Jalisco and Michoacan Highlands

Pastoral Jalisco - a old field of forage in the forground, corn in the midground, and sugar cane in the back (the lighter green). In April all of the Camelina trees were in full bloom (purple flowers on the right).

Before I came to Mexico, my only association with Jalisco was the numerous Mexican restaurants in California and Florida advertising Jalisco-style cuisine. Sure enough, some of the food here is similar to what I have been eating in the US for years, especially the street food. The main difference being that fresh tortillas are always served in Mexico and seldom in the US. My diet in Jalisco typically includes Birria tacos (stewed beef or goat meat) and quesadillas. I have been invited to family meals of chicken vegetable soup with fresh made corn tortillas. I found my favorite mid-day refreshment to be yerba buena limonada (lime-ade).

Nightime scene in Tapalpa, Jalisco. This plaza was empty but the taco stands just to the left of the frame were busy at 11:00PM.

The Colima Volcano, just one of the many volcanos dotting the landscape of the highlands.

The state of Jalisco has many different microclimates, all which yield their own specialty crops. In the north, dry portion of the state I found a large amount of blue agave planted for tequila production. On my way from Sinaloa to Guadalajara, I stopped at the town of Tequila. While there I stopped at the Tequileria Don Kiki, where I learned about the process of making tequila – from the harvest of the “piñas” to the bottling of the blanco, reposado, and añejo.  The blanco was too hot for my throat but the reposado felt much smoother. To drink it straight-up I found Iliked the añejo the best. The reposado is best for margaritas or other mixed drinks because it doesn’t have the oak flavor of the añejo. I have had other distilled agave liquors in other parts of Mexico by the names of mecal and raizilla. In order to be called tequila, the liquor must be made with 100% blue agave grown in Jalisco.

Tequila lies just outside of the metropolis of Guadalajara, which is probably the second largest city in México (the close third is Monterrey). Following World War Two, a large amount of europeans from Holland and other countries re-settled in Guadalajara. The results on the population are quite noticeable. Many Guadalajarans have fair skin and lighter-colored eyes. The population of this city appears to be very educated and the tech industry is booming. Many of the electronics and software companies I have seen in the states have factories and research facilities in this city.

A peach orchard high in the mountains of Jalisco.

From the north shore of Chapala, near Ajijic.

On the weekends the Guadalajarans love to head to the beach. I learned more about the Guadalajarans at the beach than I did during my few days in the city. I found that most of the Guadalajarans I met knew quite a bit of English. I always started the conversation in Spanish but sooner or later many of my new friends would bust out their English. Many times we each ended up speaking in the other’s language and helped correct each other with our mistakes.

From Guadalajara, my work took me around all of the shores of Lake Chapala. Mountain ranges surround the lake on all sides and no river leaves the lake. The more it rains, the more the lake fills up. In times of drought the people build closer and closer to the water. The lake then reclaims it’s real estate when the rains return. Working with Mexicans in California, I had been told many stories of a huge lake in the mountains of central Mexico. The lake was said to be surrounded by fields of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I found the stories to live up to the reality – a beautiful agricultural region where the lake buffers the climate year-round.

From the south east shore of Chapala, in the state of Michoacan.

The Unfinished Cathedral of Zamora, Michoacan.

Working around Chapala, I traveled to Zamora, Michoacan where strawberry processors reap the benefits of each abundant crop. The processors freeze the strawberries, package them whole or diced, and make puree with the inferior grade berries. The companies here distribute their products throughout Mexico and the US.

Lago Camécuaro.

Just outside of Zamora I stopped for a few hours at Lago Camécuaro. This lake’s charm lies in the thousands of cypress trees that seamlessly line its shores. The water comes from artesian springs that bubble up at different locations in the lake. The locals have protected the lake from pollution and private

One of the magestic cypress trees of Camécuaro.

development and the water remains crystal clear. The cypress trees made a lasting impression on me, similar to the effect that the redwoods of NorCal had on me. Under their shade and next to the clear spring water is probably one of the more beautiful places I have found in the world.

Driving around the southern shore of Lake Chapala, I crossed a small mountain range and then down into the Valle de Sayula. At first the Valle looks like only a large salt flat. As I crossed to the west side, the salty bottom-land gave way to green, gentle sloping fields, large greenhouse complexes, and cactus farms. This area appears to raise a large amount of pasture as well as hothouse tomatoes and ornamental crops for the nursery trade. I found the cactus farming fascinating – I believe that the people here cultivate these columnar cactus for “Dragon” Fruit. The magenta colored must be cleaned of all its spines prior to eating and has a very distinct flavor. The locals told me the fruits would be ripe in late May. Too bad I have moved on many miles from Sayula by the time of this posting.

Cactus farm near Sayula (shot at 60mph).

Valle Sayula shot from the road to Tapalpa.

Valle Sayula agriculture.

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