Following our first port of Cabo San Lucas and three days at sea, our second port of call on the Viking world cruise was the famous tourist city Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco, a state which is approximately the size of South Carolina. Tourism is its main “industry.” Susan and I joined a city tour with a local guide who spoke perfect English. We toured the downtown area including the cathedral, followed by a half-hour drive out of the city to tour a tequila factory.
Our guide gave very interesting facts regarding Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco. For instance, the population of Jalisco state is vaccinated against covid at around 89%, a far higher rate than the approximately 66% reported as the average percentage rate in the US. He proudly declared that Puerto Vallarta is Mexico’s prime producer of Mexico’s most famous liquor, tequila. Puerto Vallarta makes a first impression of being a very clean city. There are numerous exquisite sculptures and other public art throughout the downtown area.
Our guide explained that there are no homeless people in Puerto Vallarta. Poor people who move to the city from the countryside in search of jobs are provided temporary shelter until they can secure employment. This results in a very low crime rate. As our bus passed the local prison, our guide told us that It was filled to less than half its capacity. One does not see numerous police patrols or soldiers on the city’s streets. The end result is an urban environment that attracts millions of tourists as well as foreigners who retire to the city due to its secure environment and pleasant climate. The largest group of expat immigrants are Americans. However, Europeans have also discovered Puerto Vallarta. There are direct flights to Puerto Vallarta bringing European tourists from London, Rome, Frankfort, and Helsinki (among other cities).
Tequila Explained and Imbibed
As our bus left the city traveling through an agricultural area to the tequila factory, our guide told us that crops are grown year-round without needing irrigation, due to the frequent rains throughout the year, coming mostly from the Pacific Ocean to the west. This Mexican landscape reminded me of India, because of the many palm trees and tropical vegetation. We passed farmers’ fruit stands by the road containing piles of melons, papayas, coconuts, pineapples, and a variety of fresh vegetables. Our ship took on supplies of fresh Mexican fruits during the time we were on our tour.
The tequila “factory” was a huge tourist attraction. There were perhaps half a dozen busloads of tourists present, including passengers from our ship as well as a large Regent cruise ship docked beside our Viking Star. Our tequila guide showed us yucca cactus plants of different ages, explaining how they are harvested, shredded and crushed, to collect the liquid inside their leaves. Sugar is added to the yucca cactus liquid and it is put into fermentation tanks. At the end of several days of fermentation, the liquid is triple distilled, being heated to different boiling points to separate the three different types of alcohol produced during fermentation. Only one type is used for tequila, whereas the other two types are used for fuel and other purposes which I can’t remember. The dry shredded leftover pulp, which is like straw, is used to make bricks for construction.
The final distilled tequila is stored for different periods of time from months to years to produce different grades of tequila. The tequila that is aged the longest is called “anejo” (“old”) and is the most expensive grade of tequila. During the tasting section of our tour, we were served five different samples: young, medium, old, as well as almond-flavored and chocolate-flavored tequilas. As a bonus tasting, we were offered a type of tequila nicknamed “Mexican moonshine” (named after the illegal whiskey made during the alcohol-prohibition years in the US). This Mexican moonshine was the type made by farmers who didn’t have the sophisticated equipment of the factory. It tasted very strong and alcoholic, perhaps effective in its purpose of intoxication, but certainly not as tasty as the commercial varieties. Our tequila guide told us that the American habit of serving tequila with lime and salt-rimmed glasses was simply a way to pass off bad tequila. Good tequila can be drunk by itself without any added ingredients.
After the tour of the factory, all the tourist visitors were served a full lunch, accompanied by beer and margaritas. We were entertained by four excellent dancers on a raised stage at the center of the tables. Additionally, a Mexican horseman rode around on a beautiful horse that “danced,” that is to say, the horse walked or trotted in a peculiar style that I had not seen before. On the way to the buses, we passed by a building full of local vendors selling diverse handicrafts, jewelry, and of course, tequila. Susan and I didn’t buy anything. I was not accustomed to drinking so much alcohol, even though the tasting was followed by the large lunch. Thus, I went to sleep on the return bus ride and woke up only as the bus reached the ship.
Meanwhile, Back on the Ship
I am writing this blog during four sea days en route to Costa Rica. Sea days are the most relaxing part of the cruise. This morning a historian gave a lecture on the history of the Vikings. There will be another wine tasting in the afternoon. There is a “chess master” on board. I played one game with him, playing quite well until he beat me in the end game. He told me I was the best player he had played on the cruise so far, which I appreciated even though I lost the game. Chess is my favorite “sport.” When I first traveled overland to India in my early twenties, I played chess opponents who didn’t speak English. Chess was our only common language.
Music is the other common language that has blessed by lifelong travels. It has been a welcome means of meeting people and creating new friendships. Unfortunately, the Viking cruise line has a policy of prohibiting passengers like Susan and me from playing publicly. We asked permission and were told that we had to get permission from the Viking entertainment office in London. This policy was enforced when we wanted to provide a musical background for the yoga teacher’s “stretch class.” The teacher was told that we should submit a YouTube video. I searched under “Susan Mazer and Dallas Smith” and discovered that there are 144 audio files of ours on YouTube! There are videos on our Facebook pages. I gave this information to the yoga teacher, and it will be interesting to see if he can obtain permission for us to play for his classes. So currently, we are only able to share our music with select new friends in the privacy of our cabin.