Back Roads of Nayarit: A Trip to Tequila

Encouraged by the rising price of Tequila, and because I haven’t been there for a few years, my traveling partner and I decided to visit, (you guessed right) the pueblo of Tequila.

This time instead of the jeep we decided to go first class and in air conditioning. I loaded my little Nissan with an ice chest of goodies, a sample of the Tequila I wanted to buy and the usual things for a night on the road. I picked up Vicky at the hospital as she came off duty and we made a pit stop in Tepic (a little out of the way) and then hit the Autopista in the direction of Guadalajara. The road is first class. Lots of emergency call boxes and casas de cobres (toll booths). There are two ways to go by car from our starting point, which is Rincón de Guayabitos. Free road or libre to just the other side of Compostela (toll booth), free road into Tequila or cut over to the toll road.

01 - Ready_for_the_road
Vicky and I are ready to hit the road. Our vehicle is our 2002 Nissan Platina, made in Mexico. Photo taken in front of our Bed and Breakfast in Rincón de Guayabitos, Mexico. We have aboard a thermos of fresh roasted Mexican Arabica coffee and a thermos (of Bob’s favorite tequila?).

(above photo) In the patio of the Sauza plant. No photos were permitted in the plant itself. We took a guided tour and were shown how tequila was processed. The cost was $35 pesos each. We have taken other tours and there are many distilleries, but each one is unique.

We opted for the toll road, but after considering the cost of about $200 pesos each way, decided we would take the free road back. Anyway, sometime in the afternoon, and after a ride through beautiful green valleys, lava flows and mountains, we arrived in Tequila.

06 - Agave grows in high dry country
We pass by Compostela and start to climb into the high arid mountains were blue agave is found. World demand for Tequila is fast outstripping the supply of blue agave, the fermented, distilled juice of which is used in making true tequila.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

I will not go into many details about Tequila, because so much has been written. Only that the Spanish arrived about 1530 and either convinced or forced the natives to accept their way of life. The word Tequila, according to many, was the Spanish translation for Teo Chin Chan (the name of the present pueblo of Tequila) and a dialect of the Nahuatl language, a rough translation of which is “The place of a strong God.” Most tourist guide books lead one to believe that beyond a visit to the distilleries, the plaza and church, Tequila has little to offer. I read a recent account of Tequila in which the author said “you wouldn’t want to spend the night there.” Bad advice.

Of course Vicky and I like to go to places that don’t necessarily have a Hilton hotel, and for me after calling a foxhole home during a couple of wars, anything with a roof is o.k. But in Tequila, there are three places to stay that I know of, and I have tried them all. We planned on staying one night but enjoyed ourselves so much that we made it two.

19 - Narrow streets and adobe buildings
Narrow streets and adobe buildings. The first Spanish arrived in 1530. The name Tequila was derived from the words Teo Chin Chan, a dialect of the Nahuatl language. Meaning, “The place of the strong god.”

Arriving in town we first found a place to stay. Hotel Abasolo on the street by that name. Crosses the Avenida (which runs directly to the main plaza and church). Turn right a couple of blocks to No. 80. Tel. 374 201-95. Not the Ritz, but rooms are clean. A fan, cable TV, hot water and secure parking. Price $150 pesos! Because we arrived in late afternoon and the time difference of one hour, by the time we cleaned up and had a siesta, most restaurants were closed (and there are many real nice places to eat). So we wandered down to the main plaza and strolled about. A really neat little town with some winding streets and an adventure to see the old places.

17 - The church in Tequila
The church in Tequila is located on the one of the central plazas. This plaza is where the singles meet. There is a plaza across the street for couples.

I have been to so many great little places that I have trouble remembering all of them, but most have one thing in common. The plaza is not only a place for events, but where young folks meet and court. The norm is that they stroll about the plaza. Sometimes the boys or men in one direction and the girls or women in the other. After becoming a couple they walk together. Here we encountered something different. There are two plazas. One on the Avenida, and in which is located the church. The other is just across the street from the church. In the plaza where the church is located, the females would sit in groups, and across the street and in the arcade were the males. In the plaza across from the church, and on many benches or other places to sit were the couples. No singles! Anyway, I thought that was interesting. Somehow they must meet.

14 - DSCF0155
Plaza in Tequila

One thing I forgot to mention. We passed many shops selling both tequila in store-bought type bottles and offering it in unmarked plastic containers. I was previously warned that you had to be careful because the product they were selling was not necessarily what they said it was. You have to be careful of where and what you buy. Fortunately we had a couple of recommendations. Also, it is unclear to me what the Mexican law is on purchasing of Tequila without government seals, etc.

After walking around awhile, we dropped in to a little place that sold tacos. It had one of those barbecue like things with lots of layers of meat that was giving off juices and this wonderful smell. We both gorged and I paid the bill of only 20 pesos. We called it a nite and returned to the hotel.

Our primary mission the next morning was to buy enough quality tequila to provide us and our guests with margaritas for the next year. However, the smells of a passing vendor of tamales overcame us and we bought a couple. Our stomachs, after being primed with a delicious tamale de elote (corn tamale), demanded more. Vicky suggested our favorite place to eat. The native market. You know, it is interesting to note (why do I always say this in my stories?) that I rarely see gringos eating in a native market. Yet here is where the best and REAL Mexican food is served and at prices to fit every budget. We walked beyond the first market stalls and into the very center. Here stood one building by itself. After entering there was a group of large cloth covered tables. Completely surrounding us was stall after stall, all beautifully tiled, and each containing different dishes. There was even a stall with Japanese and Chinese food. All was very clean. We wandered around and decided what we wanted, sat at a table and all was delivered and from different stalls. We ate our fill and paid the bill of only 50 pesos.

15 - A great place to eat  in Tequila
A great place to eat is the central plaza in Tequila. There are pretty tiled stalls all around serving different foods. You can sit down in the center and give the waitress your order from any stall that you see. You can even order Chinese or Japanese food.

At this point we decided we were having such a good time that we would stay another night. Having noticed a hotel on the Avenida, we decided to check it out. A really cute little place on the main street and only a couple of blocks from the plaza. Newly redecorated in very Mexican colors. Two stories, very neat. Cable TV, hot water, ceiling fan and clean. Only minus was street parking but they have a night watchman to keep an eye out. Single bed 180 pesos. Double 250. Worth it. Hotel Posada del Agave. Sixto Gorjon (the main street) #83,  Tel. 374 74 20774.

Now, down to business (almost). We wandered through the next plaza and stopped at a kiosk that was advertising tours to the distilleries. We booked a tour (30 pesos each) for a little later, and continued onward. Walking down a couple of blocks and after a couple of false information leads we arrived at the right numbered house. We knocked three times, said “Joe sent us”, showed our secret pass and were allowed to enter. (do you really believe this). Well the entering part was o.k. There was a sign on the street that said tequila was for sale. We did introduce ourselves as being friends of a friend, who has been a patron for years. We tested various tequilas but my favorite was still the sample that I carried. The price was up somewhat, which was expected and we bought enough to last us (hopefully) for the next year. I also bought a 20 liter oak barrel to give some of it a little more “reposado” for our B&B guests. I returned with the car which, after being loaded up, groaned with the added weight.

After leaving our car and booty in front of the hotel we returned to the plaza in time to board the van, which was loaded with a lively, but older crowd, from Mexico City. Off we went, our goal being the Distilleria Cofradia. Out of town, down a number of unmarked and very marginal roads, we finally drive through a guarded portal and park in the Cofradia lot. The driver, also our guide started us with viewing the blue agave plant, then the ovens, the fermenting vats, the huge distillation containers (it was distilled up to 3 times, depending on the grade), and finally the store where we were allowed to sample, to our hearts content, all of their products. A lot of the crowd overindulged, but keeping to my normal high standards I limited myself to a dozen or so. Fortunately, Vicky was there to keep me in line.

We had a nice night walking around, more shopping and seeing the sights and a light dinner. We left early the next day for our other paradise, Rincón de Guayabitos after another great time on the BACK ROADS OF NAYARIT (& JALISCO TOO).

Note:  The other place to stay is on the free road on the edge of town. I stayed there several years ago. An o.k. motel at that time.

26 - Tequila from Tequila
Tequila from Tequila — We have just purchased 76,5 liters of quality tequila. 100% agave and anejo (aged for one year in an oak cask). It took me a long time to find out this source. Now we have enough to last us for our Bed and Breakfast for the coming season and some for our friends.

by Bob Howell
Originally published August 25, 2002 on La Peñita Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell,” which serves as an introduction to this series.

More Photos Taken Along the Way

02 - Lava flow from Volcan Ceboruco
Lava flow from Volcán Ceboruco — The violent irruption in the late 1800’s killed many people and covered several villages. It is still steaming, waiting for another day.

03 - Helping the poor in La Noriega
After passing through the small coffee village of Mesillas, we come to the settlement of La Noriega. Only three families live there now. It is just off the highway but there is a dangerous pull over at the curve. We leave some rice, beans, sugar and candy for the children.

04 - La Noriega
Not much here in La Noriega. A small creek, real basic homes, a small garden, a few chickens and those struggling to live. The adults, including the older children, work in the coffee, which doesn’t pay much. The nearest school is a long ways away.

05 - Blue Agave
There are a number of different kinds of agave, but Tequila is made from blue agave. It takes 10 to 12 years for the plants to reach optimum growth but the demand is so great that some are harvest as early a six years.

11 - The country is very dry in most areas near Tequila
We passed through mountains and jungle earlier, but the country near Tequila is high and dry.

07 - Restaurant Vera Cruz  08 - The church at Iztlan del Rio
(left) Restaurant Vera Cruz is located on Calle Vera Cruz. A short distance north of the plaza. You can see it from the main street. It is located in an old home and has many photos of the old days, back to the revolution. Meals are good and you will like the prices. (right) The church at Ixtlán del Río was the first church was erected in 1626. The present decor appears to be of 1800’s vintage.

09 - The plaza at Iztlan del Rio
A pretty plaza at Ixtlán del Río. Nearby are government buildings, the church and the main street and highway. It has a couple of acceptable hotels and I have stayed in both. However, if you don’t bring earplugs the constant all night traffic, especially the trucks, will probably keep you awake.

10 - The government building at Iztlan del Rio
The government building at Ixtlán del Río. Located just off the main street, which is the highway also, and next to the plaza.

12 - The church at Magdalena
The church at Magdalena. An old village dating back to the days of the Spanish. The church architecture is neoclassic and dates back to the 1800’s. Magdelena is known for opals and has many mines. Vicky sees an opal shop nearby, which we visited and bought a couple of things.

13 - The central plaza at Magdalena
The central plaza at Magdalena is located just off the main highway, it is a little noisy at times.

20 - The tasting room
The tasting room in part of the old Sauza family mansion. They tried to serve me tequila with fresca but I declined. Then they produced the good stuff. Not as good as the tequila I buy, but quite drinkable. Here in this photo is Vicky and 3 French girls that were touring.

21 - The beautiful gardens in the old Sauza mansion
The beautiful gardens in the old Sauza mansion. After a few “copitas” we walk around the grounds.

22 - An interior patio in the mansion
An interior patio in the mansion. The Sauza family started making Tequila back in the 1800’s.

23 - The Sauza Mansion
The Sauza Mansion is very large. Sauza is one of the leading producers of Tequila. Tequila, by law, can only be made in one small area of Mexico.

24 - The grounds are very large
The grounds are very large. Many trees and flowers make this a paradise in the middle of a desert.

25 - Vicky relaxes
Vicky relaxes after experiencing a copita of tequila. Most folks do not know what good tequila is. Good is at a minimum reposado (aged in an oak cask for 6 months) and 100 percent agave. If it does not say this on the bottle then it is not pure tequila.

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