You can read part one of our Mexican Adventure here.
The second part of our adventure took us to Guadalajara, well, sort of. For 4 1/2 hours we traveled on a Primera Plus first-class bus from Querétaro to Guadalajara. The ride cost us 423 pesos ($35 CDN – seriously, this would give you a one hour ride on a Greyhound here in Canada!) and again, we had assigned seats and were given food & drink. We had bought these tickets in advance at an OXXO (a chain of convenience stores that you see everywhere in Mexico). We probably did not need to buy them ahead of time as there are buses basically leaving hourly from Querétaro to Guadalajara but I wanted to make sure that we got on the one that we wanted. As we left the state of Querétaro and entered Jalisco, the landscape was awesome to watch from the bus. It seemed that as soon as we crossed the state borders, we began seeing the beautiful fields of blue agave that the beloved tequila is made from.
The plan for this part of the trip was to see tequila-related things and to visit the town Tequila. Beyond that idea, we had no plan. While I am a virgo and am pretty organised in most aspects of my life, when it comes to traveling, I do not plan things out 100%. I like to make sure that I know I have a place to sleep and ideally I like to know how I am getting there but other than that, I like to decide on things as the time comes. We did do a little research before leaving Toronto. We asked friends who had been to Tequila before and everyone told us to book a hotel in Guadalajara and then do day trips to Tequila and the distilleries. When asked where to stay in Guadalajara, we were told to avoid the downtown and instead to stay at a hotel near the highway.
We booked three nights at a hotel along the highway called Camino Real Guadalajara. This meant that we would have two full days to spend in tequila land before heading out on the final leg of our trip. There are a couple of different bus terminals in Guadalajara. The one that we arrived at seemed to be the main one, at least for long-distance buses and it’s called the Nueva Central Camionera. It’s a number of kilometres South-east of Guadalajara and the taxi from here to our hotel was pricey in terms of Mexican rates at 215 pesos ($18 CDN). The Camino Real was an older hotel that you could tell was THE place for business travellers a number of years ago and had just not been upgraded. The grounds were beautiful (hello fruit trees!) and I liked that our room was a bit of a walk to the lobby. The room cost $285 USD for three nights but wifi was not included. They charged $15 USD per day for it which just didn’t worth it. There was a nice bar here where we went on the first night to drink tequila on the patio near the pool. For breakfast they had a great buffet ($20 USD per person – again pricey but man, it was convenient and delicious!).
As I said earlier, we did not have a real plan for this part of the trip. Lucky for us, we found out that the whole Australian and Canadian Tequila Tromba team would be in Guadalajara at the exact same time as us. Not only were they around, but they were kind enough to invite us along on their fun. The first day, the plan was to go to the town Tequila to visit some distilleries. Tequila is about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara. Once you leave the city, the landscape is a rolling sea of blue (agave) and this is considered the lowlands of tequila country. We arrived in Tequila and decided to hit the Jose Cuervo distillery first for a tour. We had heard that it is the Disneyland of distilleries but that it was also very pretty. Also, Cuervo is everywhere in Mexico. If you see “Traditional” on the tequila list at a bar, it’s the Jose Cuervo Traditional. With some time to kill before the tour started, we scoped out the main square of Tequila. I loved the banners and murals and the fact that tequila was present everywhere.
Every state in Mexico has it’s own food and drink. Something special that you can only in a specific spot. In Jalisco, one of the drinks that you can only get here is called Tejuino. Tejuino is a drink made from fermented corn. In Tequila, we found a man with a cart on the street selling a drink called Pachecada which we decided to check out. It turned out to be Tejuino and beer, served in a styrofoam cup with ice. On a hot day like that one, there was nothing more refreshing.
The Jose Cuervo distillery was beautiful. I loved all of the tiles and sculptures. The actual tour was pretty cool, although most of the experience bartenders with us thought that maybe it wasn’t that great. One of the best parts: they made us wear hair nets!
Above you see one of the ovens where the agave piñas bake. They let us try a piece of the cooked agave. It was sweet like sugar cane and I would have liked more.
Yes, they had their mascot, a crow in a cage. Jose Cuervo in English literally means “Joe Crow”. Apparently this guy was about eleven years old and I am not sure that I really like that he is kept in a cage like that.
At the end of the tour they gave us a margarita. The most expensive (and arguably the best) tequila that Jose Cuervo produces is the Reserva de la Familia. Every year they release special edition boxes with this tequila. We bought a sample of it, that was poured directly from a barrel and it was delicious.
After the Cuervo tour, there was some miscommunication with our driver. For some reason he took us out of Tequila and we drove for over an hour, ending up at an archeological site called Guachimontones. I have been to a lot of ruins in Mexico and this one was pretty cool. The visitor centre that they have there is very new and the tour guide was eager to practise her English. What is cool about this site is that this culture was one that was completely unrelated to any other Aztec/Mayan, etc. culture during the time. They were completely their own people with their own structures, games and ways of life. Instead of traditional pyramids that you see in places like Tulum and Teotihuacaan, they made circular central plazas and conical step pyramids. In 2008 the site was included on the World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites. How cool is that?!
After the tour of the ruins and it was explained to our driver that we were there to see things all-related to booze, we headed back to the town of Tequila so that we could take in whatever else there was to be seen. Unfortunately by this point, it was nearing 5pm which meant all of the distilleries were closing and we were starving. We opted for food first.
After dinner, most of us were unsure of what to do. Then Jez quietly said that he was going to head to a bar that his friend had told him about. It was called La Capilla and it had a bartender who was in his nineties. We were sold.
When you walk into La Capilla, you just know that you are entering something special. This is a proper cantina in Mexico. It’s the oldest bar in Tequila. The guy working the bar told us it was over ninety years old. The man himself – owner and bartender – Don Javier was hanging out at a table watching tv when we walked in. The walls were covered in memorabilia and trophies. We sat at the bar and the bartender, who told us Don Javier was his Uncle, made us Botangas (blanco tequila, lime, coke and a salt rim). Don Javier is actually the inventor of the Botanga. How cool is that?!
Last year, La Capilla was voted the 20th best bar in the world. All of the bars in the top twenty were from places like London and NYC, except for La Capilla. After a little persuasion, Jez got Don Javier behind the bar to show him how to make his Botanga. The knife used to cut the limes is the same one used to stir the drinks. As silly as it may sound, this experience was seriously a magical one. You should take a moment to watch this video of Don Javier at his bar. It is times like these that make me realise how truly blessed I am in in my life.
After a full day driving around and seeing tequila things, we headed back to Guadalajara. The next day was a big one because it was all about Tromba. On this day we headed to the highlands or Los Altos as opposed to the lowlands where we were the day before. The first stop on this day was a real life blue agave field. Let me tell you about agave: they’re sharp. We were told to wear long pants and closed shoes on this day and I can see why. After being in the field for about a half hour, it’s safe to say that all of us tourists were bleeding a little bit somewhere. While here I took some photos and videos for Tromba and it was pretty fun (and dangerous! Those plants kept sneaking up on my backside!).
The jimador showed up how he hacks the agave into the piña that is then used in the making of tequila. He let the whole crew of us give it a shot and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks.
After the visit to the fields, we were invited into the distiller’s beautiful home. Marco Cedano was the master distiller at Don Julio before moving onto Tromba so he really knows his stuff. In their living room there was a barrel of tequila that we happily sampled.
The next stop for the day was to head to the distillery where Tromba is made. There they were having a Thank You lunch for all of the people who work so hard making the tequila. Our crew made cocktails for the people who actually make the tequila. It was a total cultural exchange and I loved not only witnessing it but also being able to capture it all on my camera.
On the drive home the car ride was pretty quiet. Lots of tequila and tacos were in our bellies; it had been a pretty full day. The sun was going down and we were entering what is dubbed “magic hour”. Jez yelled, “Jess! We have to stop to take photos of this, you tell us when the perfect spot comes up.” We turned on the road and there was an open field of agave with a golden sun setting behind it. We pulled over, took photos and soaked it all in. It was a perfect end to what was a magical tequila time. The next morning, we were heading to the beach for a little relaxing in the sun.