travelog 110

On the Road with fellow Agave Enthusiasts

To how much trouble does one go for fellow plant freaks and agave enthusiast? One even revisits well-known agaves for the umpteenth time in ones self-appointed native country - and always experiences some nice surprises along the road. In the following travelog we want to talk about our short roundtrip through Jalisco with our German friends Michael Bechtold and Wolfgang Metorn. We got to know Michael through our mutual love for agaves and had stayed in contact via email for many years. Wolfgang is better known as an echinocereus enthusiast after whom Echinocereus metornii is named. In 2010 the two had visited us with a friend. We remember one funny detail very well: above-mentioned friend collected some aloes in our garden to take home to Germany! Incredible, this guy came all the way to Mexico to collect aloes. In 2012 the same group around Michael and Wolfgang had another roundtrip across Mexico planned and after the rest of the group had returned to Germany, the two arrived at our place for a short tour to the agaves of Jalisco.

We had put together a roundtrip but it was unfortunately impossible to include everything on their wish list. First we went to one of our favorite places near Guadalajara, the Mesa de los Caballos near La Lobera. The area was in the news a lot because of clashes between the military/police and criminal gangs that have settled in the sparsely populated area on the border of Jalisco and Zacatecas. Since we had not read any negative headlines for quite some time we decided to give it a try. Near San Cristobal de la Barranca the Rio Santiago stank as usual of Guadalajara's sewage. The water was brown to black colored and whitecaps danced on the surface. In spite of the heat nobody was thinking of taking a cooling bath in the river. Now there's even a sign along the road pointing out to the naive traveller that taking a swim in the river was on ones own risk. Up on the cliffs Agave guadalajarana had just started to flower and A. rzedowskiana was almost through with flowering. Our two friends were extremely excited to see so many beautiful plants in one place and were taking pictures like crazy, also of the very attractive form of Agave schidigera growing up here along the cliffs. We found some shade for a picnic under an old oak tree. Along the cliff there was always a strong wind blowing which made the extremely hot May temperatures somewhat tolerable. Since our friend's rental car was not very suitable for the back country roads we had to drive the same road back to Guadalajara to get to Tequila where we kept with the style and got rooms at the hotel "Posada Los Agaves". We had dinner at the apparently best restaurant in town with still reasonable prices. Here we got to know one of Wolfgang's quirks. After we had all ordered our food and drinks Wolfgang explained to the waiter that he did not want to have his food served on a plastic plate but on ceramic. Everything worked out great. The food for the three of us was served on melamin plates while they had found a ceramic plate for Wolfgang in the kitchen. For a restaurant with equipales and nice decor, trying to serve higher class Mexican cuisine, it is certainly a shame to serve food on plastic plates. Our waiter was of the same opinion but the plastic plates were a lot easier and would not break in the kitchen, he said. Wolfgang was now eating from one of those beautiful Mexican ceramic plates that most certainly still contained lead but it was all better than plastic.

The next day we went to see two agave species, both of them growing near the town of Tequila northwest of Guadalajara. First we drove to Amatitan and on to El Salvador. From there we continued on the newly paved road deep into Jalisco's hinterland, apparently another "dangerous place" for drug trafficking. We drove to an inconspicuous arroyo to see Agave geminiflora growing between large round boulders along a dry creek bed. One could have walked around for many hours to admire more and more plants, some of them beautifully adorned with white hairs on their leaves, but we had a visit to another agave locality on our agenda. We drove back out to the highway and on to San Martin de las Cañas where, as the name indicates, sugar cane is cultivated next to Agave tequilana. On small dirt roads we drove through endless blue agave fields until reaching the vertical cliffs. Here we had our picnic in the shade of a huge parota, Enterolobium cyclocarpum. We covered our plastic plates with paper towels and that way even Wolfgang was able to enjoy the cheese and fruits we had brought along. Agave chazaroi thrives in the inaccessible, red basalt cliffs. The green stars with their gray corneous margin looked spectacular against the red rock. Leafless Plumeria rubra were adorned with white flowers and Senecio praecox flowered bright yellow. On this day we managed to get to Ixtlán del Rio where we found accommodation in a crummy hotel along the main drag through town. The entire heavy goods traffic thunders through the town's center 24/7 but apparently everybody is used to the noise except us, the only guests at the hotel. On the main square we were instantly identified as gringos and somebody talked to us in impeccable English. That's how we got the tip for a nice restaurant where we were served cold beer and the food came on ceramic plates without us having to ask for it.

We spent most of the next day on dusty dirt roads. From Ahuacatlan we drove over a mountain and then on a shortcut to the bridge over the Rio Ameca. Past San Felipe de Hijar the road went up into the mountains again. Shortly after passing another small village huge trees attracted our attention. They were densely overgrown with orchids, mosses and ferns. Looking a little closer we also discovered an epiphyllum which was later identified as E. chrysocardium by a specialist. As soon as the road went downhill again the fantastically overgrown trees stopped. We curved for ever through the hinterland of Jalisco and past every hill there came the next one. Since we had planned a visit to Agave valenciana that same day we grew a little bit impatient on the back seat of the car and were finally relieved when Michael, who drove somewhat faster and more sporty, took over the wheel. The two didn't want to miss anything and so we made a short and quick detour to see San Sebastian del Oeste which has been named a "Pueblo Magico" last year. Late in the afternoon we reached the turn-off to El Mosco from where on we oriented ourselves with the GPS positions from the Google Earth maps that we had copied from the Internet to get to another locality for Agave valenciana which was also new to us. Soon it turned out that there was a lot of construction going on along that small dirt road to put in huge pipes for a dam further up the river. It was impossible to drive along the road we had seen on Google Earth with the low clearance of the rental car, but a few workers sent us on a detour around most of the construction site. From far away we caught sight of the golden glowing flowers of an Agave valenciana in the leafless forest. We parked immediately and reached the inflorescence in no time. What an imposing sight! Just to see this was worth the entire trip! To walk past the construction site and to the cliffs above the river we had to gesture to a caterpillar driver to stop moving huge rocks and tons of rubble down the hill. Then we reached a little ranch house where we took pictures of more flowering Agave valenciana. The Señora served us some fermented agave juice from a plastic cup, an absolute "no-no" for Wolfgang, even though the woman assured him that the juice was a miracle cure for cancer and almost anything else.

From Mascota we drove on to Mirandillas on the next day to see Agave vazquezgarciae. We had to walk over some fields and cross many barbed wire fences until we reached the steep mountain side where the agaves grew in dry arroyos by the thousands. Michael and Wolfgang squeezed through the many agaves to get up a narrow arroyo, while we enjoyed ourselves further down. Since we still had a long drive in front of us we had to whistle the two back down pretty soon. Shortly after the Mirandillas turn-off we stopped to see Agave maximiliana and our two friends could check another species off the list. From there on the road to Guadalajara is winding in the first part and leads through an interesting landscape. The last stretch is flat and leads mainly through sugar cane fields. The Tequila volcano is always visible in the distance. Of course there are also blue agave fields, after all we're travelling through the home of Tequila. We took the periferico, the bypass, around Guadalajara until we turned off to Colimilla. When we reached the guard house shortly after 4PM we were told that it was only possible to drive down into the canyon until 3PM. With the entire charm that was available to us that hot afternoon we explained to the watchmen that our friends had come all the way from Germany to see this particular agave species. The policemen asked if we had a permit to do so. Not for this area in particular, but for the entire Mexican republic, we replied. Now they wanted to see this permit and we gave them a copy of the first page where, in difficult to understand legal Spanish, it was explained for whom, where and why it was permitted to collect plants. The head of the group was now getting a little more active and radioed to his superior. It was all Chinese to us when the man explained to the other guy that he had four 87 that came from 59 and wanted 108 which was why he needed permission for a 43 which was to be confirmed by a 56. He went on for quite some time with these incomprehensible numbers and we thought we were part of a secret mission. Finally the car of the person responsible for the water supply appeared. He also wanted a copy of our permit. Then, miraculously, the gate opened and we drove through without having to pass the usual inspection of the car for alcoholic beverages and/or firearms. We drove down into the canyon of the Rio Santiago, parked and climbed up to the vertical cliffs on an inconspicuous path to take pictures of Agave arcedianoensis. The species is named for a bridge, the Puente Arcediano, and it seems to be a red flowered form of Agave angustiarum with an extremely prominent and pale leaf midstripe.

By daylight we reached our home where we opened a bottle of champagne in honor of the occasion, Martin's birthday. The feast consisted of Mole Oaxaqueño and Fajitas de Pollo, all served on white ceramic plates. Wolfgang and Michael had already surprised Martin with a book gift in the morning. Wolfgang even got up especially early to find a bakery and buy a cake, although without success. With tequila on the terrace we ended a successful trip leisurely and were already hatching plans for another trip to more remote and inaccessible areas, of course again with the emphasis on agaves.

April 2012

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen