I know in our last post I did say that we were going back to the snowy northeast for a little bit….and its true we did. From San Diego we flew to Florida for an annual family reunion then up to snowy Rochester. After being in Southern California and Southwest Florida, Upstate NY was quite the change for us. We had a great Christmas, seeing and spending time with friends and family. We really had a blast but after a few weeks of negative wind chills and snow measured in feet (not inches) we were eager to get back to the southern west coast and start our journey once again.
Before getting back to San Diego we had realized that since we had to pay upfront for 2 months of RV storage and we were planning on being back prior to our 2 months being up we actually had a week or so of “free time from our RV” so to speak. As Bubbles was safe & secure and we had wanted to go to Mexico but were warned not to drive an RV into the country we thought that flying was a good option. Also as we had been to a few wine areas on the trip so far (Nova Scotia, Upstate NY, Southeast MI & Central California) we decided we wanted to see where the great spirit of tequila is made so decided to go to southwestern Mexico. In doing our research tequila is made in the state of Jalisco and in and around the town of Tequila. It is within an hours drive from Mexico’s second largest city of Guadalajara. So it was settled. We would fly to Guadalajara, tour the city and take a trip to Tequila!
As we needed to drop things off, such as our winter clothes, in the van prior to going to Mexico we booked a flight back to San Diego first. We had found extremely cheap flights from Tijuana direct to Guadalajara and were pretty excited about it. Also the Tijuana airport is built almost directly on the US border as to accommodate passengers coming from the USA. There is also a special border crossing for those just going to the airport. It was a win win for us. After flying back to San Diego, dropping a few things off at Bubbles and a night in a hotel we were ready to go south of the border.
The next morning we were up bright and early. We were not sure how long the border crossing would take so we arrived almost 4 hours before our flight was to take off. In order to get across the airport border crossing you needed to buy a special border only ticket which we had done back home. There were also airline kiosks on the US side. After getting our plane ticket, filling out a Mexican immigration form and having our border ticket checked we were off. Now we had anticipated long lines but after walking the 5 minutes across the border bridge, going through Mexican customs, Tijuana airport security and walking to the gate only 20 minutes had gone by. This was ok by us. Better to be early in this situation then late. The one thing we noticed immediately was the change in language. There was no buffer where people could speak English as well. The flip to Spanish was immediate. Julie had taken French in school and can speak a bit of German as well but this wasn’t much help here in Mexico. Luckily my high school Spanish hadn’t totally left my brain and I was at least able to navigate instructions for the both of us.
Time in the airport went faster than we both thought and before we knew it we were boarding and on the plane. It was a 3-hour flight south from Tijuana to Guadalajara and as we were excited the flight went pretty quickly. Before we knew it we were landing and stepping out into the bright Mexican sunshine. We had pre booked an airport pick up through our hotel but to our surprise we could not find anyone when we made it to the baggage area. After looking around for a bit and not finding anyone still we called the hotel and were told that it was their error and offered to send someone right away. We said no as it would have meant a 35 min wait so we hopped in an airport cab and we were off. Guadalajara is a big city. The city itself has 1.5 million residents with the metro area having a population of 5 million. It’s second only to Mexico City in terms of population in the country. The outskirts of the city were not too pretty. It had the usual slums and ratty looking neighborhoods but as we got closer to the center of the city the architecture and landscaping changed dramatically. In a few more minutes we were almost directly in the middle of the city and checking into our hotel.
After checking in and relaxing for a bit we decided to venture out and around. As we were near the center of the city almost all of the main plazas were around us. Guadalajara is a very old city. It was settled by the Spanish in 1542 and as a result has amazing architecture that neither Julie nor I had ever seen in North America. We wandered from plaza to plaza stopping into a few of the massive churches, seeing people lined up waiting for confessionals and even walking down into the crypts. From there we walked to the market where we ate our first tacos (so good and so cheap 1 USD= 18 MEX Pesos. Dinner came out to be about $3.50 USD). It was Saturday night so everyone was out shopping and walking around. The streets surrounding our hotel were full of every shop that you could imagine (and multiple of them). Everything from stores that just sold yarn and beads to shoes, dresses, shirts, boots and everything in-between. It was pretty nuts and a little overwhelming. After heading back to the hotel we called it a night.
The next day we woke up to a beautiful blue sky. As it was our first day we wanted to explore the city. After eating breakfast we left the hotel and immediately were absorbed into a sea of people. We thought that since it was Sunday things would be a little quieter than the previous night. While there were slightly less people out there was still a lot of action going on. Since we were in the historic center of Guadalajara most of the cathedrals were right around us. These cathedrals were not small churches either they were huge buildings. They were comparable to the huge churches that you would see in Europe. They looked very similar as well as they were 500 years old. We ventured into two of them, the Guadalajara Cathedral and the Templo de San Agustin watching a little bit of the mass in each one before venturing on. Next we walked through huge Liberation Square taking a picture with a big Guadalajara sign before checking out the Degollado Theatre which was beautiful. Most of the buildings in the center of town were 300-500 years old and most were kept in pristine condition. It was amazing to see. From the theatre we walked on to the Museo Instituto Cultural Cabanas, which was the main art museum for the city. It was housed in a beautiful complex of white washed buildings with small courtyards so between exhibits you would walk through small peaceful courtyards before seeing the next exhibit. It was really neat. From the museum we headed back towards the hotel stopping for a quick bite before heading back in for the night. We also got stuck in our hotels stairwell once we were back as apparently the stairs are only for emergencies. Once we entered the stairwell we found that all doors were locked except for the emergency exit and we had to call the front desk to have someone come let us out. It’s a funny memory to have.
The next day we woke up very excited. It was tequila tour day! After breakfast in the hotel we went down to the lobby and waited for our tour guide. A few minutes later Edgar the tour guide showed up and we were off. We followed him outside to a van where we joined another couple from Costa Rica (Marye & Alberto) and we were off. The drive from Guadalajara to Tequila was around an hour and the drive was very scenic. After leaving the city we were in an area of rolling hills with a huge dormant volcano not too far away. Tequila comes from the blue agave plant and we were told that they grow so well in this area due to the volcanic soil. Before getting to the town of Tequila we stopped and walked into a field of Blue Agave getting to see the plant up close. Some of the plants were huge and as tall as I was (6’). We learned that the plants have a lifespan of 8-14 years and generally are not ready to be harvested until they are somewhere between 8-10 years old. The scenery in the area was just amazing as well. Looking out we could see the dark brown dirt, contrasted with the blue-green agave plants, the dark dormant volcano and the blue of the sky and the whites of the clouds. It was amazing!
Next we hopped back into the van and headed into the town of Tequila. The actual town isn’t that big. It has a small square, market and some shops. There are also a good number of small distilleries’ retail locations located there. The oldest and biggest however is Jose Cuervo and that’s where we went first. Jose Cuervo has multiple distilleries however the one in town was the oldest and is still in operation. After sitting down and watching a short film on the history of the company it was time for our tour. As we were the only English speakers there at the moment we had our own tour guide for the distillery. He walked us through the plant where we got to see everything from how the agave comes into the facility, where it gets roasted in large steam ovens to bring out the sugars, where its distilled & aged and finally the bottling room. We were also able to taste the tequila at each different stage in the process (It starts out very strong and harsh and ends up smooth and a little sweet very similar to a bourbon). It was a great tour in a beautiful building and if you’re in the area don’t pass up going to Jose Cuervo.
After going to another tasting at Cava de Oro it was lunchtime and cocktail time. We walked the short distance to the market where we ate at a lunch stall and had the traditional tequila cocktail called cantaritos. This is made using fresh squeezed orange, grapefruit and lime juice, a small amount of grapefruit soda and 2 to 4 shots of tequila. Needless to say lunch was delicious. From the market we stopped at one more, small distillery for a tasting before hopping back into the van. About halfway back to Guadalajara we stopped at a huge roadside stand, which the only thing that they sold was cantaritos. This time they served it in the traditional clay pot. Needless to say we were all feeling pretty good for the rest of the way back, Alberto even more than the rest of us as he sang along with the radio. Once we got back to our hotel we said good-bye to our new Costa Rican friends and our awesome tour guide and called it a night.
The next day we woke up ready to go on our 2nd tour. Today we would be taking a Guadalajara city tour. Our guide Ronnie picked us up in the morning and we were off. Today there was another couple on the tour with us as well (Rick & Nancy from Phoenix). After seeing a few of the churches in outer Guadalajara we drove to the center where we toured the old state capital building or as its called in Guadalajara “The Government Palace”. This place was great as it walked you through the history of the state of Jalisco and the city of Guadalajara but it had a few amazing murals by Jose Orozco. Some of you reading this might say, well murals or art doesn’t really interest me. The murals in this building however will blow your mind. The most famous one is of Miguel Hidalgo who was a Roman Catholic priest and a leader in the Mexican War of Independence. After touring the rest of the building we hopped back in the car and drove to the suburb of Tlaquepaque. This town is famous for its small pedestrian street filled with artisan shops and restaurants. Here we ate lunch at El Patio and were serenaded by an all female mariachi band (this is very rare). The food was great and the music even better. From there we walked into a few of the shops before getting in the car and heading back to the hotel.
The next day we woke up a little sad as it was our last day in Mexico. After breakfast we wandered into a few of the shops that we had been meaning to see but hadn’t gotten to yet, took a few final pictures and headed to the airport. After checking in and almost making it through security we found out that even though our tour guide Edgar said that we could bring our closed and sealed bottles of purchased tequila on the plane we found out from airport security that this was not the case. As the lines were huge and we would not be able to get to this point in the security area with out a long hassle we decided to leave the tequila in its home country and continued on. The flight was uneventful and we landed early back in Tijuana. Our fears of the border crossing being long back into the USA also did not come true as there was no line to show our ticket to get back across the border bridge and no lines at US customs. We were back across the border within 20 minutes of landing.
All in all we had an amazing time in Mexico. If any of you have ever thought about going to see where tequila is made please do it. It was a great time, one that we would not trade for the world. Just learn a few words in Spanish before leaving and you will be all set!
Next up…Cruisin with the Careys resumes! We pick up Bubbles and start to head East!