By Lilianne Fuller
Mexico is a land of contrasts. Quiet seaside villages reside next to hedonistic tourist towns and brand new Mercedes share the road with carts pulled by horses and donkeys.
In our quest to see the real Mexico we went off the beaten path to visit a small town called Jala. It’s a vastly different place compared to the frenetically paced city of Puerto Vallarta. In contrast Jala is a small colonial town located high in the Sierra Madres.
Nestled under the shadow of Ceboruco, a dormant volcano, the town is home to the Basilica Cateranense de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, a beautiful Basilica. The Basilica was built in the mid 17th century during the height of Spanish colonial influence.
Eleven years ago Jala also became the home of a stunning new five star spa hotel, the Casona Xali, and it was our destination. The hotel was built in 2005 as a project of Governor Antonio Eshevarria Dominguez to accommodate visitors to Ceboruco and to the Basilica. Small in size with just seventeen suites, it is the ultimate in Spanish luxury. We stayed in the ‘Junior Suite’ which featured a beautifully appointed living room, bath and shower and a very large bedroom. For a one night stay, which included breakfast and a spa bath the cost was just under $150. Canadian dollars.
A new highway is under construction but when we visited getting there was a bit of a trick. Pacifico is one of the main bus lines in Mexico but Jala is not on its regular route. It is a case of you have to go “here” in order to get “there”. We were to pick up the bus in La Peñita that was bound for Guadalajara and stop in a place called Ahuacatlán. This would take approximately 2 hours and from there a taxi could take us the twenty minute drive into Jala.
On the morning of our departure we bought our tickets and waited for the bus to arrive. Minutes before our scheduled departure we were told that ‘there will be no buses today….come back tomorrow’. We told the bus agent that we needed to get to Jala because we had reservations. He shrugged in that very Mexican way that signified mañana, or tomorrow. In limited Spanish I told him that we had to go today and not ‘mañana’. Luckily his English was better than my Spanish and he gave us our new travel directions. We could get directly to Jala via the city of Tepic but because of this a two hour bus-ride turned into a five hour road trip.
But we wanted to go so we caught the next bus to Tepic. From there we connected with the Norte Sonora bus line and purchased tickets. Too late we noticed there was another bus. The Omnibus Mexico line went directly to Jala every 20 minutes via the toll highway. We had truly taken the long way around. But we decided to relax and enjoy the journey.
We drove through rustic towns climbing steadily through the mountains. As we climbed, the tropical flora of the coastal region gave way to plants more suited to the extremely dry soil. Soon as well, pine trees replaced palm trees.
We finally arrived in Jala, and found the staff seated in the lobby waiting for us. We were the hotel’s only guests. After having a refreshment, we set out to explore the town. We found out that because of the hot temperature and high elevation the residents of Jala continue to enjoy the age-old tradition of a mid afternoon siesta. The shops and restaurants were closed so we returned to our hotel to have a siesta of our own. We learned that siesta is indeed a very civilized way to spend an afternoon.
In the evening we visited one of the only restaurants in town, the El Monesterio. Our meal was spectacular. We dined on a virtual feast of large coastal shrimps, dorado, refried beans, rice, and hot spicy salsa and chips.
The next morning we decided to explore more of the town. Almost every street was lined with orange trees with ripening fruit on each tree. Numerous trucks rumbled by laden with limes and oranges enroute to the coast.
In the early afternoon before it got too warm we boarded a bus bound for Ahuacatlán and from there it was on to Tepic. There we caught a Pacifico bus that returned us to La Peñita. It had been a busy two days.
Mañana is a Spanish word to describe many things. It can mean ‘morning’ or ‘tomorrow’ or can even be a philosophy that means ‘sometime later”. I have found that when going off the beaten path it’s a good idea to adopt this mañana attitude. If you decide to visit Jala it’s a good idea to pack your Lonely Planet Phrase book or pocket translator because very little English is spoken here.
If you are planning a visit to Mexico, consider an excursion off the beaten path. You will see firsthand what this multi-faceted country has to offer and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
If you are wondering if there is a Pueblo Magico near you check this map:
Thanks to Jeff and Holly for the images from their visit in February of 2013. Click this link to read their impressions: Jala, Nayarit – Pueblo Magico