In January Mike mentioned he was tagging along with Gino to visit mezcal producers in Mexico. That sounded fun and we booked tickets. Come departure, news about the virus was ramping up. I’d been washing my hands quite a bit but not adjusting my life much. I was waiting for one of my companions to back out … but no one did.
Day 1 — Thursday
- Arrived in Puerto de Vallarta. Mike practiced his Spanish in an uber to district Romantico. Lunch and beers while waiting for the California guys. Gino, Nick, and our host Pedro found us and promptly picked out some mezcals to sample.
- Pedro took us to a restaurant. It was squarely what we’d came to Mexico for — a sleepy, open shelter that had no evidence of a kitchen. All kinds of amazing food appeared and we ooh’d and aah’d. The owner lady gave me a to-go wheel of cheese after she saw how much I enjoyed the first wheel of cheese.
- Drove South for a couple hours to El Tuito and got rooms at a dusty hotel. Had beers in the empty little town.
Day 2 — Friday
Today was we tagged along with Pedro as he checked in on his mezcal sources.
- Breakfast in the empty little town. Pedro wanted us to take note of the grumpy waitress.
- Drove 100 mi West toward the coast and in the mountains to Cabo Corrientes. The road was pretty empty. We asked why there were no cars … a cartel funded the paving of the old country gravel road … it was basically their driveway!
- Our first visit was to 88-year old “Japo.” He seemed like a charming abuelo type. He had a broken arm on account of being kicked by a donkey (when visiting one of his girlfriends in a nearby village). His son was making the mezcal while we were there. He had the nicest setup, with 2 stills running. It was explained that Japo takes pride in being patient and precise. His agave plants mature for over 10 years, and ferment for exactly 23 days. He showed us his farm with ocean views, and we sampled his mezcal although he doesn’t drink the stuff anymore.
- The next producer’s name was Vicente. Nice guy with a quiet farmer vibe. He had some mezcal cooking as well. We tasted the “primo” as it was pouring out of the still (the first run of the two distillations). Vicente took us over to his roadside store where there was a lovely setup for lunch featuring all kinds of good food. Notably, a massive bowl of ceviche that I wanted to wolf down … but kept myself in check so as not to be a weirdo.
- Our final stop was more of a check-in. I think this guy was named Rudolfo. He had a lot of personality and wasn’t making any mezcal. Unlike the other guys, he brought out a huge jug of his product and was encouraging us to enjoy it. He had a good attitude.
- We went back to Puerto de Vallarta to stay at an airbnb. We had lots of tacos and attempted to go to a bar. We were wiped out and it became apparent we couldn’t hang til late when the partiers typically come out.
- Mike was convinced he’d lost his jeans for many hours (they were in his suitcase).
Day 3 — Saturday
- Walked to the beach with the intention of really swimming it up. The water wasn’t particularly pleasant looking, so I walked up and down a couple times and finally got in quickly so I wouldn’t have any regrets.
- Drove to Guadalajara.
- Had a few refreshing drinks and delicious food at De La O Cantina (Pedro’s bar).
- Then beers at a dark bar we liked called Pigalle.
- Dinner at Xokol Tortilleria. Gino described one dish as “one of the best things he’s ever eaten.” The secret was the sauces.
- Then to Pare de Sufrir (Pedro’s other bar) for lots of mezcal and observing young people hang out. Everyone erupted when the bartender would grab this broomstick and manually spin the disco ball. The young people sang along if the DJ played a traditional song they all knew.
- Then to Pigalle again.
Day 4 — Sunday
Today the speculation about severity of the virus really stepped up. Us guys were kicking around the idea of leaving early, staying the course, or riding it out. Esha was with her friends in Mexico City having the same conversations. The general conclusion was that it would be a mistake to go back to the US while was everyone was in a panic. Photos of the airport customs lines sealed the deal for me. If I was going to catch covid — it would be waiting in line at the airport. Most of the day was sorting out what to do about new airbnbs and flights.
- Woke up and found some coffee while the rest of the guys stirred awake. Nick and I walked to downtown Guadalajara to see the plazas and Orozco murals. Gino had a cold and was coughing all over the place. He went to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have the virus. Mike slept in.
- The Orozco murals were incredible. I don’t go wild for big ceiling murals, but these were powerful and had real energy. Guadalajara was terrific — felt both modern and historic, wide boulevards, plenty walkable, not especially touristy.
- That night we were treated to a tasting at The Mezonte Tasting Room, yet another establishment of Pedro’s. What you do there is sit and taste many a mezcal.
- Mike, Nick, and I went to this steak place called Res Publica. They served us a raw steak. We sent it back and requested rare instead.
Day 5 — Monday
Hardly slept because I was up all night reading about the virus (18 hrs screen time!) and trying to strategize what to do.
- Nick went back to L.A. as scheduled.
- I did some work calls.
- Gino, Mike and I got some lunch. Gino was coughing all over the place again and freaked the waitress out, so he went home early.
- Settled into our interim airbnb
- Walked to Office Depot to buy hand sanitizer and wipes. We ran into a bar industry guy from Philly that Gino knows. At this point NYC had shut down for 2 days and this guy was pretty certain a majority of establishments were screwed.
Day 6 — Tuesday
Mike and Gino took flights back to Puerto de Vallarta. My route was South to meet Esha and her cousins. My job was giving me a hard time about when and if I was coming back—which was pretty annoying. The world is falling apart, give it a rest. I got to Oaxaca, found the airbnb, washed my clothes in the sink, and got a sandwich.
We stayed in Oaxaca and had lots of nice meals. We visited the ruins at the top of the hill, it was extra spooky since no one was around. We went to the weaving village via a crowded bus. There was a festival going on where everyone in the village was sharing(!) sweet drinks in the plaza. On the last day or so, the streets really emptied out, and things started closing down and we were getting dirty looks…time to go back to NYC. We flew back on what felt like a tense flight … although many people on the plane had not a care in the world; wearing flip flops; cuddling; fumbling with duty free bags. The cab ride home was surreal—10pm on a Saturday night through desolate streets downtown New York City. We unpacked and started lockdown.