Sunday, March 21, 2010

Adios to Mexico for Now

After an uneventful and fairly quick crossing in Nogales we are in Fountain Hills, Arizona. The rains here this winter have left the desert looking beautiful, very green with lots of wildflowers. The cactus are  blooming which adds even more color. Spring is a wonderful time to be in Arizona.

We will probably be here until it gets too hot and then head out for our next adventure. We hope to explore more of the U.S. and spend some time in Canada this year, visiting friends and family along the way once again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Heading for the Border

After our Guadalajara area adventures we headed for the border. We were in no rush so made a few stops along the way. Our first stop was in Celestino, about 40 miles north of Mazatlan. There are four RV parks and a really nice, deserted beach so we always enjoy stopping there. Tilly enjoys it even more and will run on the sand in the surf for as long as we let her.
After leaving Celestino we stopped in Alamos once again to break up the drive. Alamos is an old silver town and home to a group of Americans and Canadians. At one time there were quite a few wealthy people there, including some movie stars, but it looked to us as though many of them have left. Still a beautiful town with wide streets, large homes and a lovely jardin in front of the church.
We went into Alamos on a Sunday and saw something we hadn't seen on our stop last year. There were costumed dancers around the square, making music and performing like mimes. Their costumes were all somewhat different but followed a common theme.

Very mysterious and we had no idea what they were all about. After leaving Alamos we saw other similar groups in several other towns. Still very mysterious. Once we were able to get on the internet we did some research and think that they are Yaqui Deer Dancers. Evidently they perform mostly during Lent and Easter week. The dancers we saw seemed to be very informal but the Deer Dance is part of a sacred ritual.

After leaving Alamos we stopped in San Carlos which was also more deserted than we had seen it, maybe because we were there a bit later this year. We took some new RV friends out to the Soggy Peso, a great little beach bar and watched the kite boarders. There was plenty of wind so it was fun to see. Before leaving we stocked up on the best tamales and chili rellenos ever as well as fresh shrimp the size of very large prawns.
I'm often asked if I ever drive the Bus in Mexico and the answer is a qualified yes. Out of our entire trip I probably drove a total of 3 or 4 hours, and had Brian take a picture of the road when I was driving.

Here's a picture of one of the roads that Brian drives. Bit of a difference!

Tequila Tour

The town of Tequila is fairly close to our RV park in Guadalajara so we decided to take a day trip and check it out (just for you, Vin and Connie). It's a very charming and clean town.

As we were wandering around town we came across the Tequila museum which was pretty interesting. There were exhibits showing the history of tequila as well as how it's been made throughout the years.

This statue of a couple sharing some tequila was one of the interesting things we saw in the museum.

Being around Tequila is much like being in wine country only the vineyards are replaced by fields of blue agave and the wineries are replaced by Tequila fabricas. We had heard that the best tour was at the Jose Cuervo plant which is right in town so we took their tour. As we came into the first courtyard we were greeted by this huge statue of a crow - neither of us knew that 'cuervo' in Spanish means 'crow' or 'raven', but it will be hard to forget after seeing this. Sort of reminds me of being in the middle of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Some years ago tequila was a popular drink for getting drunk and crazy. Today’s tequila is a totally different drink. More comparable to single malt scotch or fine wine to be sipped slowly rather than downed in a single shot. This is not about getting drunk – it is about enjoying a very tasty drink on occasion. Tequila is carefully regulated by daily inspections of the entire process which adhere to strict standards and controls. Many tequilas are considered premium or super premium drinks and can be very expensive. Tequila comes from very specific regions of Mexico.
Tequila only comes from one very specific type of agave - Agave tequilana A. Weber – which is not a cactus but a member of the lily family. It takes from 8 to 12 years for an agave to mature. The “leaves” of the agave are cut away to leave a ball called a “pina” weighing up to 300 lbs. though most weigh between 80 to 120 lbs. (40 to 60 kg.)The person who cuts the leaves is called a jimador and he is an expert and an artist – the cuts must be made with a single stroke for each leaf. It takes about 7 kg. to produce one liter of tequila.

The pina is then cooked in ovens for from 10 to 48 hours to transform starches into sugar. It is then chopped up and crushed and mashed to squeeze out the juices. The juices are fermented to produce alcohol. Then the liquid is aged from a few days to over 5 years depending on the desired end product. Tequila is aged in French or American oak barrels much like wine or bourbon or other liquors. The oak barrels may be burned inside to impart flavor to the drink. Longer aging produces a smoother drink.
  There are several types of tequila:
Blanco, white, plata, silver are all the same thing using variations of the name – this tequila is not aged and appears as a clear liquid almost like water. Blanco is sometimes aged but no more than 60 days – no more than 30 days if in oak.
Reposado is aged from 2 months up to one year in oak barrels. This is the most popular tequila. Slight amber color.
Anejo is aged in oak for at least a year and up to 8 to 10 years but usually for between 4 to 5 years. Darker amber color.There are other sub-groups of tequila but these are the basics.

One type of tequila is not necessarily better than another – it is a matter of taste – aging does not necessarily improve the tequila – some experts prefer the younger tequila because it has more of the taste of the fruit which the aging can diminish. Some like the smoother taste or the oaky or smoky taste. The best tequilas are hard to find even in Mexico and can cost hundreds of dollars per bottle. Many tequilas come in very artistic bottles and the bottles can be as desirable and collectable as the contents. We have seen bottles of tequila selling for thousands of dollars.
An excellent website where you can find out more than you ever wanted to know about tequila can be found at . Another great source for learning about tequila is where they have lots of reviews and ratings. 
Keep in mind that tequila is like wine and can change from year to year so reviews and ratings can be helpful. There are tequila tastings just like wine tasting and judges award points and ribbons for those judged to be the best. All in all – lots more to know about tequila than you probably ever imagined. You can continue to learn about agave drinks by researching Mezcal and Sotol which are also made from agave but not produced in the tequila regions of Mexico. Most Mezcal comes from Oaxaca and Sotol is from Chihuahua – they cannot be called tequila for geographical reasons but they can be just as good as any of the official tequila drinks – some might say better.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Guadalajara is an interesting city and we love spending time there. This year we stayed at an RV park very close to the city but in a country atmosphere. It was quiet and it was hard to believe we were so close to the city but it worked out really well for us. There weren't many RVs there so we had plenty of room  and we loved the convenience of being so close to the city but in such a rural setting.

While in the Guadalajara area we went back to Tonala , a suburb full of artisans and factories producing many of the crafts sold in all of Mexico. It's overwhelming to roam the streets there and experience the abundance and variety of what is produced and equally as overwhelming to describe it. We also went to Tlaquepaque, which is an upscale Tonala. The town square is beautiful and it's an area geared towards tourists with nice restaurants and shops.
Of course we had to visit the local market, or mercado, and soak up all the sights, sounds and smells.

Lake Chapala

We made our second visit to the Lake Chapala area and once again stayed at Roca Azul, which is a great park on the west side of the lake. It has a lovely pool, tennis courts, thermal pool and it's like staying in a nice resort. Our campsite overlooked the lake and we were intrigued by the fisherman who would wade out into the water, pull their nets, and toss the fish into their small boats.

We enjoyed spending time with our friend Micki whom I know from our time in Colorado. She now lives in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, and while we enjoyed our time visiting with her I think Tilly enjoyed having a yard to run around in almost as much. Mick has been in Ajijic for over 7 years and has been great about showing us around and suggesting fun things to do. The first weekend we were there we went to a Chili Cookoff which featured not only chili but some interesting artisans and performances. We saw some incredible dancers and also some dancing horses.The dancers balanced trays with glasses on their heads while dancing - don't think I could do it.
The horses were beautiful and went through their paces with ease. There were also caballeros doing rope tricks and a guy with bolos demonstrating their use.
Brian and I went into the town of Ajijic for the first time and enjoyed looking around. Interesting place with interesting people and some fabulous murals.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Valle de Juarez and Mazamitla

Valle de Juarez

While Mazamitla is more well-known and draws most of the tourists we found that we liked Valle de Juarez better. It's a small town, extremely clean and well cared for, and very welcoming to visitors. Many of the people have lived and worked in the Chicago area and have either retired to Valle de Juarez or continue to go back and forth. It's obvious that they love and take pride in their home. Brian thought that they had the most beautiful town square or jardin that he had seen anywhere that we've been.
While visiting these towns we stayed at Hacienda Contreras, a very nice RV Park owned by Sal and Barbara Contreras. Sal is a native of Valle de Juarez who lived, worked and raised a family with Barb in the Chicago area. They have returned to VdeJ to retire, although they stay so busy with the RV park that I don't know as I'd use that term. They have an outstanding park and we have to agree with so many others who have been here – it’s one of the best RV parks in Mexico. The facilities are first rate and Barb and Sal are incredible hosts.
Sal and Barb have a love and knowledge of this area and share it with their campers. In our short time there we went to a horse festival known as the Blessing of the Horse, two very picturesque hikes, and an easy hike to a unique restaurant being built at Rancho Tres Aguilas. Each experience was both fun and informative.
The Blessing of the Horse began with a parade of the horses coming in from another town in the area. The parade circled through town and ended up near the lake where everyone was invited to share a wonderful meal and plenty of tequila.
These three amigos were having a great time singing and talking on their cell phones while sharing a bottle of tequila.
On our first long hike we went up the mountain to our south which overlooked the lake and town.
Our intrepid band of hikers stopped for a rest in 'The Badlands' before continuing on to town where we had an amazing lunch - more free appetizers were served than I could count. Evidently this is the norm here but I'm sure being with Sal and Barb, second and third from the left, didn't hurt any.

The second hike was a long one going up a mountain to our north. Along the way we had a great view of the Colima volcano which still has snow on the top. Not unusual considering it's over 14,000 feet. We had a rest and bite to eat at the top while we enjoyed the view.

On the way down Sal and I were bringing up the rear and heard a very different kind of bird noise. After stopping and looking around we were lucky enough to see a Northern Pygmy-Owl in one of the trees. It was well camouflaged and only about 6 inches tall. I wasn't able to get a good picture but won't forget the memory. Once back to where the cars were parked our hosts treated us to some tequila before we wound our way back to the RV park. Great day!
Rancho Tres Aguilas, Ranch of Three Eagles, is a very unique place near the campground. Sal and Barb arranged for us to hike there and take a tour. It's really difficult to describe this place. Everywhere we looked we saw something unusual. On the grounds we saw everything from life-size elephants and buffaloes to John Deere tractors to fossilized rocks to an old wagon train and on and on.

The owners have obviously put a lot of money into this place. They are planning to open it as a restaurant and we look forward to giving it a try some day. They are catering to the many wealthy tourists in the Mazamitla area and will probably pull people from Guadalajara as well. The tables are all huge slabs of stone with fossils in them. Everywhere we looked we saw murals, statues, stained glass windows, incredible metalwork and more. Too much to describe so here are a few pictures.....


Mazamitla is a unique resort town that looks as though it belongs in the Swiss Alps. Many tourists come there from Mexico, the U.S. and Europe and the town is pretty much geared toward them. We saw some very expensive, nice resorts and homes. The first day we went in was on a weekend and it was so crowded there was nowhere to walk or park so we left. We decided to go back during the week and give it another try. There were lots of hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist shops. It was interesting to see but a bit touristy for us.