A Typical Day in Tequila, Mexico

By Clayton Szczech

Life moves slowly in the town of Tequila, but it starts early. By the time the sun creeps up over the haze of nearby Guadalajara, the jimadores are already in the agave fields, sharpening their coas and getting to work taking down the ten to twenty tons a crew will harvest in a shift.

The sun itself seems to rise on the cue of the José Cuervo factory whistle at 7am (it will sound again at 3pm and 11pm). By now, roosters are crowing and I can hear the first of many delivery trucks playing the characteristic music that lets residents know what’s being delivered or sold. “Zeta, Zeta, Zeta Gas” is always the first, but will soon be followed by the garbage truck (Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”), bread delivery, fruit from the gorge, and seafood just in from the Nayarit coast.

Between 8 and 10am, the town starts to bustle as folks drop their kids off at school, grab a quick coffee and pastry, and make their way to the factory, shop, or tour company they work at. Some of the oldest tequilenses have already attended two masses in the 17th-century Parroquía Santiago Apostol church by this hour.

The ambient temperature gradually rises, and at 2pm, almost all business activity in the village ceases as school gets out, shops close up, shades are pulled down and people either eat with their families, take a nap, or simply seek shade for the two hour peak of the day’s heat, which can reach over 100 Farenheit in May. One determined ambulatory vendor trudges through the dry, dusty streets with his cart, crying “¡Nieve!” (ice cream) over and over. But for the most part, village life moves behind closed doors.

The town slowly comes back to life after 4pm, and elderly men in sombreros and boots array themselves along the now shaded benches in the village atrium to gossip, reminisce, and take in the scene. Tourists converge on the bars under the historic arches to enjoy traditional cantaritos (a refreshing cocktail of grapefruit, orange, and lime juice, Squirt, tequila and rock salt served in clay mugs).

As the sun begins to disappear to the coast, it illuminates the imposing Sierra Madre in tones of pink, purple, and orange. The delivery trucks are now hawking tamales and corn on the cob. Taco vendors set up and start grilling in the passageway adjacent to the church, converting it to El Callejón del Hambre (Hunger Alley). They will be there till long after the bars close, a welcome final stop for visitors and locals alike on their way to bed.

Both the plaza and atrium become vibrant around 8pm, with four generations of locals participating in the picturesque social rituals that survive in Mexico’s villages and colonial towns. Toddlers cavort and blow bubbles (provided by the famous “bubble man” and his cart), teens promenade, canoodle, and imbibe beers and micheladas from just-discrete-enough Styrofoam cups, their parents and grandparents sit together, remembering what it was like, and how much has changed in this little factory town. At 9pm sharp, the church bells toll and every local present rises to their feet, faces the parish, and observes 5 seconds of reverent silence. It’s a beautiful custom, and passes so fast that most reveling tourists miss it happening all around them.

By 11pm, public spaces are suddenly empty, with the exception of those merry-making tourists and the hard-working locals who take care of them. By midnight, the streets are empty. After all, sunrise and that factory whistle come early.

Zach Ancell