Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
What can I say about Mexico? I know her well. Mexico was the first country, outside of my own of course, that I’d ever traveled to, and it’s the country that I’ve visited the most: easily over 100 times, probably closer to 200. From my first trip to San Felipe as a kid, with my father; to crossing the border every Saturday night, for years, as host of a wild nightclub in Nogales, Sonora; Mexico is the country I have the most memories and stories of, which is one reason I’ve put off this Mexico page for so long: I simply didn’t know where to start.
Well, consider this my start: my recent weekend trip to Guadalajara. Later, I’ll add articles for Nogales, Tijuana, Mexico City, Puerto Peñasco, San Felipe, Guaymas, San Carlos and Hermosillo. Don’t wait up, it may be a while.
I’ve had the ultimate luxury of calling San Diego, California my home for the past nine years. It’s a dream! Along with its beaches, laid back attitude, and the absolute best weather in the entire world, its geographical location is just fantastic. I’m only two hours from Los Angeles, and being a mere thirty minutes from another country (Mexico) is just the coolest thing for a traveler like me. In addition to being able to pop over and enjoy Tijuana whenever I want to, many San Diegans have also discovered the advantages of using the Tijuana International Airport for flights all around Mexico, as a great route to get to South America, and even for trips to Asia (There are direct flights from Tijuana to Beijing and Shanghai!)
What makes the Tijuana Airport even more attractive, is that now, you don’t even have to cross the (regular) border to get to the airport. There is a new, special pedestrian bridge from San Diego that leads directly into the Tijuana Airport. Reserved for ticketed passengers only, the Cross Border Xpress allows you to walk into a building in San Diego, cross an enclosed walkway, and come out of the other side, directly into the Tijuana Airport in Mexico. It’s pretty brilliant, and what a luxury it is, for San Diego residents to have two international airports to choose from!
Fin De Semana
With all of my recent international travel, I’d really put Mexico on the back burner. With this new bridge, and the incredibly low fares offered through airlines like Interjet and Volaris, I made a promise to myself that I’d start enjoying Mexico more. Who knows how much much longer I’ll be in San Diego–I hope for a long time–but better to enjoy the luxuries of living here now, including the awesomely easy and convenient system of traveling throughout Mexico. Tomorrow is never promised.
I jumped online and found a $126 round-trip ticket to Guadalajara aboard Volaris. This price included seat selection and hand baggage, so how could I say no? The hotel was cheap too: $220 for three nights at the aloft. Anyone who says they can’t afford to travel is full of it. Skip a couple nights out at the club and move over those funds for a trip like this. Over the years, I’d heard my friends rave about Guadalajara. I was excited to finally see it myself. Eventually, I’d like to see every state in Mexico.
I had a flawless and quick trip across the CBX bridge that Friday afternoon and was soaring over Mexico by 5PM.
By the time I completed the two and half hour flight, added in the two-hour time difference and the 30-minute cab ride to the hotel, it was close to midnight. I was beat–I’d been working since 7am–and passed out in a matter of minutes. No Friday night fiesta for me.
A few days before my trip, I discovered I could take one of Mexico’s only passenger trains to the nearby town of Tequila (Yes, birthplace of the drink). I immediately jumped online and booked the day-long excursion through the official Jose Cuervo tour website (Be careful of the imitations!)
By 8:15am that Saturday morning, I’d arrived (via Uber) to the starting point of the tour: a big tent on one of Jose Cuervo’s properties in the neighboring town of Zapopan. Good Lord, there were gobs of tourists, but I was determined to enjoy myself. A small breakfast was served while mariachis played happy tunes. By 9AM, about a dozen buses were loaded and we were off. (We’d take a bus to Tequila, then take the train back home at the end). I must say this was one of the most comfortable bus seats I’d ever planted my butt in. It was super soft and reclined pretty far back. I enjoyed the views of the countryside from my giant window. Ironically, I didn’t drink any of the tequila offered on the ride there. Lame, I know, I’m just not a huge tequila drinker, and it was way too early. Solo agua for me.
Our first stop, after about 50 minutes on the road, was the Jose Cuervo agave fields, where we were given a demonstration of how agave plants are harvested for tequila production. After the demo, we had breakfast (tortas) under a tent before getting back onto the road.
Casa de Cuervo
About 20 minutes later, we pulled into the Pueblo Magico town of Tequila, where we would be students of a quick lesson on proper tequila tasting from our guide Rafi, before touring the Jose Cuervo distillery. He taught us about using our taste, touch, sight and smell to tell if you’re drinking good tequila or not.
The Art of Tequila Making
As much as I usually don’t enjoy big, planned, group tours, I really did appreciate all that I learned about what goes into making tequila on this excursion. I not only learned the history of tequila, but also that of the Cuervo family, along with the intricate process that’s undertaken to make the drink, from harvesting the agave, to constructing the barrels, to the aging process and the difference between the varying colors of tequila. But my absolute favorite part was tasting the sugary strips of agave. You’d bite down and the agave slice would just explode in your mouth with sweet juice. Soooo good! I totally wish these were available at Trader Joe’s! After the distillery tour, the group was let loose to explore the town, and I couldn’t wait to break away and wander.
I enjoyed strolling the streets of Tequila, although it was a little too touristy for me. The town was quaint, clean and charming, but the center was packed to the gills with tourists, 90% of them wearing those little “Smokey the Bear” hats; I was beginning to think wearing one of those silly hats was a requirement to visiting the town. I got outta there as quickly as I could, however the outskirts of the center seemed completely dead and closed up, so I had no choice but to head back into the “crowd.” In my quest to find lunch away from the touristy center, I suffered a complete fail, ordering some pretty below-average tacos. Here I was, in the region known for some of the best food in the entire world, and I was eating bad tacos. I was a little deflated, but at least now I was completely relaxed from the full belly and two drinks courtesy of the house. I headed back to the center of town and fell asleep on bench like a boracho.
C’Mon Ride the Train
After a couple of hours exploring Tequila, it was back to meet the group for a goodbye mariachi show at Cuervo headquarters. The music was really good and was the perfect ending to a pleasant day. After the show, we headed to the train station to finally board the Jose Cuervo Express. I’d been looking forward to this all day!
The train ride back to Guadalajara was awesome, with stunning views of pastel colored agave fields as the sun set over the Jalisciense countryside. The train itself was super sexy inside, with wood paneling and Art Deco lighting, although the seats were not nearly as comfortable as the morning bus. It definitely felt a little cramped, as each pair of seats faced each other, albeit I was in the “economy” car. But this turned out to be a good thing, forcing me to socialize with the couple in front of me, who turned out to be really cool people. I even ended up giving in to the tequila offerings, discovering one of my new favorite drinks, the Vampiro! This vampire contained fruit juice, spices, fruit soda, fresh lime juice, tamarindo and of course tequila. It was sooooo good! And all this time, I’d insisted I wasn’t a tequila fan…perhaps I am now!
By the way, if you are a serious drinker, you’ll definitely enjoy the “all you can drink” offerings on the Jose Cuervo bus and train. I’m a super lightweight, so this didn’t mean much to me, but if you are a drinker…man, you are in for quite the ride!
We pulled into the Guadalajara train station around 8PM and I was back at the hotel before nine. It had been a pleasant day but I needed sleep. I would tackle the city mañana.
Livin’ For the City
I was up and at ’em by 8:30 Sunday morning, taking an Uber to Mercado Santa Tere. I arrived just as the shops and stands were opening and enjoyed witnessing the city wake up. I ducked into a coffee shop for a cafecito and one of the most amazing pieces of cake I’d ever put in my mouth!
I spent the next three hours wandering the streets of Guadalajara on foot, through almost empty historic residential neighborhoods that got gradually busier as I neared the center of town. I loved the street art, the many parks and plazas, and all the activity happening around me once I got closer to the center. Guadalajara was hopping this Sunday morning! They’d completely closed off traffic on Avenida Juárez to allow cyclists to enjoy the route. Hula-hoopers on the corner gyrated to the beat of music, as did folks doing Zumba and other miscellaneous activities in every direction. It seemed like the entire city was out to play, spending quality time together while burning calories. Such a cool vibe!
After yesterday’s taco disaster, I would take no chances on lunch, taking the recommendation of a good friend and very seasoned traveler, who firmly suggested I go eat goat tacos at a joint called Birriería Las 9 Esquinas, which translates literally to, “9 Corners Stew Maker!” I soon arrived at a little square that was literally surrounded by nine corners. The tiny space itself was so charming, looking like a set straight out of some fairy tale movie, the one where a neighborhood shopkeeper falls in love with Jennifer Lopez; or something like that. There was a fountain in the middle, benches, trees and the neatest little shops and restaurants in every direction. And I found it amazing that this little adorable placita wasn’t crammed with annoying tourists.
And there, right in front of me, stood what I’d came all this way for: Birrieria Las 9 Esquinas. I’d sit at a tile table near a big opening looking out at the courtyard and enjoy a very delicious plate of tacos de chiva (goat tacos). Even more outstanding was the agua fresca de mandarina (fresh mandarin orange juice). I’ve never tasted orange juice this rich. It infiltrated my soul! The lunch was impeccable and added to my score of Guadalajara. A visit to 9 Corners is a must!
I spent the next couple of hours continuing my casual stroll around the city, stopping to admire old churches and beautiful plazas, eventually making my way down to the city’s biggest and most famous market, Mercado San Juan de Dios. This giant, yet unassuming red brick structure houses hundreds of stands and vendors, lining multiple levels: selling everything from knock-off shoes and handbags, to pigs’ feet and goat heads and everything in between. The market is also home to an enormous food court, lined with dozens of small restaurants with counter seating and very few empty seats. It’s the kind of place you’d see Anthony Bourdain trying weird food that would make most of us squirm just at the sight. The smells were interesting and next time I may even be bold enough to eat with the locals there.
It was getting close to sundown and I’d clocked in nearly 20,000 steps. It was a productive day. I headed back to the hotel to rest my bones before a final dinner across the street at Cervecería Unión. The tacos palomas were a great snack but the vampiro didn’t compare to the one I had on the train. I had a nice sleep and was out the door by 8AM the next morning to catch my 11:10 flight home and was back home in front of the microphone to kick off my radio show at 3PM.
A couple notes on Guadalajara…The entire trip was extremely inexpensive: from the airfare, to the hotel, to the Uber rides, to the food. The tourist stuff like the Jose Cuervo train is a little more expensive, but the rest was an extremely good value. While my hotel was a little far away from the center of town, once I arrived in the middle of town, I was able to walk everywhere.
I hope you’ll check back soon for more Mexico articles. Until then, safe travels!
And Now, the REST of the Insta-Story: