Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Taking the Sailing Adventure Inland

One of the limitations of a strict cruising adventure are the lost opportunities to experience a country and its culture away from the tourist jaded coastal crush. Given the security of the marina at El Cid and the relatively inexpensive slip fees, we decided that Mazatlan would provide a good base to do some exploring, via a road trip, to discover and expose more of the richness and variety that is Mexico.

Initially, we thought we'd like to visit a numberof places, including Guadalajara, Morelia and Patzcuaro. Well, once having made our first destination of Guadalajara, we didn't feel we could do it justice in a few days. We ended up spending six days in the Centro Historico, at the Hotel Frances (which has been in continuous operation since 1635). It is located right behind Government Palace and adjacent to the Teatro Degollado. From the roof-top terrace the yellow and blue spires of the Cathedral can be seen.

We spent the first day exploring the immediate area on foot. We strolled along the length of the Plaza Tapatia and toured the Hospicio Cabanas (1796; a UNESCO World Heritage Site), containing murals in the chapel painted by Jose Clemente Orozco. We also toured the large Mercado Libertad "San Juan de Dios" and enjoyed a beer in the nearby Mariachi Plaza. Guadalajara, for those of you that don't know, is the birthplace of Mariachi music. There are any number of large Mariachi groups that congregate and play in the Plaza. Of course, at each plaza (and everywhere else) there is the ubiquitous church built nearby. All of the churches we visited were ornate works of art on the inside.

Our visit to the Cathedral was limited due to a standing room only crowd of Friars, nuns, and priests celebrating a funeral (we never were able to find out who the mass was being said for, but judging from the turn out it was someone affiliated with the church).

We also toured the Government Palace where two more famous Orozco murals may be found. We had the good fortune of being accosted by a native Indian tour guide who shared with us the period history of Mexico represented by the Orozco murals and also pointed out some of the amazing optical illusions that can be observed on one of these works of art. Standing on the second floor stairway and looking at the painting of Miguel Hildago y Costilla (the father of Mexican Independence), moving from one side of the stairway to the middle and then to the far side (a distance of around 30 feet), his extended fist and upturned eyes, appear never to change perspective, but always are directed to the viewer, independent of vantage point.

Besides spending time enjoying the historical center of town and a few of the great dining places, we also took the city bus several kilometers out of town and spent a day roaming the historic (and now artisan enclave) of Tlaquepaque. We listened to Mariachis, enjoyed a light lunch and window shopped for things we could neither afford nor had space to accommodate on our modest Citla.

The next day, after exploring the sights of the old city north west of our hotel, we took another city bus further out of Guadalajara to the town of Tonala. It's another, dustier, less developed artisan town that is noted, among other things, for it's rustic furniture artisans. The best days to visit are on Thursdays and Sundays, when there is a huge street art market held. Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday, so we were treated only to the endless established shops in town.

What would a Sunday be with out a good old fashion tequila tour and tasting to the birthplace of that nectar of the blue agave. We spent the day traveling on the Ruta de Tequila (Jalisco's answer to the wine route of Napa-Sonoma) touring a couple of the tequila manufacturers located there. The first stop was at a little ranchita, Las Tres Mujeres (The Three Women, actually three sisters) who run what would be a boutique operation just south of the town of Tequila.

Everything at Las Tres Mujeres is done the old way and all by hand. The stainless steel fermentation vats are open air and interesting to see. They produce the white tequila (not aged); the repasado (aged for less than 11 months in oak barrels; the anejo (aged for at least a year in oak barrels) and the extra-anejo (aged for four years in oak barrels). We had an opportunity, not only to see how the agave are hand harvested, but also to taste each of the different types of tequila made.

The next stop was in the town of Tequila at the oldest and largest tequila manufacturer in Mexico, Jose Cuervo. We were led on a tour of the entire operation and had an opportunity to taste at various venues along the way. The tour ended with complimentary margaritas. Tequila tasting, unlike wine tasting, is not for the timid.

The tour ended at a lunch spot with sweeping views of the volcanic canyon land that is the preferred growing region for the blue agave. The geography and operation reminded us a great deal of the California wine country, but much bolder. The mountains are higher and steeper and the canyons and valleys are deeper; the contrasts between the liquids produced from both areas are equally as diverse. The good news was that we survived!

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