GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- This city isn't an early riser on Saturdays,
but by 10 a.m. passengers are gathering in the waiting hall of its
They're about to board the Tequila Express, which is no ordinary
commute. The train is bound for the base of a 9,000-foot extinct
volcano, Volcan Tequila, where the town of Tequila lies.
Most of the town's 20,000 inhabitants busy themselves in the
production of -- yep, that's right, tequila.
This weekly train ride is known locally as "the party train."
Living up to that name, a 10-man mariachi band, its brass horns
emphatic as a train whistle, starts the crowd swaying.
The band is well received by the 75 or so passengers, most of
whom are Mexican. Suddenly the band is on the march, followed by
passengers who fall in line as they head toward the train
Trains began the Guadalajara-Tequila route in 1922. This one
ambles to its destination, stretching out the short journey to an
hour and a half.
The mariachi band drifts from car to car while porters pass
watermelon and paprika-dusted cucumber slices.
It's surprising how quickly the train moves into remote
countryside. The sparse, rugged terrain begins to fill with bursts
of sharp, turquoise-blue spikes.
This punk-rock lord of the landscape is agave, a closer relative
to lilies than to cacti. Of nearly 200 varieties, the king is agave
tequilana weber azul, whose juice is double-distilled into
Warning for clients: Passengers on this journey have the chance
to sample the product all day long, so they may want to pace
The town of Tequila itself -- much of it adobe, with unpaved or
cobblestone roads -- conveys old Mexico with authenticity. Train
riders join others near the town square's gazebo to watch
beautifully costumed dancers.
At the distilleries, visitors can view the custom of mashing the
agave with a huge millstone pulled by a burro.
Tequila is a company town mostly owned by the Cuervo and Sauza
families. The local Sauza museum reveals how intertwined the
history of Mexico is with agave juice. The drink was intermittently
in and out of official favor, depending on when it was regarded as
a threat to Spanish wine.
Activities in Tequila vary by season. During the Day of the Dead
celebrations in early November, guides dress up as ghosts. In early
December, the National Tequila Fair showcases parades, cock fights,
mariachi serenades and rodeos.
Those who hike surrounding ridges will find pines, oaks,
madrones and redwoods (short in this climate and altitude) and 60
species of birds.
While hiking, one must watch out for several pitfalls. The rocks
are often obsidian, the glass formed from leftover lava from the
volcano. There's also the danger of backing into a bloodthirsty
The day culminates with a large cookout on the town's outskirts.
Another mariachi band plays, comedians perform and there's a dance
contest. The crowd dances until the 6 o'clock boarding time.
For many, the trip home is more subdued, though diehards
continue to dance. The train arrives in time for a night out on the
town, for those who want to continue the party.
For more details on this article, see On the Wagon: Tequila Express.