Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tequila & Touring Two Towns

When foreign tourists visit Mazatlan, they often either just experience it for a day as a shore excursion from their cruise ship, or they stay on the north shore of the city along a long row of high-rise hotels, and mainly patronize the Gringo-ized restaurants and stores that surround them.  If these tourists ever wish to venture out into the countryside to see the “real” Mexico, they will take a day tour arranged by their hotel concierge with one of the local tour companies.

Our RV park owner, David, runs the largest of these tour companies, King David Tours, and this week, graciously offered for Hugh and I to tag along on their Tequila Factory Tour after we had such a great time on the Jungle Tour last week.

The Tequila tour used to include a tour of Mazatlan, but as that is often easy for tourists to see on their own, the tour now includes visits to 2 small towns in the rural area northeast of Mazatlan (La Noria and El Quelite).

After catching an early morning panga across the harbor, one of King David’s van drivers meets Hugh and I at the embarcadero to shuttle us over to their office in downtown Mazatlan.  There we meet our tour guide, Christian, who grabs an ice cooler of beverages and escorts us to the tour bus.

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We again are the first ones to board and occupy the prime seats for photo-taking at the head of the bus!

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We follow the morning rush-hour pulmonia traffic up to the hotel zone to pick up about a dozen others from their hotels. 

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Here’s a picture of the massive Riu all-inclusive resort where a couple passengers are staying.  Quite different than our laid-back RV park on humble Stone Island!

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Within about a half-hour, our bus is pulling into the first small town in the country, La Noria.  As with just about ever small town in Mexico, the tallest structure is usually the church, and La Noria’s is up on a hilltop painted white with brown trim.  A Mass is in progress, so we are not able to look inside, but it’s quite charming from the outside.

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La Noria focuses on producing leather goods, from horse saddles and Mardi Gras masks, to simple belts and sandals.  The first shop we visit has a half dozen young men making sandals.  These guys make all of about 10 pesos an hour (75 cents) doing this work!

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Just about every small Mexican town also has a gazebo and town square (often covered) for the town to celebrate fiestas large and small.  La Noria’s town center is well-groomed and colorful.

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Next we visit the Talabarteria (saddle shop) to watch “Artesian Johnny” make bridles, saddles, belts, purses, and knife sheaths.  A simple light bulb illuminates his showroom.

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The town of La Noria is small, yet vividly colored.  Since it’s a weekday, there aren’t many other people around except for a few dogs and senior citizens (the kids are in school and most adults are out working).  I guess La Noria could be considered a “bedroom suburb” of Mazatlan!

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Our next stop is the tour’s highlight-- the tequila plant!  Substitute the fields of blue agave with rows of grapes and Vinata Los Osuna would look right at home alongside many California wine vineyards. 

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The distillery buildings are beautiful placed surrounding 2 massive Huanacaxtle trees that create delightful shadows around the central gathering area.

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This is a small distillery that is only allowed to distribute their product within Mexico and 2 U.S. locations (San Francisco and Chicago).  Like some of the other distilleries in Mexico, they are prohibited from actually calling their product “tequila” as that name is reserved for only the original distilleries in and around Tequila, Jalisco.

Even though nothing is being actively bottled or produced during our visit, our guide Christian walks us through the production process from harvesting the blue agave plants, to cooking the large, heavy agave cores (that look a bit like pineapples) to extract the sugars, to fermenting in large wood barrels, to distilling and bottling.

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Los Osuna has a great 4-minute video that shows much better how their tequila is made.  It’s worth a watch!  This lovely building in front of a long row of bougainvillea is where they actually bottle their products.

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Finally, at the end of our tour (and not even Noon yet!), we head over to the outdoor bar and patio for some hefty samples of Los Osuna.  The first few sips are pretty potent, but soon everyone is feeling just fine and keeping the bartender quite busy!

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After all the booze, we’re now starting to get pretty hungry. So, Christian gathers us all back on the bus to head to our next small town, El Quelite, for a late lunch.

The town sits in a lush farming valley along the banks of the El Quelite river.

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The town wasn’t all that remarkable from other small farming towns in Sinaloa until a physician, Dr. Marcos Osuna (no relation to the tequila farm owners), spearheaded an effort to spruce up the town with long rows of bougainvillea along the road coming into town, vibrantly colored buildings, and a collection of tourist shops and galleries to compliment his large and elaborately decorated restaurant, El Meson de Los Laureanos.  The plan worked, and the town has been drawing Gringo and Mexican tourists by the busload ever since. 

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The restaurant’s décor is quite spectacular with large murals, a family tree of the owner’s family, and even the Ladies Room has a sink faucet made from old trumpets and an overhead light shaded by a sombrero!

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Our tour group eats at a long table and devours the authentic rural Sinaloan cuisine of beef, chicken, lamb, and pork with homemade cheeses.  Only problem—there are zero vegan or even vegetarian options on the menu (and no seafood either)!  A brief consult between Christian and the waitress nets me a couple simple, uninspired cheese quesadillas and some refried beans, but mixed with the salsa and chips already on the table, I’m still able to get a tasty meal put together.

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Hugh owns a horse back in Vancouver and is always ready to give some muzzle love to any equine he meets.  No horses in this town, but we do find a cute little donkey strategically placed at the exit of the restaurant (where tourists like us will surely fork over some loose change to the savvy boy entrepreneur for a photo opp!)

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All in all, it’s been a fun tour, very entertaining tour guide, and quite a pleasant way to spend the day!

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6 comments:

  1. Excellent post! I feel as if I am right there with you. Why am I craving salt all of a sudden??

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  2. Great tour. Definitely some nicer places to visit.

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  3. Great pics! Brings back memories. Visited there 23 years ago and loved it.

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  4. Reminiscent of Tuscany, yet so much closer to home and much more affordable. Love this post and the pictures.

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  5. Looks like a great day!!!! Like all the pics of the buildings

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  6. Really enjoyed the tour ... loved the restaurant story and the trumpet? ha! and sombrero ... very pretty and the cute little boy and burro ... bougainvillea ... Mexicans do love color ~ love it

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