August 07, 2006 GMT
Puerto Vallarta

Katie and I ride through Guadalajara's morning rush hour and out the west side of this 3 million strong city before 9 a.m. As the second largest city in México it's a happenin' place but I don't want to stop. The Guadalajara area is the birthplace of the famous Mariachi bands and the Mexican hat dance. West is the town of Tequila. Tours and sampling are possible. With some reluctance, I decide to give the whole thing a miss. I've got to get Katie's hydraulic clutch problem fixed in Puerto Vallarta and soon.

After Guadalajara, branching off to the southwest, a little two lane blacktop meanders through Tala, Ameca and Mascota before descending to the famous coastal resort of Puerto Vallarta.

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On one of the best rides in the last seven months, Katie and I curve along passing fields of sugar cane, maize and the famous blue agave. I must stop and examine these "fields of blue swords".

Archeologists say the agave has been cultivated for at least 9,000 years. ‘Tequila wine’ was first made by the Conquistadors, who distilled a native drink called pulque into a stronger spirit. Today, most of it is made in Jalisco state around the town of Tequila.

There are 136 species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave - agave tequilana weber azul - is the only one allowed for use in tequila production. Basically there are three grades for tequila drinkers to choose from:the young blanco tequilas with their rougher, more distinct agave flavour; the sharper, almost peppery flavour of a reposado; and my fave, the smooth, woody aroma in an añejo.

Pancho Villa's real name, by the way, was Doroteo Arango - commemorated in Los Arango tequila - and his horse was Siete Leguas (Seven Leagues), now another tequila brand.

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As we start the drop down from the Sierra Madre Occidentals, we enter luxuriant rain forest. The dramatic increase in humidity, temperature and frequent rain showers are visual and sensual reminders of why the jillion trees and plants grow so happily here.

Katie and I get to Puerto Vallarta and find the KTM dealer just before the afternoon deluge hits. But it's a race. Like every other latin america town, there are no street signs so I must play 20 questions with a dozen folks to find my destination. Great way to meet nice people and honestly, 99% of the people I meet are very approachable and happy to give directions. I just have to filter how accurate the directions are.

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Located just south of the Tropic of Cancer, Puerto Vallarta is the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands and its sub-tropical climate is often compared to Hawaii's. Temperatures average around 29 C all year long, with rain in summer (my luck, Jun to Sept) make this the second-most visited resort in all of Mexico. Blessed with 40 kilometres of golden beaches within the grand Banderas Bay, the greater area attracts 2.2 million tourists per year. That's the tourist blurb. Being a bit travel weary, I find the town, although attractive, has far too many extranjeros for my liking. Also, like a growing plague, American store chains are everywhere. But compared to the costs of Hawaii, Mexican resorts are a hands-down winner.

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At BGC Motors, I meet Guillermo Mansilla, owner, chief mechanic and delivery boy. Guillermo, who I like instantly, speaks great english having travelled and worked in the USA. He has owned and worked on motorcycles since he was 15. I take the bike apart to fix a problem with the Scott-Oiler. He does a fix on the hydraulic clutch by changing an O-ring and flushing/refilling the system with 10 weight mineral oil. So I can check out the town the next day, I take a nice little hotel two blocks away, down the dirt and mudpuddle street from his shop. Although this section of Puerto Vallarta is poor and not on any tourist maps, it is safe, friendly and tranquilo. My kind of place. Around the corner from Hotel Villa Las Flores is a Mexico restaurante tìpico with open store front, white plastic chairs, four tables with clean, red table cloths and pictures of Christ mounted on walls of peeling blue paint. I have a fine enchalada supper, including cerveza, for 50 pesos (US$4.55).

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My excursion into el centro results in a pleasant meander looking for stickers de bandera de Mexico to put on my Jesse panniers. I like to display the flag of each country I visit to show my support for their hospitality. While I'm at it I buy a couple of relatively expensive Cubano robustos. I want to do a taste test comparison with my inexpensive Nicaraguan cigars. After a week of scientific testing, I'm pleased to report my Nicaraguans are smoother and much better value for the money.

Heading north from Puerto Vallarta along coastal Highway 200 is another pleasant surprise. Lots of curves, vistas of the Pacific, and rain forest arching over the road giving cool shade as we swoop along make today's drive a treat.

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Near Mazatlàn Katie and I turn east. As we again approach the Sierras, afternoon cumulonimbus threatens. We pull in to the tiny town of Concordia, founded in the late 1600's. Clean, tidy, and a good place to spend a day posting blogg chapters with heavy leaden skies overhead. My air conditioned hotel room is bonus time for escaping the tropical temperatures and liquid air.

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Umbrella in hand, I wander around the main plaza, or in Mexico as it is called, el zòcalo. Among other minor discoveries is the wonderful El Granero restaurant. I eat there three times in the day and half I am there.

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Not all delivery to El Granero comes by truck. The cart below is just one of many examples that hand labour is alive and well in latin america, Mexico included. I notice many fields tilled with oxen and horses, highway maintenance a can of paint and a machetè, fruit and vegetables hand picked, car windshields cleaned at stop lights at young men, newspapers delivered/sold by old men. Its a pace of life I've come to appreciate.

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Posted by Murray Castle at August 07, 2006 12:35 AM GMT
 


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