Mexico and Tequila (June 30, 2010)

From Laredo, Texas, we crossed into Mexico (after a brief farewell visit with our friends at US Customs and Border Patrol), where we drove straight to Monterrey (no hanging out in border towns these days...). Monterrey is a very nice city with well designed system of parks, museums, and cultural buildings. There was clearly a significant amount of urban planning that went into Monterrey- most of it in the 1970s judging by the dominance of the concrete monolith in architecture.

(Central Monterrey, with park in the foreground and mountains in the background)

Then we passed through Zacatecas (a nice town with a good colonial core) before spending the night in Guadalajara. Then came the highlight of our time in Mexico: a visit to Tequila country. While we probably should have done more planning, we really just happened to head to the town of Atotonilco el Alto on whim. Atotonilco is the town where aged tequila was invented and is one of two main tequila producing towns in Mexico- the other being the town of Tequila.

After some driving around we were lucky enough to end up at the distillery of 7 Leguas tequila. We ended up at 7 Leguas because it was the easiest to find, but it was a fortuitous choice. Though we hadn’t made a tour appointment, we ended up with a private tour of the distillery with Arturo Valle, the head chemist for the company. The tour consisted of visiting both of 7 Leguas factories, one of which produces tequila the old fashioned way, including using burros to crush the agave plants, and the other of which is a more modern plant.

(The agave plants before being pressed the old fashioned way)

In contrast to our tour at the Maker’s Mark factory (which was a lot of fun), this was not a half hour canned tour with a script and a professional tour guide. At 7 Leguas we got an hour and a half tour from people who’s main job is to make great tequila and whom only give tours on occasion. And we got to see every step of the tequila making process- from tasting the agave plants to sticking our noses in the vat of tequila straight out of the still. It was fantastic!

Aside from the tour itself, which was very informative, we got to have a tasting with Arturo who led us step-by-step through 7 Leguas various kinds of tequila, describing the process, the tastes, and the chemical reactions that create those tastes. Then we got meet the owner of 7 Leguas, Juan Fernando Gonazalez, who gave us some of the brand and family history: the company was started by his father, who was a great Pancho Villa admirer. 7 Leguas, which means 7 leagues in English, was name of Pancho Villa’s favorite horse. After that Juan’s assistant, Berta, hooked us up with some 7 Leguas hats, shirts, and tequila samples. Then we got to sign a tequila barrel to commemorate our visit (much cooler than a guestbook):

In all, we had a fantastic time at 7 Leguas, where we learned a lot about the tequila making process, got the royal treatment from the incredibly nice team at 7 Leguas, and got to enjoy a great tequila (don’t worry we took some bottles to go)! A big thank you to Juan, Arturo, and Berta for a great experience.

Nashville to Texas (via Oklahoma) (June 26, 2010)

We got a slow start from Nashville (due to World Cup soccer) so we decided to stop in Memphis for the night, instead of heading to Little Rock. And a good choice it was, as it is hard to beat a night of minor league baseball, great ribs, and a wander around Beale Street.

In fact, we were even happier with our choice to sleep in Memphis when we stopped in Little Rock for lunch the next day and asked a local what there was to do in town and his response was “you’re pretty much doing it now”. If we had stayed in Little Rock longer, however, we could have watched the World Martial Arts Championships (though it is a little odd to drive into a strange town and see everyone walking down the street dressed in white martial arts outfits).

In front of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock

An evening in Tulsa, where bar trivia was the highlight, checked Oklahoma off the list of US states to visit. On our way to the Texas/Mexico border we passed through some interesting places on our drive through Texas, including the town of West, which was an entirely Czech town (complete with a Czech bakery, a Czech Inn, and a biergarten)- as someone said: the Czechs were told to go west for greater opportunity and they took it literally. And in Manville, Texas, a record 11 water towers were visible from a single point on the highway. Next stop Mexico!

Charleston to Tulsa (June 23, 2010)

After a lovely night at the Red Roof Inn Charleston-Highwayside, it was off to Tennessee via the land of Kentucky. The first stop in Kentucky was lunch in Lexington, a rather nice little town and birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln; interestingly Abraham himself was born just down the road near Hodgenville, KY and also lived New Haven, KY as a child. I always thought as Lincoln being from Illinois- perhaps attributable to the fact that its license plates say as much- but it turns out he was originally from Kenucky- who knew?

(Lincoln's Boyhood Home)

Another highlight in Kentucky was a visit to the heart of bourbon country. The Bardstown area is chock full of distilleries and we visited our friends at Maker’s Mark. We had a lovely tour where we learned about the secrets behind production (the use of red winter wheat rather than rye apparently produces a sweeter, smoother taste than most other bourbons). Thanks to the folks back at corporate headquarters (specifically one Andrew Slater), we got to experience the highlight of the tour: dipping a special “Founder’s” bottle of Maker’s Mark’s into its trademark wax.

And since no trip to Kentucky is complete without at least one reference to the Kentucky Derby, we saw the house that was the inspiration for the song My Old Kentucky Home (the song that is sung before the Derby). Lets just say that the song is better than the house. Then it was back on the road and over the border into the Tennessee, where (thanks to our kind hosts the Greenes) we had a great night at the Honky Tonks on Broadway in Nashville.

On The Road Again (June 21, 2010)

After 6 weeks back in the US, including trips to California, Maine, Connecticut, and Washington, DC for a wedding, a bachelor party, a reunion, a birthday party, respectively, it was nearly time to head the road again and head to Guatemala once and for all. After weeks of completing errands and working on logistics, the most time consuming being the purchase of car, and waiting for our nephew to be born (Devin Spencer Sullivan arrived on Friday, June 18), we had everything set to go. In this case, however, “go” meant different things for each of us. Go for Meg meant buying a plane ticket and getting a ride to LaGuardia airport. Go for Jed meant getting in the car and driving to Guatemala.

As for the need to drive to Guatemala, we knew that we’d need a car there and after doing some car research while we were in Guatemala in early May, we determined that we could get a better deal on a better car in the US. So after much research and looking at used cars in 8 different states, we finally bought a Jeep Liberty, which checked off the boxes of not too big, not too fancy, but dependable and with four-wheel drive.

Jed and Jimmy: The Before Picture

Our last stop, before going to Guatemala was Jed’s brother’s wedding in Charlottesville, VA. Highlights of the weekend included a tasty southern style dinner on Friday night, followed by speeches and songs from family and friends; a beautiful outdoor ceremony in the garden of an historic inn; a great photo booth at the reception which captured many great memories and some less great ones; oh, and it was 95 degrees the entire weekend so there was some good sweating too.

After some last minute car maintenance, Jed and his cousin Jimmy set off south towards Guatemala. The first stop was the “wild and wonderful” (that’s their state slogan) West Virginia. A night in Charleston contained many great sites and adventures; well, actually the only really great site was the capital building (its dome roof is covered in gold).

For that matter, the only real adventure was the Hackensack New Jersey Marching Band RV getting stuck on the protective bollard at that gas station. After making too tight a turn while pulling out of the gas station the band leader managed to smash the back of the RV into the cement post and get the RV situated such that no move backward or forward could free the post from where it was embedded in the back of the RV. After offering our assistance (to no avail), the band leader went with the next option, which was to “load up a van pull of tuba players” and get them over to the gas station to try to push the RV off the cement post. While we don’t know if they ever freed the RV, the tuba players did arrive: