The Mexican state of Jalisco (ha-LEESE-co) has given the world that wonder drink, tequila, and that wonder music, mariachi. Pursuit was recently invited to report on the region by the producers of Casa Herradura (Horseshoe House!) tequila. It was an exhausting and fun few days, made more fun knowing the temperature in Toronto plummeted to minus 12 while we lounged poolside. Three nights were passed in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city. Here are five highly recommended experiences from the trip. It starts with the taco, bless it, that most adaptable food in the world.
For Street Food, Forget Yelp. Trust the ‘Busy’ Rule.
Mexican people don’t trust quiet street-food vendors. Instead, the busier and more mobbed a taco stand is, the better it must be. Do you hate standing in lines? Great, there rarely is one; just a mob. Join in. You’ll be going authentic for the delight of your Instagram and LinkedIn followers, and there’s far less chance of any food going off before you buy it than if you went to the lineless/mobless purveyors next block over.
Our transit van would’ve pulled up in front of a taco wagon but the crowd prevented any movement except reverse. We disembarked and barked our orders for chicken, sausage, beef and whatever else wasn’t nailed down. The teeming mass of humanity spilled past the wagon and into a small store which sold beer (I recommend the refreshing German-style local lager, Victoria) for about 50¢ a pop. I think anyway — it might have been much cheaper. As Malibu Barbie once observed, math is tough when you’re hungry (let’s just assume Barbie is always hungry with a figure like that).
Just know that, probably because of their low overhead, this food is really cheap. Go ahead and eat — and too much here on your first night in town.
The ‘busy rule’ doesn’t apply just to tacos, although the taco is the undisputed champion of street food. In the centre of town, we saw women peddling from a smorgasbord of sugared candies, assorted baked goods and savoury nuts. Speaking of undisputed champions …
Yes, Wrestling is Dumb. So is Eating and Drinking Too Much, But We Just Did That.
We waddled a few blocks over to the Arena Coliseo di Guadalajara, just in time for an evening of lucha libre. Aka professional wrasslin.
The lucha libre experience is what marketers would call ‘interactive’ and ‘immersive’. Mexico is an even more stratified society than Canada or America and the wrestling arena may be the only place the classes co-mingle and share their thoughts about each other with each other. Well, ‘co-mingle’ and ‘share thoughts’ may be overly generous.
The classes are still stratified by ticket price with the richer people on the floor and poorer in the upper decks behind a fence. The groups would sing back and forth, observing how the others’ mothers were prostitutes. A bit like politics. What fun!
As for what went down in the ring? If you don’t know the storylines, well it might feel a bit overwhelming. Thank heaven for the ample beer and tequila-based cocktails. As the evening progressed, the quality of wrasslin increased but so did the number of wrasslers throwing each other around. By the final match, the ring was as crowded as the aforementioned taco wagon.
Just Try Saying Tlaquepaque Without Smiling.
As mentioned above, Guadalara is Mexico’s second-largest city. Indeed, it has sprawled so much that it swallowed other cities. One of these is Tlaquepaque. Pronounced, tell-AH-kay-PAH-kay, this jumble of streets is as fun to visit as it is to say. Sure, the many restaurants and shops are touristy but the food we had was superb, and the quality of handcrafted workmanship in the souvenir shops was high.
Blocked to through traffic, many of the streets are walkable in this artists’ barrio. And you’ll want to walk after all the food, beer and tequila we’ve ingested since deplaning. Read on.
Take a Train to a Centuries-Old Tequila Factory! What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
The Casa Herradura distillery creates its magic potion on an ancient hacienda (Mexico’s answer to early Québecois seigneuries) about 50km into the country from the centre of Guadalajara. The drive on an empty 4-lane highway would be a half-ish hour.
However, you get there by a two-lane country highway that often twists around (albeit lovely) hills and is typically constipated with lumbering trucks, which are often being pulled over and inspected by the extremely armed state police. So, it takes longer by car.
Moreover, if you’re driving to a tequila factory, let’s face it, you may not want to drive back!
We were lucky to have professional drivers. However, on weekends, there’s a train that goes strictly from central Guadalajara to Casa Herradura own terminal, all the while plying riders with foods, tequila-based drinks, and mariachi music!
You can learn more about the tour here and the train here. Right, now we need to defend mariachi’s honour.
Bite Your Tongue! Mariachi’s Awesome!
As mentioned above, Jalisco is the home of tequila and mariachi. How appropriate. Both are nuanced art forms that have unfairly been the butt of countless ignorant jokes.
Okay, so the sombrero and richly embroidered suits aren’t helping. But I defy you to identify the downbeat of most traditional mariachi songs. This is highly sophisticated, rhythmical music, almost as adaptable to other types of music as tacos are to other cuisines. When a decent mariachi band covers other genres, the effect can be breath-taking and beautiful, if occasionally disorienting.
Band sizes vary from solos or duos to entire barrios. The one at Casa Herradura came in around the halfway mark, complete with violinists, trumpeters and several stringed instruments related to the guitar. Their version of My Way, the anthem Frank Sinatra owned, was as good as anybody’s anywhere. Did we mention ‘disorienting’?
Many people are unaware that My Way was written by Paul Anka, Canadian. How bizarre it was to be dozing in the late afternoon shade in a boozy buzz while live Cancon drifted on the 5breeze in Spanish.
Stop and Smell the Desert Flowers.
Jalisco and nearby sections of contiguous states comprise the Tequila Region. The climate is arid in winter, ideal for growing blue agave, the cactus-like plant that is distilled into the wonder drink. On your drive from Guadalajara into the country, you’ll see cultivated fields and fields of agave. They’re lovely. And if you poke a little further off the beaten trail, you’ll find stunning desert flowers, not just those heroic ones springing from cacti, but orchids, creepers and heliconias. The desert is unexpectedly lush. Breathe in and enjoy it. You’re back on a plane to unforgiving winter tomorrow.