By Joy Hepp
There’s an old saying that la sangre atrae or “blood calls.”
Generations may pass but, but the call of family will always remain, and that’s how I ended up spending a week’s vacation in Los Altos de Jalisco, a culturally rich farming region two hours northeast of Guadalajara. Even though I am a third-generation Californian, my family maintains contact with my grandmother’s cousins in Jesus Maria, a quaint pueblo where the girls still circle the plaza in their Sunday best.
Even if you don’t have Los Altos blood in your veins, it’s still a wonderful destination for a weekend jaunt. If you visit for the Fiestas Patronales during the last week of January, you might just end up feeling like an honorary native son. During this festive week hundreds of native Jesus Marians and their progeny living outside of the pueblo descend on the cobblestone streets to celebrate “La Sagrada Familia.” They come from as far away as Alaska and Colombia for the holy trinity of fireworks, cockfights and bull riding.
If you don’t come in January, there is still plenty to see any time of year. Although the tourist buses and big spirit moguls like Herradura and Jose Cuervo are miles away this, too, is tequila country. Agaves the color of turquoise pendants, planted in chorizo-colored dirt fields, can be seen deep into the horizon. It’s a great place to clear your head in more ways than one – I was there but an hour when my sinuses cleared and the haze of big city living seemed like a distant memory.
The small tequila fabricas (factories) that dot the landscape aren’t as commercial as those that you might find in popular tourist destinations and therefore many don’t offer organized tours, but this only leads to more exciting discoveries. In this region it is not uncommon to meet someone whose cousin’s friend knows a guy who can show you around. When I was in Jesus Maria I happened to meet a foreman from Oro Azul, the makers of El Olvido tequila, on my way to get a cappuccino (yes, they have cappuccino there) with my cousins. He showed us around the rustic old hacienda and factory the next day and we got to sample tequila blanco straight from the barrel. Don’t be shy, people are extremely friendly and proud of their work here and you might just end up somewhere completely unexpected.
Even with virtual fountains of tequila, you still have to eat. When you’re in Los Altos you must eat pork carnitas. There’s no better place to try this tasty dish than at Carnitas Jaime, located just off the main highway in nearby Arandas. The meat is succulent, served by the kilo and comes with fresh onions, guacamole, salsa and tortillas. This is also an essential stop for sampling tequila. Jaime has a large selection of reposados and añejos from the many local distilleries including Oro Azul.
You might also pick up some pineapple empanadas from Ricky Rincon bakery, around the corner from Jesus Maria’s Plaza de Armas. Bring change for the jukebox because there’s nothing like an afternoon swim while listening to Vincente Fernandez belt out Guadalajara.
Finish out any weekend by spending Sunday evening at the Plaza de Armas. For maximum enjoyment buy a churro from one of the many food stands, find a spot on one of the benches that surround the gazebo, and sit back and enjoy the people strolling by. It’s about as traditional as you can get: the town’s young ladies stroll around the plaza while the Banda de Musica Municipal plays regional music on the gazebo. Young men regale the ladies with flowers confetti and Mexican piropos or compliments. Don’t be surprised if you, too, are won over by the winsome charms of this magical pueblito.
Rojo de Los Altos bus line from Guadalajara’s Camionera Nueva
55 (33) 3679-0405
Ramon Corona No. 188
Arandas, Jalisco $60 US per night
55 (348) 784-6616