Wednesday, February 29, 2012


We had another great day in Mexico.   Being leap - day we considered leaping on down the road today, but considering how far we had to go, we thought we had best turtle.   Destination - Lake Chapala, with a stop in Tequila for another day of typical touristy stuff.

On the way out of Etzatlan there are hundreds of greenhouse like structures filled with bell peppers.    You can't find a single bell pepper in the area to buy to eat.   They grow them for export only.   These very popular Canadian peppers just don't pack a punch, so the locals aren't into them.     They have to keep them protected from the Mexican sun, even in winter.  

 As you approach Tequila, you see agave growing everywhere.   As you can see in this picture, the agave fields even grow up the sides of hills and in the ditches.    They harvest them at the end of their 7th year, never allowing them to flower,  and the heart (also known as the pineapple) at that time will weigh anywhere from 50 to 100 kilograms.   Apparently every 7 kilograms makes one litre of Tequila.  

We took a tour with the Cofradia Tequila Estate.    You can see their name etched in the mountainside in agave plants.    Interestingly, Tequila is a brand name, named after the town which was an Aztec town originally.   It means cutting stone, named for the obsidian in the area.   They made tools and weapons out of the obsidian.    The name Tequila is only legally used by 5 areas all of which are fairly close to this town.   Other agave liquors are Mezcal and Charanda.   Most people tend to call them all Tequila, kind of like people call acetominophen pain killers aspirin, cola's coke,  and copy machines xerox's.    huh.          

That's a lot of pineapples!!!

 They  cook the agave in a wood fired oven to bring out the sugars.  They have a cooked heart for us to taste.   It is very sweet after it is cooked, but not at all before.   Legend has it that the Aztecs used agave for many things from thread to roofing, but it wasn't until one day lightning hit an agave plant that they started to use it as a sweetener.    Soon afterward of course, they started to ferment and distill it.

They separate the fiber from the juices of the agave by grinding and pressing it. 

 The liquid ferments.   At the end of the fermenting process it is only 10% alcohol.

 They distill it twice.   At the end of distilling it is 80% alcohol, or 120 proof, then they have to add water.

They have their own pottery factory in the back.   They make all their own specialty bottles as well as a line of dishes.    They can put up to 400 pieces in the kiln at a time.   The first kiln bakes for 8 hours, then they hand paint it and place it in the second kiln for an additional 12 hours.

The harvesting process is all done manually, these are the tools of the trade.   The blades are now made of steel, but back in the day they were all made from obsidian.

They are very proud of their Guiness book of world records bottle of Tequila.   It is the largest bottle of alcohol in a blown glass bottle.   I don't know much about blown glass....but I am inclined to be very impressed.    Imagine blowing a bottle that big?  

After distilling, of course comes aging in barrels.   They have mango trees growing in this room, up through the ceiling.   Apparently they help to keep the humidity just so.

    This is Volcan de Tequila.   We've driven around all four sides of her now, but it wasn't until our tour that we learned it was an inactive volcano.    The last time she erupted was 200,000 years ago, the rich volcanic soil making it ideal for growing blue agave.    There are hundreds of varieties of agave, but only the blue agave is used to make Tequila.

On our turtle from Tequila to Roca Azul on the coast of Lake Chapala there were few things of particular interest.   This bird was one of them.   I have no idea what it is...perhaps one of our bird loving friends can fill us in.

Once again Bertha decided to send us astray.   She took us onto this road, which was 12 kilometers (according to Bertha) of these crazy bumpy cobblestone-like tire killing rocks.    After 2 kilometers of crawling along we decided to turn around and find another way.   Bertha kept insisting this was the only way to go, and that it would take us an hour to get to Roca Azul, so we had to be persistent.    It took about 1/2 hour of driving down the highway away from this road before she finally saw it our way and gave us another route.   By then we were still only 1/2 hour away from our destination.  

There were these green house like structures all along the way, the crops looked like raspberries (Gerry the farmer, can identify them from quite a distance), strawberries, sunflowers, and peas.     

Ah....destination Lake Chapala...5 minutes to go.    It's been a long day and this was a sight for sore eyes, backs and butts.     

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Opal Mining in Magdelena

We decided to do the touristy thing today and took a taxi into Magdalena to take a tour into an Opal Mine.    Kevin and Ruth would be appalled with us for paying 120 pesos there and 130 pesos back, being 25 kilometers away....but we felt it was worth it and were willing to bear the humiliation.  lol.   We tried to take a bus first, but we missed it by 10 minutes and they only run every 2 hours.

This wall is built using rocks from the Opal mine.  Potentially it could be worth an enormous amount of money.    To find the opals, every stone is hammered into pieces.   
I joked with the tour guide (the owners son) that perhaps the road to the mine should be paved in opals too.   ha!

This is the entrance to mine.   Our tour was small, being the guide and Gerry and I, so we were treated very well. 


   The quarry must have been 100 feet deep.  We went at siesta time, so no miners were down there when we first arrived.

Down we go. 

They dynamite holes into the walls, knocking huge bolders down.    The bolders are dragged out into the middle and they just start hacking away at them with picks and hammers.

There was a cave blasted into the wall, it was black so I didn't want to go into it.  I just turned on my flash and!    That was about as far inside as I was going. 

There were about 35 miners that work this quarry.   This is one of their mornings findings.   They just left it sitting there as if it wasn't precious stones.   I was quite surprised.    We were each given a pick hammer and told we could keep all the opals we found.    Carefully, so as not to hurt ourselves we set about bashing up a bunch of rocks.   I didn't find anything, Gerry found 2 small pieces with opals.  

The tour guide found close to 20 of them and gave them all to us. Nice!!!! 

When we got back,  Martin picked out two of our opals to polish up.   He and his 3 brothers each took a grinder and passed them around, each grinder being finer and finer.   The last step they used milk to wet the grinder and stone to polish it up beautifully.   

Here are our two beautiful opals.   Martin told us they would be worth about 150 pesos each even though they are very different sizes.    The smaller one is a better quality.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Turtle to Etzatlan

We turtled our way to Etzatlan today.   The countryside was beautiful.   We went from sea level in Sayulita to 4,500 feet here in Etzatlan.    It is a little farming town between Tequila and Magdellan.    We still haven't made it to Tequila, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps another trip.   It is about 45 minutes away from here.

We only have 297 pictures from today.   It is so hard to choose which ones to post. 

Anyone see Closet Encounters of the Third Kind?   Everytime I see a flat topped mountain it brings that movie to mind.
 As we approached this spot we were trying to figure out what that black stuff was?   Are they trees?   Are they rocks?   It turned out to be lava on both sides of the highway for about a mile long strip.   Beautiful.   We stopped to have a closer look.   I picked up a small piece and was amazed at how little it weighs.

Imagine our surprise as a donkey decided to jump out onto the highway in front of us as we pulled off Mex 15 Libre onto Mex 15 Cuato !!!! 

Now that's a lot of sugar cane!   Bertha lost her mind today, and took us 150 kilometers out of our way.   We could have gotten off of Mex 15 at Magdelena and been here within 20 kilometers, but instead she wanted us to stay on Mex 15 until she was good and ready to tell us to turn around and go back another 100 kilometers.     This road was treacherous!   The sides just dropped off about 3 feet into the construction area on the sides of the road, and as you can see, the lanes were none to wide.   

A random water slide at the side of the road.   I wonder if this is about as safe as the carnival rides? 

We made it to the campgrounds safe and sound and were greeted by these adorable creatures.    

   Man, they grow their bees big here!

Their trees are none to small either!

 With Myrtle all tucked in   for the night, we decided to go out for dinner.
Much to our surprise and delight, who are here but Sandy and Gord, a couple we have met twice before on our travels this year.    We first met them in Valle de Banderas, then again in Punta Perula.  

With Myrtle all tucked in   for the night, we decided to go out for dinner with Sandy and Gord.         

mmmm...something looks yummy.
 Sandy and Gord have been to Delias Campground in Etzatlan about 5 or 6 times before, and have been here for the last 3 weeks, so we just followed their lead and ended up with an excellent dinner.   Chicken Cordon Blu a la Mexico, and Chile Rellenos.  
 The Restaurant was interesting.   It had all kinds of stuff hanging on the walls, including this wooden saddle.
 While we were eating, we could see a cow walking around in their back yard.   I think the owner must have heard us talking about it, and saw us admiring the wooden saddle, because he invited us all out back to see his little urban farm.    They had chickens, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, horses...and probably more.    He brought out this side saddle and saddled up one of his horses.    
 Neither Sandy nor I wanted to subject this little horse to having us sitting on her back, so we talked our waitress into riding her.     
How can you not love this kind of hospitality?   

It's been a very long day, I hope you enjoyed it, because we sure did.    It's nice to be tucked into Myrtle, ready to watch a little television and hit the sack.    I wonder what tomorrow will bring?