What can I say about Tequila?

What can I say about Tequila?

We spent two nights in Tequila, Jalisco, in November. Yes, Tequila is an actual town, not just a bottle you buy at the liquor store. Tequila is a “Pueblo Magico,” as designated by the Mexican government and I can see why. We found it beautiful and charming. It’s surrounding by mountains (including an active (I think) volcano). There are lots of historic buildings, it’s very clean, and main plaza is welcoming and fun.

We toured two tequila distilleries and they could not have been more different. Both tours showed us how the agave plants are harvested by jimadores using wicked-sharp tools called coas. Our first tour was at Sauza, chosen due to its proximity to our hotel and the availability of an English tour. We rolled in from Ajiijc exactly as the tour was starting at 1:00 and joined one other couple (a Canadian and Aussie) and our gracious capable tour guide. Make no mistake, Sauza is a giant producer, not your hand-made artisan liquor. When the agave “piñas” arrive, they are shredded and then cooked down, not roasted in the traditional way. The distillery is cleaner than clean and we enjoyed our visit, as well as a late lunch at their small restaurant. We noticed a bunch of white tents being set up and asked our guide about them. Evidently, the next day was going to be the employees’ kids’ Christmas party (an adults-only employee party is held on a different date). She told us Sauza was voted one of the best companies to work for in Mexico. To which I say, “Cheers!”

Cuervo Distillery has a huge complex called Mundo Cuervo. These are their crows at night.

The next day, we drove out to an hacienda to tour the Casa Herradura distillery. The hacienda dates back to the 1700 or 1800s (I’m not so good with dates after a tequila or two) and is a gorgeous walled compound with the original house (off limits to us tourists, still used by the family), the original distillery (more on that later), worker housing, and the current distillery and related buildings. Our tour guide was cute (hey, a woman can LOOK) and did an excellent job of explaining everything to us.

We saw the huge ovens where the piñas are stacked and roasted for (if I remember correctly), 20 hours. We got to try some slices of the roasted agave piña, yum, kind of like molasses. The roasted piñas are pressed and shredded and the juice is pumped into big open fermentation tanks. Unlike most places, Herradura uses wild yeast. For a homebrewer/beer geek like me, this was interesting! Who knew?! We toured the distillery (tequila is distilled three times) and then the barrel room. Reposado and anejo tequilas all spend time in American Oak barrels, a practice started by Herradura in the 1970s.

Harvesting the agave

Waiting to go into the oven for roasting

Alex explains the distilling process

One of the coolest places on the tour was, alas, forbidden to photograph: the original distillery from the 1700 or 1800s. Stone vats in the floor for the liquid, a big grinding stone that he been pulled by horses to crush the roasted piñas, and the electricity that was added via a steam engine in the early 1900s. This factory was used untilthe 1960s. I highly recommend this tour and seeing this for yourself!

Casa Herradura

A fun find in the town of Tequila was the La Cata tequila bar. They have about 200 bottles from which to choose and the bar staff can give you an advanced education about tequila — the producers, the flavors, the terroir. If you visit Tequila, I’d recommend one distillery tour to see the “workings” and then that you head for La Cata to sample and learn. The bar is one the second floor, the space is cute, and the bottles are sparkly.


What else do I recommend in Tequila? The Hotel Solar las Animas. First class everything and a refreshing roof-top pool. And restaurant El Jima where you can enjoy a molcajete (even if you’re not a meat eater).

View of Tequila’s lovely church from Hotel Solar de las Animas


Virgin of Guadalupe Day

We loved the Virgin of Guadalupe fiesta. We live a few blocks away from where the church honoring La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is located, an area called Seis Esquinas (six corners). At the place where the streets come together to form the six corners is a tiny plaza with a big tree, a shrine for Nuestra Señora and some benches. The benches, shrine, and many of the surrounding shops got fresh coats of paint in the few days before the fiesta. The shrine was decorated with flowers and holiday lights. Altars could be found on the neighbor streets as well, outside of stores and homes, decorated lovingly with lights, candles, flowers, noche buena plants (poinsettias).

During the day, we saw food booths setting up on the street. (I was fortunate to hit up the dessert table for some tres leches cake before he sold out.) Late afternoon, a procession from the church went around town and then returned. The procession was led by small sharp-dressed children forming a drum and bugle corps and also featured: dancers; several pick-up truck floats featuring people acting out the first vision of Nuestra Señora to Juan Diego in 1531; the icon from the church carried on a bower of flowers; and a band — all of this followed by lots of folks. Guys rang the church bells and some of the procession members set off sky rockets, and the drum and bugle corps led the way into the church grounds. Mariachi bands took turns over course of the evening, serenading Nuestra Señora.

Shrine at Seis Esquinas

Statue approaches church

Float reenacting the appearance of the Virgin

Outside the church, toy and balloon (yes, balloons with the Virgin’s iconic image) vendors set up kiosks among the food and drink sellers. A truck arrived containing the parts and pieces of what would become the fireworks castillo and a team of men unloaded it and started to assemble it in the street. Finishing touches were put on a bandstand in a nearby intersection and someone climbed a ladder to hook the lights and band equipment into the power grid. An entrepreneur put up a “Baños 5 pesos” sign and started selling restroom access, for which we were grateful.

As it got dark, a band started in the plaza. The local mini-super set up a cooler outside to sell beer and bottles of tequila. A guy with a table and cooler near the bandstand sold cocktails made to order in plastic cups (I can vouch for the tequila and mineral water combo). On the plaza, a propane cooker heated up a large metal keg full of canela (cinnamon tea), which was served free of charge with bowls of sugar and a few bottles of booze for the recipient to use to customize his or her beverage. Given the night chill, the steamy canela hit the spot.

Fun band!

Canela on the plaza at Seis Esquinas

A man on a horse arrived wearing a poncho and boots with spurs and started the dancing. Soon, the plaza was filled and we were happy to join in. The band was great. Folks were handing out sparkly pompoms on sticks and the type of long balloons that clowns use to twist into animals. Very fun and festive indeed! The band quit, but shouts of “otra!” compelled them to do one more song — the Spanish version of “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s much more fun in Spanish!

The musicians on the bandstand were going strong by this point, the crowd thick, everyone eating, drinking, and making merry. These were younger guys, all dressed sharp in matching black skinny pants and jackets, playing more modern music than the cumbia and salsa we had enjoyed at the plaza. The fireworks team was still working on the castillo when we left about 12:30 a.m., long past our usual bedtime. We could hear the band and fireworks as we drifted to sleep. A big thank you to the Seis Esquinas neighbors for allowing these two foreigners to party with you! Party on!


Buy what you need — more learnings

am learning another way to buy things while living here in Mexico for a time. Given my desires toward minimalism, this is a good lesson.

In the US, it is clear that more is better, more is more, things are meant to be bought in great quantity and will make us happy. Of course, people with means spend frivolously in every country and culture, I am sure. But in the US, it’s the norm and despite the growing wealth inequality, more people have means than they do in Mexico or many other places.

In the US, there is the Cult of Costco. Stock up! Need olive oil? Buy a gallon. TP? 24 rolls. Paper towels? 12-pack. And of course you have a big house to store it in, don’t you? At least 1,500 square feet per person, right? You should have cabinets enough for all that stuff.

Here, I went in to the local stationer and asked for envelopes. The clerk came back with a box of envelopes, already open, and asked me how many I wanted. My husband went to buy some string to tie up plants, a large roll was produced and he was asked how much he wanted. Rope? Same thing. Need cold medicine? The clerk will cut the number of pills you want from the blister-pack behind the register. Need to wrap a holiday gift but don’t want to store rolls of wrapping paper? No worries, you can just buy one sheet of Christmas wrap. Groceries? Buy what you need. One stick of butter, a few eggs, a few potatoes. Flour or sugar? One kilo bags. Shopping doesn’t consist of cart-loads of groceries.

One thing that makes this work is walkability. When you can walk to stores readily, there is no need to stock up and make your house a storage unit. Grateful we live in a walkable neighborhood here in Mexico, and in Oregon too.

So I don’t have a box of envelopes sitting around that might seal themselves shut in the humid season before I get a chance to use them. Feels right. Feels smart.

Boom!! End of San Andres Fiestas

Boom! Final night (November 30)

Each night of the San Andres festival is sponsored by a different group. My understanding is that the group foots the bill for the bands and fireworks on their night. The last night was sponsored by “Hijos Ausentos,” the children who have left their wonderful homes here on Lake Chapala in order to earn more money up north (US and Canada). (I won’t make any comments about how simultaneously sad and happy this seems to me.)

The hijos austentos did it up big.

This last night featured a large group of traditional Mexican singers and then a big (16 people?) modern band with very sharp-dressed musicians. Most excellent music all around. The plaza was packed. Not uncommon are small groups of young folks with a bag of ice, a bottle of tequila, one of Squirt, and some plastic cups. A good time is had by all, I must say.

Procession on its way to the plaza

Camotes (sweet potatoes)

Special treats for sale


We were in the church-yard around 10 p.m. in anticipation of the fireworks. A big structure is built each day to hold the fireworks. Each section is lit off separately and the propulsion from the rockets spin the different designs around — a fish, a parrot, Donald Duck, the holy eucharist. I have no idea how they build this thing and make it work but it provides the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. After all these spinners are finished, the top is lit and spins around and then fireworks are sent up into the sky.



Notice the guy on the tower!!!




If you ever have a chance to visit Ajijic during the San Andres festival, do it. Really.




We are experiencing new (to us) holidays here and quite enjoying them. First off was Dia de la Revolucion, which is the 20th of November. In Ajijic, we had a parade in the morning that largely consisted of school groups. We heard it was much smaller than usual, but since we hadn’t seen it before, it was all good for us.






Most of the school groups are dressed up as revolutionaries and some did a little re-enactment of the revolution with toy guns. The others did dances, led by extremely patient and organized teachers. Because trying to get a group of 5-year-olds to coordinate into a dance must be a big task!  Adelante, atras, lado a lado! Lots of gym whistles and teachers demonstrating the dance moves to the distracted kids.

There were also horses in the parade. Did I ever mention I am afraid of horses? They are big scary animals. The riders all seemed to know what they were doing, despite drinking Corona Light at 9:30 a.m..

The festival of St. Andrew (San Andres) started the following day. A religious parade was held in early evening and concluded at the church. The festival goes on for nine nights and includes a music, food, drink, carnival rides, vendors, and lots of fireworks. The plaza and surrounding streets are totally taken over with the rides and food and drink booths.


San Andres is the patron saint of Ajijic and a good description of the festival is here.

My only correction to this person’s blog, which has some great photos, is that the elaborate fireworks around 10 p.m. are not the “conclusion” of the day’s festivities. In fact, they seem to be the beginning! One night we left the festival about 10:45 and the second band of the evening had not yet started. And as we made our way home on foot, most people were heading TOWARD the plaza. The festival is definitely a late-night experience!

I will try to get some good photos (or get my husband to take them haha) of the concluding day(s) of the festival. November 30 is the traditional end but rumors are it will go longer this year.

Snowbirds, mariachis, jazz, rebirth of wonder

Snowbirds, mariachis, jazz, rebirth of wonder

The snowbirds are coming back. I mean that in two ways. 1) US and Canadian retirees who spend the winter here are arriving; things are getting crowded. 2) Migratory white pelicans are arriving too, evidently from Canada.

We see a lot of the first kind of snowbird daily. But we took a drive around the other side of the lake to see the other kind. Evidently, they congregate in a town called Petatan. There are several fish processing warehouses there that feed the pelicans every day, evidently around 5 p.m.

We drove from here to Jocotepec, where we stopped for lunch and an ice cream. From there, we drove along the south shore of the lake. We saw a lot of berry farms (if you have access to raspberries and blackberries in your stores right now, I bet they come from here, Jalisco and Michoacan). The farms have the berry plants covered with a white material, am guessing some kind of sun shade. You can see the large white areas from our side of the lake. We passed through some small towns on the other side, which looked quiet and nice.

Ice cream — am loving this type of cone

Petatan is tiny. There was a sign with a pelican on it pointing from the road so we turned off. We followed the circle loop and parked when we saw some pelicans on the water. We walked a bit and saw (mostly) women in warehouses, cleaning fish. Then we sat in a bar, drank a beer, and watched the pelicans gather. There were plenty but I think they are more numerous later in the season. Alas, we did not stay long enough for the feeding, as we wanted to be sure we were home by dark. No, we aren’t afraid of being robbed or anything, but we ARE afraid of the unmarked speed bumps (topes) that would be extremely difficult to see at night and could easily ruin your car and cause a serious accident.


They are pretty close-up



Driving there made us realize how BIG this lake is. It is enormous. For a time, we could see across to the town were we are living, but then it was no longer visible. Still, we only make it perhaps halfway round the lake.

In other news, we went to a mariachi show to benefit the Lake Chapala Red Cross. I love the mariachi music!! They are all such great musicians and singers. The costumes are handsome as well. They also had folkloric dancers that we enjoyed watching. Toward the end, a famous singer came out to sign with the band. Her dress was a one-of-a-kind strapless gown that was (I think) painted and sequined with a village scene and flowers. Oh my! And the shoes? Sparkly and maybe a 5 inch heel.


The dress!!!

Mariachis — harp strings the colors of the Mexican flag

Closer to home, enjoyed jazz night at Casa Domenech restaurant. The two musicians are talented, the food is good, the people are lovely, and during the musician break, a poetry reading.

“I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder.” — Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Musicians at Casa Domenech