We were driven next to a pavilion set in the middle of agave fields. It was an incredible desert landscape. Mountains rose in the distance. One is an extinct volcano, it's dome collapsed, a large outcropping of rock jutting up from one side near it's now vanished peak. The particular blue green of the desert succulent fanned out in all directions. We sampled several varieties of tequila, commenting among ourselves about the tastes and differences of the various types. It helped that several members of the tour spoke English. There was a demonstration of the harvesting of the agave showing how the ball is dug up from the ground. Then the leaves and roots are removed by hand with a sharp round spade like tool. Some members of the tour were allowed to try their hand at removing the leaves. We were treated to a small, chewy piece of the ball. It's taste is indistinct. It is perhaps best described as akin to chewing on a piece of softened wood.
Returning to the bus we continued to the town of Tequila, from which the liquor gets it's name. Legend has it that Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, her home town "There is no there there." With the exception of the small, centuries old town square the same might be said of Tequila. There is nothing wrong with people making their life in such a place. I, in my youth, lived in Oakland for 2 years. Across the plaza from one another stand two churches. One, the chapel of the "Hospital de Indios" dates from the late 16th century, although it was remodeled in the 1940's. It's most unique feature are the mosaics of Mexican tile depicting the crucifixion, one of the 1940's renovations. The 18th century main cathedral boasts a lovely blue and white interior. There is a bandstand in an adjacent plaza as well as several other venerable structures in the town's historic center. The area is lovely and charming but small and were it not for the association with the "devil's brew" not particularly noteworthy.Taken on it's visual merits alone it resembles any number of Mexican towns of it's size.
Our last stop on the tour was lunch at an outdoor pavilion restaurant. Although the buffet, by Mexican standards, was a little overpriced, the vista of wind carved mountains and the volcano with it's collapsed cone made it worth the price.
In this area the silhouette of the agave is ubiquitous. It appears on signs and buildings. It is worked into the wrought iron designs of fences. It is, after all, the economic life blood of the region. 90 percent of the world's tequila is produced there.
As we came closer to the city we passed neighborhoods of spacious, well cared for, walled homes and residential highrises. It provided a sharp contrast to the decay and poverty I had seen elsewhere. I imagined we would be dropped off at the same dusty parking lot where we had been picked up that morning. Instead members of the tour were delivered to their individual hotels by the large tour bus. The giant vehicle squeezed through the narrow streets of Guadalajara. I wondered how preposterous it must look from the outside. I was dropped off at the hotel across the small park from mine, Hotel Morales. It was the only name I could conjure up when the tour operators asked where I was staying. The name of my hotel "Hotel Santiago de Compestela" was a mouthful. Throughout the entire trip I had trouble remembering it.