THE TEQUILA ROUTE

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Circuit - BY DENY EXTREMERA PHO­TOS LAZARO HER­NAN­DEZ & JOSE CAR­LOS DE SAN­TI­AGO

The Tequila Route can be un­der­taken by bus, train and even mo­tor­cy­cle, though the most in­tense mo­ments will be lived in the walk­ing sec­tions of the trail. The jour­ney is full of sur­prises and in­ter­est­ing sites such as tra­di­tional tequila dis­til­leries, ha­cien­das dat­ing back to the 17th and 18th cen­turies, some of which have be­come won­der­ful ho­tels; a cer­e­mo­nial cen­ter of a mys­te­ri­ous pre-his­panic cul­ture (dis­cov­ered barely a few decades ago) or sky-div­ing over the crater of a vol­cano that has been dor­mant for 300,000 years. But let’s start with the fa­mous Tequila Ex­press leav­ing from the train sta­tion of Guadala­jara to­wards Amati­tan, where the San Jose del Refu­gio ha­cienda and the Her­radura Tequila House are lo­cated. The train goes through an agave land­scape de­clared a World Her­itage site in 2006 to­gether with an­cient dis­tillers where the purest Mex­i­can tequila was pro­duced and bot­tled in beau­ti­ful bot- tles whose la­bels proudly showed that the liqueur was 100 per­cent agave and in some cases read: Orig­i­nal Process (16th cen­tury).

The trip is liven up by life Mari­achi mu­sic, snacks, corn tor­tillas, open bar in car­peted and air-con­di­tioned cars of­fer­ing shots of straight tequila and cock­tails. Af­ter a 45-minute ride across the im­mense field of blue agave that spans against a back­ground of moun­tains of the Mex­i­can high plateau and the Tequila vol­cano (2,900 me­ters high), visi­tors ar­rive in the Ha­cienda, a state with a bu­colic en­vi­ron­ment that is hardly

It is thought that the farm­ing of agave for the mak­ing of bev­er­ages and fab­rics started some 2,000 years ago, a con­di­tion that makes it one of the old­est Mex­i­can tra­di­tions evert

seen at present. There, they can taste a lo­cal tra­di­tional meal, lis­ten to folk­loric mu­sic, en­joy a rodeo demon­stra­tion, visit the old fac­tory (1870-1973) and fi­nally the mu­seum.

This is the right time to learn or ask about white, rested and aged te­qui­las; jima (agave har­vest­ing) and ji­madores (agave grow­ers), cabeza del agave (first por­tion of the dis­til­la­tion), fer­men­ta­tion and dis­til­la­tion; tahonas, alam­biques, oak bar­rels and even about the so-called cuer­ni­tos, which pre­ceded to­day’s tra­di­tional glasses to drink tequila straight…, the his­tory of a crop that was first grown some 2,000 years ago to pro­duce fer­mented bev­er­ages and fab­rics, and which –af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the dis­til­la­tion by the Spa­niards–

In the lo­ca­tions of Tequila, Amati­tan, other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Jalisco and Gua­na­ju­ato, Mi­choa­can, Ta­mauli­pas, Na­yarit, in west­ern Mex­ico, hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­hab­i­tants are em­ployed in the dis­till­ing of this spirit

an in­dus­try and means of liv­ing as of the 17th cen­tury.

In the evening, the train re­turns to Guadala­jara, one of the great­est cap­i­tal cities of Mex­ico, where the vis­i­tor has sev­eral op­tions to have a great time in­clud­ing a long pro­gram of cul­tural events and night en­ter­tain­ments.

On the Route

The re­gion pro­tected by the De­nom­i­na­tion of the Tequila Ori­gins com­prises the state of Jalisco and sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Mi­choa­can, Gua­na­ju­ato, Na­yarit and Ta­mauli­pas. How­ever, it is in Jalisco, in an area of 200 square kilo­me­ters, where the best con­di­tions for the grow­ing of agave are found be­cause of the height, vol­canic soil and semidry cli­mate.

The Tequila Route fol­lows the liquor’s trail across that area, through the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Are­nal, Amati­tan, Tequila, Mag­dalena and Teu­chitlán. But the ex­cur­sion is not only about the tequila. In the first place, you can choose any of the ho­tels of Guadala­jara as base camp –all cat­e­gories avail­able– or you can go for the most in­ti­mate and quiet rooms in com­fort­able and ven­ti­lated houses of for­mer ha­cien­das, where a very nice ser­vice is pro­vided, among them El Car­men, an ha­cienda from the 16th cen­tury.

Once you get set­tled, the range of op­tions is very wide. In the town of Tequila (1530), the Na­tional Mu­seum of Tequila adds to the time-hon­ored Tequila houses (Sauza, Don Va­lente, La Alb­o­rada dis­tillery, the mythic Casa Cuervo). The an­cient Arms Square, col­or­ful houses and hand­i­crafts street mar­be­came

kets mark the way be­fore head­ing to the Mundo Cuervo’s Fonda Cholula restau­rant or any other small lo­cal restau­rant and have some bir­ria (stew), tor­tas ahogadas (salted bread with pork and beans fill­ing and smoth­ered in chili sauce), or any other Jalisco dish like the alam­bre agavero, made with tequila.

If you choose to stay for the night –one rec­om­mended place for lodg­ing is the Plaza Jardin ho­tel– you will be able to wit­ness a very sin­gu­lar event: at 9 sharp the lo­cal priest blesses the peo­ple by stroking the bell three times, ev­ery­one in town stand up, no mat­ter what they are do­ing at the mo­ment and turn to­wards the church. The tra­di­tion is un­doubt­edly strik­ing in the mid­dle of the 21 cen­tury.

You can make an ex­cur­sion to the woods by the side of the vol­cano, go all the way up to La Tetilla, an enor­mous vol­canic rock on top of the vol­cano and from there gaze at the view of the Te­qui­lla val­ley; or climb up the cas­cades known as Los Azules, lo­cated a few min­utes away from the town, where there are also cav­erns in store to ex­plore.

But the Tequila Route of­fers many more entertainment op­tions: cy­cling and camp­ing in the Bar­ran­cas de Achío, in Amati­tan, where visi­tors can now take a ride in hot-air bal­loons; the opal and ob­sid­ian mines in the towns of San Pe­dro de Analco, Hos­toti­paquillo and Mag­dalena; sev­eral hand­i­craft work­shops and rid­ing op­tions.

An un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence will be the visit to the Guachi­mon­tones –close to Teuchti­t­lan and Guadala­jara–, a cer­e­mo­nial cen­ter of cir­cu­lar pyra­mids built over 2,000 years ago by a hardly-known civ­i­liza­tion dis­cov­ered in 1970.

This could be a good rea­son to go to Jalisco and cel­e­brate the ver­nal equinox in March in a tra­di­tional party and cer­e­mony held in the na­tive tongue with dances, food and pre-his­panic rit­u­als; camp­ing sites to spend the night so that you can take part in the rit­ual start­ing at 6:00 a.m. with the blow­ing of a conch shell and the salu­ta­tion of the four car­di­nal points in the arche­o­log­i­cal site. Very nice restau­rants can be found by a lake nearby.

Al­though not in­cluded in the route, the rare Bola Stones in the Ameca Val­ley, to the west of Guadala­jara is worth men­tion­ing. In

The path­way down the Tequila Route is paved with sur­prises and land­marks, like colo­nial towns, tequi­l­a­mak­ing fac­to­ries and es­tates from the 17th and 18th cen­turies, some of them hous­ing ex­cel­lent ho­tels

the val­ley, an Amer­i­can arche­ol­o­gist dis­cov­ered in 1867 more than 20 over-three-me­ter di­am­e­ter balls made out of vol­canic ash crys­tal­lized at very high tem­per­a­tures. This is just an­other ap­peal of this red­dish hot land tinted in agave blue, and where there is more to dis­cover be­yond tequila.

Af­ter the route

Once you fin­ish the Tequila Route, Guadala­jara could mean a change of scene with its mu­se­ums, an­cient plazas and the­aters, pot­tery and sil­ver­smith tra­di­tion in the colo­nial vil­lage of Tlaque­paque; blown glass fac­to­ries and street hand­i­crafts mar­kets in Ton­ala (Thurs­days and Sun­days); the touristy touch of the Juarez-val­larta av­enue and the bo­hemian air of the Cha­pul­te­pec (cof­fee houses, bars, restau­rants, night cen­ters and book stores); the Cathe­dral and the Arms Square, a great zoo (over 84 acres and a dol­phi­nar­ium), the Selva Mag­ica amuse­ment park and the mar­kets of La Merced and San Juan de Dios. You might be lucky enough to see the Chivas soc­cer team in ac­tion, one of Mex­ico’s most pop­u­lar ones.

Puerto Val­larta, one of the most fa­mous sea­side re­sorts of the coun­try, is lo­cated on the Pa­cific coast of Jalisco: beaches, a full range of ho­tels, ma­rina, cof­fee shops and restau­rants, wide choices for golf, whale watch­ing, eco­tourism, bi­cy­cle rides through nat­u­ral land­scapes, four-wheel mo­tor­bike tours across the moun­tains, rivers and neigh­bor­ing towns, div­ing, zip-line and rap­pel through im­pres­sive moun­tains of Sierra Madre and the Pa­cific Ocean. This state of­fers its visi­tors 12 nat­u­ral ar­eas trea­sur­ing widely di­verse ecosys­tems, nearly 100 miles of beaches, vast ex­ten­sions of pine forests and such ge­o­graph­i­cal ac­ci­dents as the snow­capped vol­cano of Colima, ex­cel­lent for the prac­tice of rap­pel. Ex­cur­sions, camp­ing, swim­ming, ca­noe­ing and moun­tain climbing are a few other op­tions

The tequila-mak­ing process is bro­ken down in five ba­sic steps: the har­vest­ing of the blue va­ri­ety of We­ber tequila agave, the cook­ing of the mescal –the plant’s ker­nel– its grind­ing, fer­men­ta­tion and dis­till­ing.

Sun­set in Puerto Val­larta

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