Episode 168 – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre May Be Tequila!

January 18, 2022 81°F/27°C

#myvikingstory

The wide sand beaches and opulent resorts here in Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderas (bay of flags) draw thousands and thousands of tourists each year, even during Covid, and really are beautiful – but beaches are not really our thing (except as places to walk along, in slightly cooler weather).

Coming into port while the morning mist still hung in the mountains.

There is a large expat Canadian and American community here, which means that English is widely spoken and understood. Of course, it also means that big chain stores and restaurants have invaded – there’s a Walmart right across the street from our cruise port. Our Shore Excursion Director shared the information that 278 of the 517 people on board took advantage of a 1 hour shopping trip to Walmart today. That was mind-boggling to us, but then we’ve never been here before, and we know that probably most of our fellow passengers have visited multiple times. On a side note, the Walmart “dress code” that was shared during our Port Talk was hilarious!

To be fair, few on board had the dubious “advantage” of coming from somewhere cold, so they don’t have warmer clothes for our revised itinerary. Nonetheless, Ted and I had a bit of fun imagining Karine Hagen narrating a Walmart excursion for a Viking ad. As eloquently imagined in the words of one of our fellow travellers, Robert Rothley, “An epic, unforgettable, culturally immersive experience bringing together the manufacturing wonders of China and the far east with one of the most representative retailing experiences of Southwestern Mexico…. A once in a lifetime, unique complimentary Viking opportunity, specially and exclusively curated for our discerning 2022 World Cruise.”

We’re still operating in a Viking “bubble”, so there are no independent shopping trips or exploration allowed, but lest you think that is just Viking being strict, you should know that each of the countries we’re visiting also impose rules on what we’re allowed to do in return for the privilege of docking. We’re all behaving ourselves so that we can arrive in each port with no Covid cases on board, and be allowed to disembark.

For our tour, we were excited to don hiking shoes and head a short 40 minute drive inland to the Sierra Madre Mountain foothills to eventually reach La Dulce Vista, a countryside hacienda beside a beautiful river canyon. The advantage of this kind of tour is that it takes us out of the tourist mecca into “real” Mexico, where little villages are covered in dust during the dry season; horses are just as regularly used as cars; roadside stands and tiny mercados replace big grocery stores; dogs, chickens and children provide the music; and the natural scenery is breathtaking.

Top: a roadside restaurant.
Second: just off the school bus.
Third: free-range chickens!
Bottom: the village mechanic

Once off the bus, our tour guide Freddy took us on a 45-50 minute hike into the foothills, pointing out interesting trees and plants, and sweeping vistas. Rodrigo, our tour assistant, followed along with his machete – “just in case” of jaguars, wild pigs, or snakes (really just the latter, and maybe a few encroaching plants).

We travelled by open bus (our guide Freddy called it “Mexican air conditioning”) on roads one lane wide, where the roadside tree branches reached right into our vehicle.
Mules and oxen stood still as statues in the heat. This is winter – things will get much hotter (and wetter) beginning in late April.

Climbing up the mountainside on foot was not difficult, but the bus ride back down….. wow! The narrow roadway is cut into the side of the mountains, unpaved, and features lots of hairpin turns as well as a spectacular drop on one side that made me want to lean in the other direction in my seat in order to “help” us stay on the road.

Left: The bullhorn acacia tree has hollow two-pronged spikes that provide homes for ants, particularly fire ants in this part of Jalisco.
Right: Wild cotton trees were in bloom, showing off their bright yellow blossoms. The cotton bolls will follow later in the season.

The reward for surviving our hike and the harrowing mountain drive back to the hacienda, besides the scenery, was a stop at a local hot spring where we refreshed ourselves with margaritas, and then a tequila tasting, and a grilled lunch of beef, chicken, vegetables, rice, tortillas … and more margaritas.

Our Viking “bubble” enjoying an al fresco Mexican lunch.
The hacienda also has a lemon grove, in which the goats seemed to enjoy grazing.

The tequila tasting was really interesting. La Dulce Vista makes their own small-batch organic tequila. It was explained to us that it takes 4-6 years for the blue agave plant to reach the stage where it can be used for tequila, but commercial growers use chemical fertilizers to speed up the growth process for higher yields. Additionally, because the 2-stage distillation process yields only 35 liters of tequila from 100 liters of agave juice, many manufacturers dilute the tequila by adding unflavoured alcohol. Not here! We tasted tequila reposo, the pure unflavoured tequila; tequila blanco, aged 3 months in new wooden casks; and tequila añejo, “aged” tequila, which had been allowed to sit in wooden casks for 3-4 years. The most surprising thing to me about all three was that there was absolutely no “burn” when drinking them – they were perfectly smooth. Our favourite was the añejo, so we bought a bottle to take home to son #2. It should be a treat, since it is not available for sale anywhere except at La Dulce Vista.

“Izzy” educated us about how to drink tequila: swirl it in the glass, inhale it with your hand cupped around your nose to hold the aroma in, then drink it, and after swallowing breathe in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth to fully appreciate the flavour. One of the things he said was that lime and salt are a way to hide the aftertaste of substandard tequilas, and not at all the authentic Mexican way of drinking the “good stuff”.
Bottom left to right: Blanco, Reposo, and Añejo.

We returned to the ship needing a siesta (pre-noon tequila will do that to you!) and the option of a Mexican-themed dinner in the main restaurant (guacamole, Spanish tortilla, and tres leches cake) or Tex-Mex in the World Café. We opted for the latter, mainly for the chance to eat outside under the full moon and the stars. After beef chili burritos, chicken fajitas, blue corn chips with tomatillo salsa, and a couple of Palomas (tequila with grapefruit juice), we got our tres leches cake too!

Tonight’s guest performer was Malaysian sensation Andrew Lee, an illusionist, mentalist, and magician who managed to impress Simon Cowell with his knife-wielding skills on Britain’s Got Talent in 2018. No photo tonight…. he’s just an illusion (groan).

Another wonderful day. Tomorrow is a the first of four leisurely sea days en route to Puntarenas Costa Rica. I’m sure there will be lots of events – both educational and culinary – planned to keep us busy.

9 comments

  1. Happy to be corrected on my Walmart comments! I just saw recently that Viking continued to pay their employees during the pandemic…now that’s very cool.

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  2. I guess I used to be a Walmart snob at one time myself. My sister in law dragged me into one years ago and that’s when I saw how much the chain drug stores were up charging for everyday things! I still don’t like going (to crowded) but I go on occasion. Viking making fun of people who shop there…not cool.

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    • To be fair, with a ship full of 95% Americans who use Facebook and YouTube, the Walmart dress code joke was expected by the audience after all the dress codes listed for the other excursions. Far from being snobby, it generated a “yup, we recognize that!”laugh. (Viking corporate did not script the port talk, not arrange the shopping – both were put together on board at the spur of the moment to recognize the itinerary change). The crew and officers joined in the shopping day – in fact our Cruise Director modelled his new socks at last night’s show!

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  3. It looks like an amazing trip! I’ll bet it was good to see some nature and greenery. I love the Walmart narration, 😂Karine Hagen has a better received English accent than I have ever heard!

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  4. Viking’s specially-curated trip to Walmart…oh my goodness!!! That is hilarious! With your new itinerary, though, I’m sure it was worthwhile for some to go on a shopping excursion. My husband and I are both really enjoying your blog and it’s “psyching us up” for next year! Woohoo! Thanks for sharing!

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