As we go up the mountain, a feeling of freedom takes hold of me that I have not experienced in a long time. We are in Jalisco, leaving Vallarta behind and heading to the municipality of San Sebastián del Oeste , a fraction of what it was at the time of the conquest, the Kingdom of Nueva Galicia . The mesophilic forest that surrounds the dirt trail on which we advance becomes more and more abundant and the sound of nature makes the skin crawl.
Marcos Galindo knows the way perfectly and it is he who guides us through the thicket. The biodiversity is amazing: there are prehistoric plants that were due to the immutability of weather conditions, never evolved. And there are species that are not found elsewhere in the world, such as the conifer Pinus vallartensis or the Thalurania ridgwayi hummingbird . But there are also mammals, “From time to time you can see jaguar tracks around here,” he tells us as we stop next to a stream to drink water.
The peasants cultivate the land that offers everything they need to survive. Shortly before reaching our destination, we greet one of them. “El greñas” as he is affectionately nicknamed, has lived in the mountains all his life. Earlier he collected limes from the fruit trees that grow on his land and now he gives them to our host, who will give him some other product in exchange as a barter.
WHERE THE ANGELS LIVE
The first thing that catches my attention when I arrive at the Las Tres Carmelitas hacienda is the decoration: at the entrance, a stone angel welcomes you, and many others are scattered throughout the property, the walls showpieces of Mexican art and nature coexist harmoniously with architecture. In the garden, there is an outdoor swimming pool and a lake. Their archaeological remains were found.
And it is that the area was occupied in pre-Hispanic times by a tlatoanazgo of Chichimecas, a warlike community that earned the nickname of Tecoxines, or ” head cutters ” in Nahuatl. Marcos feels a special connection with the place and with the tribe, which is why he has dedicated several years to researching its history: “ when the Spaniards arrived, they took refuge in the high part of the mountains, but after a few years of guerrilla warfare they were completely exterminated ”, he tells us.
The hacienda was built as a family retreat, but recently the doors have been opened to the public. Its three rooms, which will soon be five, are bathed in light and silence. It has its own microbrewery, as well as a brick oven and a small alembic where artisanal raicilla is made. These drinks are enjoyed in the experimental Cantina, the on-site bar, run by Czech mixologist Martin Kovar.
The backyard is a nine-hectare botanical garden, a protected area that seeks to preserve the ecosystem of the mountains, which has been threatened by deforestation. ” We are guardians of the forest and we can proudly say that no one will be able to destroy it, ” says Marcos. With three different routes and a birdwatching platform, it is ideal for hiking and exploring.
FIELDS OF ENDLESS GREENERY
The sun begins to set and in the Sierra, the clouds descend until they almost touch the ground, while the air is impregnated with a sweet aroma reminiscent of maple leaves. We went to the Maximiliana agave fields, an endemic variety of the region that grows wild and reproduces thanks to the bats that spread its seeds. The distillates produced with this agave present notes of fruits, flowers and smoke.
The Nebulosa Project team has managed to cultivate Maximiliana to produce root and honey in a sustainable way. “The ejidatarios sold it without knowing the importance of the reforestation cycle; we must be careful not to run out of it ”, they explain. After the harvest, the agave pineapples are placed inside the brick oven, once it reaches 1,000 ºC. Cooking lasts 3 to 5 days and the next step is manual grinding. Subsequently, fermentation with wild yeasts is carried out and finally, distillation.
In honor of the endemic Thalurania ridgwayi, the root they produce is called Ninfa because the first person who photographed it was an American who baptized it The Mexican Nymph. The Tecoxines believed that when someone died, their soul turned into one of these purple-chested hummingbirds. They are so hard to find that you can say you’re lucky if you get to see one. So when Marcos made his first batch of raicilla and the bird landed on the oven, he immediately knew what to do.
SAVOR THE FOREST
The cobbled streets of the Magical Town of San Sebastián del Oeste remain as a vestige of the Colony, when the place was one of the main mining centers of the New Spain territories. The buildings, all white and red, with tile roofs and centuries of construction, complement the picturesque landscape. There you will find the Jardín Nebulosa restaurant, where we arrived in time for dinner.
Behind the bar is Martín , who after working for prestigious bars around the world, has decided to settle in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Captivated by the magic of the mountains, he uses the ingredients he gets there to make distillates, syrups and other elements necessary to create delicious cocktails, such as the aperitif based on coffee and raicilla with which he welcomes us.
A 10-course menu awaits us , prepared by chef Alex Gómez, who inherited his passion for the trade from his father, a traditional cook from the region. The raw material it uses comes from its own biodynamic farm , where the flora and fauna that inhabit the depths of the Sierra are reproduced : flavors as unexpected as they are great. While the pairing consists of cocktails, fresh waters and craft beers, such as blonde ale with agave and dark lager with resin and pine bark.
Each dish tells a story inspired by the forest, its people and its history. ” It’s a sensory journey, ” they rightly warn us as we sit down at the table. And we are testing episodes of Gómez’s childhood in the mountains ; of the journeys he has made together with Marcos throughout the municipality, and of the life of the Tecoxines.
The name of each dish anticipates a well thought out justification. “Enlightenment” , for example, is a root vegetable soup, such as sweet potato, taro, and peyote (used by the natives in their rituals) . The “understory and my grandmother’s kitchen” is a Jamaica flower bread with mushrooms , as a reminder of the mushrooms that grew in the chef’s grandmother’s ferments and many others that have been found in the soils of the Sierra. While “Survival” pays tribute to one of the staple foods in the indigenous diet, the tenebrios. These beetles are served in taco, with volcano salt, lemon and watermelon radish.
The first dessert, « Before arriving», is an orange sorbet covered in chocolate, made with citrus fruits grown by “el greñas”. And “In the end everything is dance”, inspires us to enjoy every moment, just like the tecoxines that danced with cuastecomate leaves . In its bowl, we enjoy the pulp of this fruit (aged with raicilla for several months) and served with compote of Jamaica flower and hints of coffee.
“In the mountains we have everything,” Marcos tells us over the table. The warm climate and the exuberance of the landscape prove him right. The town is immersed in the forest, and from here it is easy to understand that the magnificence of the Sierra Madre Occidental needs to be preserved. ” We want young people to be interested in their roots and in nature, to see what we are doing and repeat it in many places.”
The municipality of San Sebastián del Oeste is located in the state of Jalisco. The easiest way to get there is from Puerto Vallarta, 60 km away.
How to get
Aeroméxico ( aeromexico.com ) travels from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta
Do not miss it
On the outskirts of the Magic Town of San Sebastián del Oeste is La Bufa, a hill whose top rises more than 2,400 meters above sea level. From there, you can see the Bay of Banderas in the distance.
San Sebastián del Oeste is located 1406 meters above sea level. San Sebastián del Oeste’s climate is classified as warm and temperate. Precipitation in San Sebastián del Oeste is significant, with rainfall even during the driest month. The Köppen-Geiger climate classification is Cfb. The average temperature in San Sebastián del Oeste is 19.0 ° C. Precipitation here averages 1319 mm.
Source: foodandtravel.mx, visitmexico.com