Monday, March 17, 2014

True North March 9 - 15: Bus to Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara Language Center

A brief road trip through the mountains seemed like a great way to cool off for awhile. Tlaquepaque became the destination! We had signed up for a week of Spanish class at the Guadalajara Language Center, just two hours every morning. Another boat, Wavelength, had recently returned from the same place and at their suggestion, we reserved the same hotel, La Villa del Ensueño, which turned out to be a jewel and only a 6-minute walk to class.
Our room, with private patio next to pool
Tlaquepaque is located about 20 minutes by bus from downtown Guadalajara.
Mariachis, Tlaquepaque
It is a smaller, artisan community that produces ceramics, silver, leather, and textile handicrafts. Our colorful, small hotel of 20 rooms had bright blue and yellow exterior walls, beautifully tiled baths, many interior patios, all very well maintained. We scoped out the walk between our hotel and GLC so we would be on time the following morning. The first night we walked to the central plaza to find it filled with street vendors, musicians, and tons of people. We soaked it in while searching for the best street tacos.
Eat your veggies!
School, day 1: There was one other student in our class, Berto. In less than 5 minutes the instructor realized that Berto was way ahead of us so for the rest of the week, we had our own instructor, Edith. This was the first-ever Spanish class for both of us. It was helpful...but Edith crammed so much into it that was hard to remember. Coincidentally, Berto, aka Bert, is from Cincinnati and the same neighborhood as Gregg! Later in the week, he drove us to Ajijic where he now lives, a picturesque community of artists and expats on Lake Chapala.
Street mural, Ajijic
The center's director, Wouter, from Holland, gave us an overview of the activities that would be available during the week and it was easy filling up the afternoons: walking tour of Tlaquepaque on Monday; Guadalajara museums and free concert on Tuesday; Ajijic on Wednesday; Tequila, the town and namesake of the drink on Thursday; special handicraft exhibition on Friday; then, week over!
Main plaza and Cathedral, Guadalajara
Back to Thursday and the tour of Tequila, it was quite interesting. Wouter arranged for us to go with a guide, about an hour drive from Tlaquepaque, NW of Guadalajara. It's located in the scenic rolling foothills of Tequila Volcano and you will see fields of agave plants throughout the area. The leaves of the agave plant are visible above the ground but the roots are what is used to make tequila. They look like huge pineapples (agave pinas) and weigh about 80 pounds. They are cooked in massive ovens to get the juice for fermentation and distillation.

Traditional ovens and agave, Tres Mujeres distillery
Here's the scoop on the final product: the label should state 100% agave or you will not want to drink it! There are 4 kinds of tequila, progressively darker in color from aging in oak barrels, and smoother: clear, reposado, añejo (aged), and extra añejo. The last three are sipping tequilas; the first two fine for Margaritas. This may be trivial information to many but in Mexico, tequila is nearly iconic. The town of Tequila and the surrounding agave fields are now a World Heritage Site.

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