Guest Sharon Johnson and her husband are cruising again with HAL, this time on Zaandam’s 21-Day Collectors’ Voyage to Mexico and Hawaii. Sharon will chronicle their cruising experience for us on the blog. Enjoy!
Al and I took the tour “Colonial San Sebastian” while in Puerto Vallarta. Our tour was to meet on the pier at 10:00 A.M. Once the ship cleared we made our way to our bus and met our guide, Juan Carlos, and our driver, Miguel. We had about a 100-minute drive into the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains. We drove past small towns out into the countryside passing fields with harvested corn stacked for silage, cows grazing, dust-covered roadside foliage, horses and even burros. – Sharon and Al Johnson
Our first stop was at a family-run tequila factory. It was a small operation that has operated for several generations. They make the tequila from the blue agave which only grows in the Jalisco State of Mexico. The owner of Raicilla Distillery showed the heart of the agave after the leaves are cut off. It looks like a pineapple. The agave is cut up, cooked and mashed. The juice that is removed from the mashed agave is then boiled. The steam is cooled and condensed into first stage tequila. They boil it a second time for a smoother drink. This tequila has no color. After aging in oaken casks, it is called reposada or “rested” tequila and it has an amber color. They gave us a sample of the clear tequila, a coffee-flavored tequila, tequila with orange and tequila with almond. Each shot was better than the last.
Just before arriving at San Sebastian, we made another stop at Hacienda Jalisco. We walked on a long cobblestone driveway, crossing over a stone bridge and through an arch way to reach the hacienda with all the beautiful flowers surrounding it. There were fuchsia, bougainvillea and scarlet poinsettias in bloom that were ten feet tall growing alongside the house. The family that built the hacienda was so rich from mining silver that the owner brought an artist from France to paint their walls. They were one of the first haciendas to have electricity, but they don’t have it today even though they are a bed and breakfast. On our walk to the hacienda we past through groves of bananas, mangos and coffee trees.
Our last stop before lunch was at a coffee plantation where we had a sample of their coffee which was very strong. We saw the coffee trees with the red berries. And they showed us the various stages of drying the coffee berries before they are ready to be ground into coffee.
The route to San Sebastian in the early days took more than three days by donkey. When a paved road was finally laid, the trip took three hours due to the lack of a bridge over a huge gorge. Once the bridge was built five years ago, the trip took about 100 minutes. Our tour was a new tour and wasn’t offered the last time we were in Puerto Vallarta because five years ago there was only the cliff-hanging road that went down into the gorge and then back up the other side. The road into San Sebastian was a narrow cobblestone street which the bus wasn’t allowed to travel on. Therefore, we had to walk on the cobblestones to the plaza in the center of San Sebastian.
The plaza or zocalo is the heart of this Colonial Mexican town. It is where everyone gets together to visit and gossip. In the center of the zocalo is a pretty bandstand. Juan Carlos then gave us the directions to the restaurant where we would have lunch, Los Arrayanes. Our luncheon buffet was fresh fruit, salad, pasta noodles, slices of zucchini, spiced carrots, tortilla chips, two kinds of salsa, rice, beef and chicken meat that could be eaten with a corn tortilla hot off the grill.
After lunch we had the option of going to the museum with the guide or wandering around the town. Juan Carlos pointed out the rectory for the church and the Municipal building which had two jail cells of which only one is used and only on weekends for someone who had too much to drink. There is no crime as everybody knows everybody in this town of 600 people. One of the buildings belonged to a wealthy mine owner who paid for building the church. Juan pointed out holes in the wall near the roof line. He said that the holes were for guns when bandits attacked the town. The church was built like a fortress on the outside and it also had gun holes. When the town was being attacked, everybody would head for the church which was the safest place to be.
The whole town of San Sebastián is very picturesque with its white washed exteriors and red tiled roofs. Unfortunately, it was time to walk back to the bus and head down the mountain to Puerto Vallarta and the Zaandam. We had climbed 4,200 feet into the Sierra Madre Mountains and now had to wind our way back down the mountain roads with hardly any cars to the traffic of Puerto Vallarta. We were so glad that we had a chance to visit San Sebastián which probably looks very similar to when it was originally built at the beginning of the silver boom. Juan Carlos was a very informative guide and we felt safe with Hector at the wheel as we made our way down the windy mountain roads.
We got back to the ship too late to eat in the Main Dining Room so we went up to the Lido Pool to partake of the Mexican barbeque. The Zaandam brought a Mariachi band to play music and a few dancers to dance for us. It was great ending to a lovely day in Puerto Vallarta.
The Zaandam spent the night in Puerto Vallarta. We had no plans for today since “All Aboard” was at 2:30 PM. We took a few photos of Puerto Vallarta as we left. A tour was late getting back to the ship. The Captain waited for them as they were on a HAL tour. As soon as they were aboard, we set sail for Cabo San Lucas. The HALCats (band/orchestra) were at the stern for sail-away. It was a beautiful day. But, soon it was too cold and windy to be out on deck.