good to do as the locals do, so Leslie and I wish you a happy year!

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Joined by new friend Rita, we had an outstanding margarita at the Jose Cuervo gift shop..
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This was the view we enjoyed during lunch.
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Every barrel of aged tequila is sealed with a label like this one to control quality.

Moving on; one stop left in Phase I

We’re at the end of our six weeks in Mérida. Tomorrow, Leslie and I hop on a bus and travel to the beach city of Playa del Carmen. We’re looking forward to slightly cooler temperatures and a more walkable town.

Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatan, is an interesting city.

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Merida’s many parks feature these “conversation chairs,” also called “Las Sillas Confidantes,” or  “Tu y Yo,” or “De Los Enamorados.” This young couple shows the original purpose.

There are some good things about it:

  • While there are lots of expats here (fewer in May when it’s so hot), the percentage is smaller than in the other cities we’ve been to so you don’t often run into other Americans or Canadians on the street.
  • The cost of living seems a bit lower here, especially for food at the local mercados and for real estate.
  • There’s no beach in Mérida but in 20 to 30 minutes you can be on the tip of the peninsula and enjoy neat little beach towns like Progreso.
  • Orquestra Sinfónica de Yucatán performs in a very nice concert hall. They’re pretty good, too. And there are classical music performances every Sunday at a smaller auditorium on the other side of the park. Last week we saw the chamber orchestra Orquestra de Cámara de Mérida do seven Vivaldi works. A free concert!
  • St. Luke’s Anglican Church has warm, helpful people and an energetic priest who gives insightful sermons. Sunday (June 4), we helped inaugurate the new church building just five blocks from our house.
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Merida’s cathedral, completed in 1598. It was the first Roman Catholic cathedral on the American mainland. This cathedral and the one in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) were the only American cathedrals built entirely during the 16th century.

Never say “never,” but Leslie and I agree Mérida won’t make our final list. Here’s why, in a nutshell:

  • I never thought we would say a place is “too hot,” but Mérida is too hot. And too humid. Maybe it would be perfect in January, but we’re looking for a year-round home.
  • This is a city of almost a million people. It’s big and spread out, and outside the centro it’s not very “Mexican.” We liked the smaller towns better.
  • Being a big city, of course, means it’s not very walkable, and walkability is a big asset.
  • Transportation back to the States is not simple. When I looked for ways to get back quickly for a funeral, the only options were to fly to Mexico City and catch a flight north, or take a bus or private car to Cancún and hop on a direct flight to Chicago or  another U.S. city. Connections are not the best.
  • Did I say it was too hot?

So it’s on to the final Mexican stop on this part of our journey — Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo, about 30 miles south of Cancún. I’ll leave you with some photos of the places we’ve visited here and the things we’ve seen — pics that haven’t made it into any previous post.

Next post from Playa!

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We visited Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, where henequen (sisal) is grown and made into fibers that are used to make rope, carpets and burlap bags. It’s the only henequen hacienda still operating. At one time, the Peon family alone owned 14 henequen plantations in the Yucatan. Our guide Jose (left) and one of the workers showed us how rope was made by hand, using this simple machine. We saw every step of the fiber-making process. Now, they only produce the fiber as a working museum for tourists and for use on the plantation, and the plantation is dramatically smaller than in the early 1900s during the “green gold” boom.
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Henequen fibers come from a type of agave plant. Yes, agave is used to make tequila. Different kind of agave. At the end of our tour, though, I had a margarita made with henequen liquor rather than the normal agave tequila. It was OK, but not great. Once a plant is started, it’s seven years before any of the fronds can be harvested. Then you can only harvest seven fronds per month.
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Hacienda Sotuta de Peon has one of the Yucatan’s many cenotes. We enjoyed about an hour swimming here, and there were no crowds. Leslie enjoyed floating in the crystal-clear water. This cenote is in a cave.
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Uxmal (OOSH-moll), an ancient Mayan site dating to 700 A.D. The temple is to the right, and palaces to the left where priests, scribes and other professionals lived and worked. Lower class Maya lived in villages outside the temple grounds. This site was apparently abandoned around the 10th century.
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Mayan figures at Kabah, a smaller site near Uxmal. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you know what Mexican Turkey is?

A quick update while we are sitting by the pool, enjoying nice breezes and recovering from a couple of journeys with Vallarta Adventures (see “Whale of a Tale”), the tour company Leslie and I really like.

Before I tell you about those trips, another plug for US Global Mail, the Houston company that handles our mail for us, and for shipping service DHL. This week the mail included a new credit card to replace one that expires in May, and a check. Most of our mail gets thrown away or scanned to store on my laptop, but I needed that credit card, as well as the check. DHL got it here in just two days — a day sooner than promised — and at a discount thanks to US Global Mail. DHL makes it easy to track the shipment and their website is user-friendly.

The check is from International Living magazine, the first of many I hope to receive from them and similar publications. IL recently used an article I wrote about our vagabond lifestyle, so I am now a travel writer!

And our daughter Stephanie was here over Easter weekend to celebrate her birthday (April 14), along with her friend Kelly. The two of them often bunk together on group travel excursions, so they appreciated having their own rooms in our three-bedroom condo!  We celebrated Steph’s birthday at Puerto Vallarta’s top-rated restaurant, Tintoque, right down the street from our condo. The next night, we took them to Victor’s in the marina. A more casual, fun place known for free tequila shots. Stephanie was aghast when she arrived Friday night to find that her mother’s tan was better than hers. She and Kelly spent much of weekend trying to fix that.

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Victor welcomed us to his restaurant and gifted Stephanie (left) and Kelly with a bottle of his uncle’s famous tequila. Steph says it will stay at her place, but Kelly expects a shot whenever she visits. Happy Birthday, Stephanie!

 

It was great to see her again. If we decide on Mexico rather than a European country as our retirement home, it will be easier for Steph to come see us from her home in San Diego, and vice versa.

This week we went on excursions to Yelapa (pronounced gel-AH-pah), a small coastal village accessible only by boat, and to the silver mining town of San Sebastian.

At Yelapa, we saw a neat waterfall, walked through the town, relaxed on the beach and tasted some incredible raicilla, which is made — like tequila — from the agave plant, and is distilled only here in the state of Jalisco. Very smooth.

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This waterfall greets you as you complete a climb up Yelapa’s hill. Some in our group took a dip in the pool.

Vallarta Adventures staff, especially the amazing tour director Pablo, kept us entertained all the way there and back on the boat – about 90 minutes each way. Just before lunch, Leslie and I got a chance to paddle a sea kayak around a pretty little cove. First time for both of us! Lunch was a make-your-own sandwich buffet. Leslie pointed to one of the choices and asked a crewman, “What is this?” With a straight face he replied, “Mexican turkey. Brown pelican.” Then he winked. It was just regular turkey, of course. I wonder how many times a week he uses that one!

On the cruise back to PV, Pablo and the staff performed — OK, lip-synced — some old rock ‘n’ roll standards as “The Mexican Rolling Stones,” complete with makeup and props. Having an open bar helped us enjoy it a bit more, but those guys put on a great show. They were very funny!

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Got a selfie in as we prepared to board the boat back to Puerto Vallarta. Yes, that’s my Cubs cap — sorry the “C” doesn’t show. I wore it one day on the beach at the PV Marriott and met a guy who said he was once a Cubs bat boy. He knew Ernie Banks! Had fun talking with him.

Yesterday’s excursion was by van, over narrow, winding roads through the Sierra Madre Mountains to the silver mining village of San Sebastian del Oeste. Tour guide Gabriel kept up a running commentary on a variety of topics, including bits of Mexican history. San Sebastian was once home to some 30,000 people while 90 area silver mines were operational. Now the mines are gone and there are only about 600 residents. The town, with its narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed homes, hasn’t changed much since the 1910 Mexican Revolution drove many people away, primarily the upper classes. It is one of more than 100 places the government has designated as a Magical City, or Pueblos Mágicos.

We visited Hacienda Jalisco, where silver ore was refined in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Hacienda Jalisco. At least one website claims this may have been one place where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton hooked up during filming of “Night of the Iguana.” Our guide didn’t mention it, though.

Once owned by the great film director John Huston, some of it has been restored. You can see the smelters where ore was baked in one of the steps to create pure silver. After a terrific lunch at the Secret Hotel (“secret” because you can only stay or eat there if you know the owner), we saw a family-owned organic coffee roasting operation. The family matriarch, “Mary,” had 21 children. We bought some of the coffee from a gentleman known as “veinte” (Spanish for 20) because he’s the 20th child, and he looked to be close to 70 years old. The video below is the roasting part of the process. Yes, it smelled fantastic!

The formal walking tour ended at the home of the Encarnación family, which has lived in this house since the 1700s. Part of it is now a museum. Then we spent some time in the beautiful church just off the plaza, and saw a silversmith’s shop. Both our guide and the silversmith admired Leslie’s silver necklace. Her father brought that necklace home from a business trip to Mexico almost 40 years ago. Gabriel said the craftsman who made that style of jewelry passed away a number of years ago, and they don’t see his work very often. Gabriel was impressed.

Last stop, fortunately, was a visit to Hacienda Don Lalin, a local tequila distillery. After a brief introduction by our host, Lalo (who grows his own agave plants), we tasted some very fine tequila, mezcal and raicilla, as well as amaretto- and coffee-flavored tequilas. Once again, we contributed to the local economy and hit the road back to Puerto Vallarta.

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Lalo is a third-generation tequila distiller, and his products are very tasty. The labels say “Don Lalin,” who was Lalo’s grandfather. 

One more week here in this bustling Mexican beach town. Then Leslie and I move on to Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatan. It’s 10- to 20-degrees hotter there, but we’ve heard great things from a number of people about that colonial city.

Hasta luego!