¡Buenas tardes a todos! I want to introduce a new guest blogger, Kristine MacKain, who has some great—and fun—stuff to share with us about life in Mexico. We’re always happy to hear positive things about this country we love so much, and hope it inspires more of you to come visit.
Here’s a little bit about her:
Kristine MacKain, Ph.D. is a former research scientist and speech pathologist, now retired and living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She and her husband, Cedric Johnson, are happiest when they are traveling, seeking adventure, and learning about world cultures and how other people live. Cedric says that each time Kris visits a beautiful and interesting place, she wants to live there. Consequently, he’s learned never to attach himself too firmly to their home base!
And here’s the start of her contribution (it’s a long story, so we’ve decided to blog it up over the next few days, so stay tuned for more adventures—and pics—from Kristine!)
Oaxaca, Mezcal, and the Local Gringo Band
Less than a month ago, my husband, Cedric, and I rolled into Casa Raab, our Oaxaca farm destination just outside Oaxaca City. We drove down from our home in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) on the Arco Norte, a new expressway that avoids Mexico City, passing through the city of Puebla, then dropping south through slate blue mountains into the state of Oaxaca.
We are renting out our SMA home right now, and we were planning on a quiet month in the country, following the suggestions in our guidebook: doing some birding and taking some trips to the coast, touring archeological sites and artisan villages. Venturing into unknown territory, however, we could not have imagined the adventures that awaited us.
The road into the property was dirt, rutted and bumpy. Close to the main house, four gringos crowded together outside behind a tall, narrow rustic bar-height table bent intently over a collection of tall glass bottles as one of them poured clear liquid through a plastic funnel.
“Hey, glad ya made it,” said the guy doing the pouring. “I’m Tony,” (our host and property owner)
“What are you guys doing?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re in the process of bottling some homemade mezcal.”
We followed Tony to the casita with our luggage, and he got right down to business: “Why don’t you two unpack later and join us right now for some mezcal tastings?” We were tired after the 7-hour drive, but we had just read a very interesting article in the New York Times pronouncing mezcal as “the next big thing” and describing it as “complex, gorgeous and endlessly intriguing, distinguished like great wines by a strong sense of place.” The place to which the author was referring, of course, was Oaxaca. How could we refuse?
Mezcal is crafted by hand almost exclusively by small, homegrown distilleries, and Oaxaca has more mezcal distilleries than anywhere else in Mexico. The drink is made from various species of the agave plant, called “maguey” in Spanish. It has a smoky flavor and tastes vaguely like single-malt scotch. We were anxious to try it.
Relaxing at the mezcal bar with Tony and his guests, we learned that the guests were from Washington D.C., and had been to Casa Raab several times, seeking adventure in the machinations of a homegrown mezcal operation. They hoped to become mezcal connoisseurs and introduce several types of mezcal to their friends back in D.C.
We found we could quickly discriminate between mezcals that had been aged for several years and those more recently produced; mezcals also differ in color from clear (recent) to caramel (aged, in oak barrels).
Tony has a band called The Bodega Boys, a revolving group of guys and gals who live part of the year in Oaxaca, and play each week at the mezcal bottling site. Would we like to join them in their next jamming session? Well, we didn’t sing or play an instrument but Tony said that didn’t matter, just show up!
After four samplings of mezcal (we really can’t remember), we were making our way back to our casita when Cedric said: “Now THAT wasn’t in the brochure!”
A week later Cedric had to go back to the states for a few days and Tony asked me to come watch his band. There was no audience but me so they talked me into singing with them! (This was much easier once I’d had a few mezcals). I even played the tambourine. We sang for THREE hours. They asked how long it had been since I’ve sung with a group and I said, “About 45 years….” (I think that was the madrigal group in high school). Two weeks later, the band had Cedric playing the bass.
The most fun aspect of travel, I think, is the unexpected. As I planned this vacation, could I have possibly imagined that Cedric and I would be drinking homemade mezcal, singing and playing the bass with a bunch of guys in a local band??