Tequila Tour

Friday started out like a normal workday. Sue went to school and I sat down to work. Everything was fine until our cleaner noticed that the lights had gone out. I did not have the lights on and was working with my laptop, so I didn’t notice that the power was out. We tried various lights (and I checked the internet); all were off. The cleaner offered to check with the building security guards to see if there was a problem. To keep a long story short, the electricity bill for the apartment was not paid, so they shut off the lights. The cleaner (who works for the AirBnB host) said she would take care of it. She said she had to go pay the bill and then the power would be back in an hour or two. (Steven neglects to mention that he speaks no Spanish and the cleaner speaks no English.) In the meantime, Sue returned and attempted to contact the host, but got no reply. Sue then contacted AirBnB who tried to contact the host, and received a reply that there was something wrong with the electricity. When the cleaner returned, she said that the bill had been paid, the electricity should be back soon and then she left. It was now about 3 p.m., so we decided to head out for some Lebanese food at a restaurant that we passed a few days ago. We hoped that the lights would be back before we returned.

The restaurant is called Sulemaya on Calle Marsella and is tiny (maybe five tables). We sat down and the server came by and gave us menus. As we were fumbling in Spanish he offered to speak English. We (really Sue) explained that we were trying to learn Spanish and bear with us. He said no problem and through the course of the conversation we found that he was fluent in four languages; Spanish, French, English and Arabic. We felt so inferior. Sue had a vegetarian platter while I had kibbeh and a kefta wrap. The food was delicious and we finished up with Lebanese coffee which is similar to Turkish coffee, but contains some cardamon. At about 4:30 we returned to the AirBnb, to find that we still did not have lights.

Weird bathroom

Sue contacted AirBnb and the host asking whether it was possible that the lights would be turned back on after 5 p.m. or over the weekend. We sat for a little while and then decided that since we were not receiving responses, we would check into a hotel and deal with it from there. There is a very nice Hilton in the mall where we go grocery shopping, and I booked us a room for two nights. We packed some stuff feeling kind of irritated and called an Uber. The hotel check in was easy and the room was nice. (The bathroom setup was a little weird. I’m not complaining, it was just odd. There was a front room with a sink and then two compartments with glass doors, one with a toilet and one with the shower. See pic.) We calmed down and remembered that this is an adventure and things do go wrong. No one was hurt, nothing was broken so we had to just shut up and get over it. The key to having adventures is being flexible and if the worst thing that happens here is that we have to stay in a hotel for a few day, oh boy we have no right to complain.

Monse (photographer) and our tour group

We had booked a tour of a couple of local tequila distilleries and of the the town of tequila for Saturday through TripAdvisor with a company called Agave Experience Tequila Tour. It was a small (no more than 6 people) group tour that stopped at two small Mexican owned distilleries, provided breakfast and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and dropped us in the town of Tequila for about an hour. At 10:30 a.m. our driver, Monse, picked us up and we found ourselves traveling with four young ladies, two who knew each other and two who did not.  The two who knew each other were fresh off a long night out and did not talk much in the beginning due to their hangovers. (Oh to be young and stupid again!) The third, Emma, is from Toronto and is avoiding the cold by working remotely from Mexico (with her cat) for four or five months. Samantha, the fourth, is from Napa and works in the wine industry. She and her husband have their own vineyard Tectonic Wines, which I am shamelessly plugging here. Go buy some of their wines. Samantha is here learning Spanish for a month. Monse’s English is great and she managed to keep the conversation going by asking lots of questions and sharing her knowledge of the area. She had many suggestions for places to eat, drink and things we should do.

The different types of Tequila (round bottles l to r: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, and Cristalino

A small diversion here to talk a little about tequila, tequila manufacturing and regulation. Tequila can only be made in five states in Mexico, must be made only from blue agave and each distiller is given a license number call a NOM (which stands for Norma Oficial Mexicana, but in translation means name, which is pretty funny because it is a number). Every bottle of tequila has a NOM. There are something like 180 distilleries, that produce 1,800 different brands. If the bottle does not say 100% agave, the distillers are adding sugar cane before the distillation process, which is allowed. Tequila only has to be 51% agave to be called tequila. There are five different types of tequilas that have to do with how long they have been aged in barrels (only oak barrels allowed):

  1. Blanco: aged less than two months
  2. Reposado: aged two months to one year
  3. Añejo: aged one to three years
  4. Extra Añejo: aged three years or more
  5. Cristalino: Añejo that has been charcoal filtered to remove some of the sweetness and the color.   

We headed for an agave field that is owned by the first distillery – Casa Marengo (NOM 1560). Monse explained how the agave was harvested (the leaves are cut off using a tool that looks somewhat like a flattened and sharpened spade), that the harvesters are called jimadors, and that the plant needs to be about seven years old before it is ready to be harvested. The jimadors need to harvest 5 tons of agave a day each and work from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

Once we finished wandering in the agave field we headed back to the distillery to taste. We tried some of each type of tequila from one of their brands. Sue and I preferred the older (no jokes please) types as we found them sweeter and smoother. During the tasting, Monse provided little bottles that contained extracts of flavors we might find in the tequila. We smelled the bottles and tried to guess the scent. We tried six scents and I was 1 for 6. I found it difficult name the scent even if I could identify that I knew the smell. It was fun and interesting. Once we were done tasting and looking around the distillery, we exited through the gift shop (I bought a bottle of their Amor Lindo extra añejo for about $50) and headed to the second distillery.

That one is called Cava de Oro (NOM 1477). Once again we toured the distillery and tasted all five types of tequila from one of their brands. We also tried a mezcal and another añejo that had been aged in red wine barrels.  This time as part of the tasting, Monse gave us fruit and sweets that were paired with each of the tequilas (and the mezcal) in order to bring out the flavors. It was very interesting, We preferred the first distillery to this one, that not meant to be a criticism, simply a matter of taste.

We headed from Cava de Oro to a restaurant called Ruinas El Chimulco. It is a pueblito called Amatitan and it perfectly encapsulates what we have found in Mexico. We parked at the top of the hill when we entered the village. There were a bunch of nondescript houses on the main street. We suddenly stopped and entered through a doorway and we were in a beautiful, park-like courtyard. It was gorgeous. I ordered a shared meat platter and a chicken mole with the two ladies from San Diego. Everyone else ordered some for themselves and some for the table. We had a huge amount of delicious food, most of which we finished.

We piled back into the car and we drove to the town of Tequila. Monse dropped us in the center of town and we spent about 30 minutes wandering around. The town has a large square (with a church in the center of course).

Around the corner of the church there was another square with a small tourist market and the obligatory Tequila Instagram sign. There were lots of people selling cantaritos (a local tequila drink) on the street in ceramic mugs. We passed by the Jose Cuervo and the Sauza distilleries in our wanderings, but did not stop for their tours. We headed back to the square, found Monse and headed home.

We got home at about 9:30 and promptly decided to head out to a nightclub…Only kidding, we collapsed into bed and watched the football game and some tennis.

….and that was just Saturday.

A relaxing weekend

Our drinks at De La O

We started our weekend on Friday night by walking over to a bar called De La O Cantina. It is a pretty hip place with interesting drinks and tacos. One of the challenges we have found is that many of the places that we are planning visit do not have websites and/or have a Facebook page that doesn’t have a menu. De La O falls into the latter category. What is up with the Facebook pages? They are less than useful. This is a bit of a challenge for us as the food here is very meat focused (Good for me! Bad for Sue). Luckily De La O had vegetarian options and so it worked out. In addition to having interesting tequila drinks (the one at the right has fermented pineapple in it), they brought around a small batch agave drink that we think was called Mezcalito for us to taste. It was very good and when we go to Tequila next week, we will see if we can find it.

Saturday, we took an Uber to a little pueblito (small town) called Tlaquepaque that is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. It has a couple of very small ceramics museums, many street statues, pretty architecture, lots of places selling tourist stuff and, of course, the required Instagram sign. Every cute little tourist town is outwardly similar, but they all reflect the diverse culture of their areas.

We wandered around for a couple of hours just soaking up the sunshine and the vibe. Later in the afternoon, we headed for dinner at Restaurant Casa Luna (once again, just a Facebook page). They had their menu outside so we were sure we could find things we both like. The restaurant is housed in a courtyard with beautiful chandeliers and lots of hanging lanterns. The food was delicious and there was a band playing Mariachi music which made dinner incredibly pleasant.

During the week we signed up for the local bike share system called MiBici. Residents sign up and then use a credit card to unlock the bikes. For foreigners, the system allows you to buy the yearly subscription ($20) using an American credit card, however, it will not recognize the credit card to unlock the bike. The work around it is to get a metro card and link the metro card to the MiBici account. (We learned how to do it through this vlog. Thanks Kenta and Kenta’s friends.) It was actually pretty easy once we knew what to do and we got our cards on Thursday. Every Sunday, Guadalajara closes a fairly large number of streets to cars from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lunch place in the market

We took advantage of the both the bike subscription and the closed streets to go for a ride. We headed straight north to a street market about a mile away. We wandered around the market, which to be honest was similar to every other street market in every other city we have visited: clothes, electronics, shoes and general kitchen crap was all on sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we do enjoy wandering through them. We decided to grab an early lunch at one of the market food stands. We quickly figured out that one had vegetarian options and we settled on a couple of stools and fumbled through our orders. We ordered something called huaraches. They are fried masa dough with ingredients piled on the top (Sue had mushrooms, I had beef). On the table were chopped onions, cucumbers and carrots, sprigs of parsley and basil and salsa. Once the food was delivered, you put whatever you want on top. It was good fun and cost just about $8. We do like street food.

After lunch we grabbed more bikes headed to the supermarket, shopped for the week and then ubered home.

Our First Weekend

I didn’t realize that it has been nearly a month since I wrote a post. Many thanks to Sue for keeping everyone posted on our plans and travels. This is our first weekend in Guadalajara so we figured we should pack it full.

Friday night we decided to go out to eat, and quickly settled on sitting on the balcony of Casa Dolores, which is just across the street from our AirBnB. Sue picked out a sipping Tequila called Ollitas. It was sold in 60ml, 250ml and full bottle. We decided to share the 250ml bottle, which we figured was about 2 or so drinks each. It was very smooth and I would highly recommend it. (Please be aware that we will be taking a tequila tour in the next few weeks, so we may learn that we currently drinking the tequila equivalent of lighter fluid – so perhaps take this suggestion with a grain of salt). Sue had a fish dish that arrived on fire (literally in the literal sense of the word), while I had a very nice steak. I also ordered a dish called potatas arriero, which translates to potatoes muleteer. I had no idea what a muleteer was, but figured I couldn’t go too wrong. Turns out that they were fingerling potatoes is a spicy tomato sauce. It was a very enjoyable meal and we lingered well into the evening.

A section of the Mercado

 On Saturday morning we started by walking to Sue’s school (she will be taking an intensive Spanish course starting a week from Monday — because that way I can not really speak two different romance languages, capice?) which is in downtown Guadalajara, about 3km away. The mornings here are cool, maybe 15° C (60ish F), and we set off around 10am. We wandered in and out of the neighborhoods, taking note of places we wanted to eat, including the wonderfully named El Terrible Juan Cafe. We passed the Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento, unfortunately, we could not go inside as they were saying Mass. 

Watch out, dad joke ahead: Thought I would saddle you with this picture.

We continued to wander through the downtown and finally found our way to the Mercado Libertad – San Juan de Dios. It is a huge (40,000 m2) indoor marketplace. There is everything from kitchen utensils to electronics to clothes, fruit, vegetables, leather goods (including saddles!) and food. We either bravely or foolishly decided to eat at one of the food stalls. Sue ordered chilliquiles (Mom – click on the link to see what they are) and I ordered chicken enchiladas. We were both quite hungry, the food was good and as an extra bonus did not upset our stomachs.

After lunch started walking home and the temperature had reached into the mid-20’s, on the way, found a panaderia called El Abuelo. After a few minutes of confusion we figured out that we were supposed to grab a tray, pick out what we wanted and then take it to a counter. The nice young lady at the counter put them into bags and gave us a receipt. We took the receipt and paid a man who was in booth (about 2 steps away), who then signaled to the young lady that we had paid and gave us the bags. We bought to large rolls and three cookies. Total price was 43 pesos (by the way the symbol for peso is $ – very confusing!) or about 2 US dollars. The cookies were yummy!

On Sunday, Sue’s friend Kenta and his husband Doug invited us over for brunch. They live about 40 minutes walk north of us. It was the first time Sue had met Doug and the first time I had met either of them. We had a really great brunch with wonderful conversation. A special thank you to Doug for cooking. Delicious! After brunch we walked over the supermarket near them called Fresko that they recommended. It is much more like an American grocery store than we have found here (but according to Sue – it ain’t no Monoprix) so we loaded up on lots of stuff that we needed. We grabbed an Uber home and called it a day.

All in, we are happily getting settled in yet another new city.

Estamos en Guadalajara

I know we’ve said this before, but we are lucky! Yes, our Fes plans got scuttled, but we made it out of the U.S. after a month-long stay in sunny Florida.

Yesterday, we arrived in Guadalajara. We flew from Fort Lauderdale to Houston, where the plane was on time until 10 minutes to boarding and then … well, ya can’t fly with no crew. We saw CANCELED on one too many flights on the departure board and we were a tiny bit nervous. United said they were waiting for a crew and we chose to believe their really was one. And, there was! Clearly they are short-staffed because the poor gate agent was also acting as the wheelchair attendant, so boarding took a bit of time, but we arrived a mere 90-minutes late and breezed through immigration and customs.

The view from the gym. I dare say it’s a bit smoggy here, but nowhere close to Beijing.

(BTW: Everyone here wears a mask. Some people even wear them outdoors. There was no Covid protocol for entering Mexico, but we will have to get tested to get back into the U.S. Seems backwards to me since omicron is everywhere in the States, but what do I know?)

The only hiccup so far was the surprise on the immigration agents face when he asked (in Spanish) how long we would be here and I answered correctly in Spanish, 53 days. He obviously thought my Spanish was even worse than it really is. The same thing happened when I told the guard at the apartment building that we were staying until Feb. 25. He typed it into Google Translate and showed it to me to make sure I knew what I was saying (and looked even more surprised after she confirmed that it was correct).

So far, so good. We walked to the grocery store and got immediate supplies (coffee). The place itself is comfortable and I just got back from the gym on the 18th floor (our apartment is the 14th, so we have totally unobstructed view of the south part of the city and that big hill in Sue’s photo). Steven has been hard at work all day (of course). Not that I’m not working, but someone has to play housewife. Today, we bought some staple foods to have around and began to settle in.

Beer from Tomate Taquería

We are right at the edge of a popular bar and restaurant strip. We hit Tomate Taquería for dinner last night because it is only a few blocks away, but it was delicious! For Steven, there are huge spits of meat and for me, la especial vegetariana.

Luckily, we have a friend here (Kenta is fab!), which will ease the usual confusion over how to get a transportation card or where to find the best grocery store. All this happens within our first week in a new place and then it’s like we’re natives. Or natives who barely speak the language.

Speaking of language, I really need to up my Spanish game. I don’t understand why more people don’t speak English! Of course, they live in a huge country and it’s not like the EU, which uses English as a universal language. Maybe I will really learn Spanish!

We Have a Plan (or So We Think)

First things first or a moment of gratefulness: Thank you, Sandy, for generously allowing us to stay in your home in Florida when we were at loose ends. We had a few days of discombobulation, but sunshine and a comfortable working environment made a huge difference.

Well, loyal readers, you already know that we are headed to Guadalajara right after New Year’s. (Thanks, Kenta, for all your help and be aware that we aren’t joking when we say we’re going to stalk you!) This was kind of a slow burn because first we had to get over the disappointment of not getting to go back to Fez, but we have shifted gears and are revving up for Mexico. As if my poor brain wasn’t confused enough when I was learning French, I am now going to go back to learning Spanish. More intense language classes for me. (Espero que la maestra no dé demasiada tarea. How’s that for a start?)

Apparently there’s lots of delicious food and maybe a little bit of tequila there. Luckily, we are staying in a fancy building with a gym, so we can burn it all off. We are looking forward to immersing ourselves in another culture — one we hadn’t really thought about. Semi-planned (I don’t even have a Guadulajara spreadsheet yet!) adventures have their own joys. We’re just figuring out what we want to do and need to see while we’re there, so if you want to help us out, we’d love it.

The next big piece of news is that we booked an AirBnB in Rome for March and April. We did our usual hunting: I am cheap and pick a bunch of places whose prices don’t give me heart palpitations and then one or two that I think are a tad on the high side. Steven rejects all but the ones on the high side and then I let him decide whether it’s worth it. Guess what he thinks? I’ll give you a hint: “The guy does our laundry? That would be nice!” Steven said (am I wrong???).

We have also come to the conclusion that we’re better off on the fringes of touristaville for long stays because we need daily living conveniences like a supermarket we can walk to. We’re fine with a bit longer of a walk or nearby subway station to get to sites. Our 18-day stay in Istanbul was about as long as we care to stay in the midst of the fray.

So, we will be in Rome for Easter week barring another Covid disaster (or something else we definitely don’t want to guess at) (Next year in Mecca for the Eid?). Good thing we don’t mind a crowd.

Always Remember to Stay Flexible

Me, thinking about our plans for the next few months.

I would like to report that we are spending our time in Florida visiting all the cultural and historic sites, but well, it is Florida, so not so much. Instead, we are working, visiting with my mother and obsessing over our next move.

Today we made quite a bit of progress. We abandoned our goal of spending a few months in Fez.  The Moroccan government has closed the country’s borders until the new year, and we decided that it was not worth waiting and hoping that they would re-open. Instead, we have decided to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, from Jan 3rd through February 25th.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a cathedral in Guadalajara.

Why Guadalajara? Excellent question. First, it is warm and that is a pretty big draw for me. Second, it is a city and so we will be able to explore the culture and history of Mexico. We considered Mexico City, but decided that Guadalajara is a bit more manageable. Third, it seems like there are lots of things nearby for us to see and do. Finally, Sue has a friend who lives there and he gave the city high marks.

We are still planning on going to Italy for March and April. Sue’s brother and sister-in-law are celebrating an anniversary by going to Italy at in the beginning of March and we are going to meet them in Rome. We will all spend a few days in Rome and then we are planning to head south the Sorrento for the rest of the month. Once again, it is warm; we can spend our time exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri. April, we plan to head north, probably to Tuscany. That should allow us to spend the weekends traveling throughout northern Italy. However, since we have not booked places to stay in either of these places, both are subject to change.

We are still planning on returning to the US in early May, so while we had hoped to get to both London and Amsterdam, those places may be on hold for now.