One With Life at Bracken Cave

 [From September 11 to October 2, 2016, Tequila Aficionado Media, sponsored by 34 expressions representing 21 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show dubbed, The Heartland Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and epic–highlights.  *FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Dia de Los Muertos & Heartland Tour had to be vetted as Brand of Promise Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be on the tour.] 

Bat Fascination

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6From watching the campy Batman TV series, or seeing Michael Keaton’s classic Batman movie at least 8 times when it premiered back in 1989, or devouring vintage Dracula movies with Bela Lugosi, I’ve always been captivated by bats.

Despite my fascination with them, I’d only seen bats in captivity at zoos, or in film documentaries.  I’ve never actually seen them in the wild until our visit to Bracken Cave on the first leg of Tequila Aficionado’s 2016 Heartland Tour.

Bracken Cave, Texas

Also known as the Devil’s Sinkhole, it’s a mere 20 miles from San Antonio and houses the largest bat maternity colony in the world.  More than 15 million Mexican free-tail bats call Bracken Cave their summer home.

This enormous vertical cavern is considered to be the largest single-chamber cavern in Texas.  The opening is a shaft approximately 50 feet wide that drops 140 feet into the cavern.  The shaft then balloons to a diameter of over 320 feet and reaches a total depth of over 350 feet.

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Braken Cave:  The Largest Mammal Nursery on Earth

Every square foot of Bracken Cave is jam packed with gestating or nursing female bats (almost 500 per!) that return every March and April after wintering in Mexico, to give birth to their pups.

While it is the nectar feeding bats that service our beloved agaves, specifically One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6the lesser long-nosed bat that the “Batman of Mexico,” Rodrigo Medellin, has so tirelessly championed, along with the Tequila Interchange Project’s “bat friendly” tequila and mezcal certification program, the Mexican free-tail variety also plays an important role in agriculture.

In fact, the estimated 100 million free-tail bats living in Central Texas caves eat approximately 1000 tons of insects and agricultural pests nightly at altitudes of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 feet feeding primarily on the cotton boll-worm moth (a.k.a. corn ear worm moth) that alone costs American farmers up to a billion dollars annually.

Bats Are Dying, Part 2

As we mentioned in the above article written during last year’s Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour, not only is the industrialization of tequila and mezcal tampering with the bats’ migratory behavior, but a new killer, White-nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), is also a threat.

Known as WNS, it is a cold-loving white fungus found on the wings and faces of infected bats.  It causes bats to awaken too often during hibernation and to use up stored fat reserves while flying in winter.  These creatures usually freeze or starve to death.

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First detected in 2006 in a cave in New York, it is still a mystery as to how this disease has spread so quickly (7 bat species, 26 states and 5 Canadian provinces, and counting).  The national park system, however, is doing its part to cut down on the spread of this epidemic.

Later on in our Heartland Tour at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, also a home to bats, hikers were asked to walk onto a soap soaked carpet for several feet after a shortened cave tour.  It is believed that tourists who visit national parks could be inadvertently spreading WNS via footwear.

Bat-nado!

Witnessing the appearance of 4 million bats from a true bat cave is a sight like no other.

The first sign that alerts onlookers are the groups of Peregrine falcons that prey on the Mexican free-tails.  These birds instinctively know when the first nightly pilgrims dare to ascend.

Let’s just say that not every bat makes it out of Bracken Cave alive.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6No flash photography is allowed so as not to upset the bats during their nightly emergence, and once photography is no longer possible, it’s time to just enjoy the phenomenon of the “bat-nado,” the counterclockwise vortex that the bats create when leaving the cave on their quest for food.

We stood wide eyed in quiet reverence as literally millions of bats flew overhead gathering speed and altitude to feed on the moths and insects that attack corn and cotton farms outside the city of San Antonio, and well beyond.

The fluttering of millions of pairs of wings sounded like rain lightly tapping on a tin roof.  The breeze created by their flight cooled the muggy air around us.

Just close your eyes and smile.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

Open your eyes and smile.

By the light of the half moon, the waves of bats disappeared like clouds of smoke over the tree tops of Bracken Cave reserve.

One With Life

Later that evening in the RV park, safely tucked away for the night, we selected One With Life certified organic tequila to toast our first magical experience on OWL_labelsthe Heartland Tour.

On the inside label of every batch of One With Life tequila there is a “tequila fortune cookie” or inspirational message.  Ours read–

“Wherever you go, be fully there.”

And, if you listen closely, you might even hear a bat flutter by.

***

Enjoy these few minutes of the bat emergence from Bracken Cave.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Tequila Aficionado’s Tequila & Mezcal Road Show, Part 3

[From October 14 to October 28, 2015, Tequila Aficionado Media, accompanied by 33 expressions representing 19 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show christened, The Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and hysteric–highlights.] 

TacoGuild

Church, Tacos, and Tequila With Roger Clyne

Phoenix, Arizona

One of the highlights of Tequila Aficionado Media’s breakthrough Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour was lunch with indy rock legend Roger Clyne of Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers.

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After graciously posing for a quick photo outside our Cruise America RV with Lisa’s boys, we anxiously followed Roger and his lovely and elusive wife, Alisa, inside the historic Taco Guild gastropub, a deconsecrated Methodist church where he had recently conducted an exclusive tasting for fans of his Mexican Moonshine Tequila.

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Having spent most of my young life inside churches, my first inclination was to

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speak reverently in whispers.  Like most places of worship, the Taco Guild had its original stained glass windows and acoustically high ceilings that amplified the din of the lunch time crowd.

It didn’t take long before whispering was futile and more tequila and cocktails were needed.

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Next On Deck

After ordering and savoring some delicious taco plates, Alisa and Roger clued us in on what was ahead for Mexican Moonshine tequila.

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Not only were they planning an extensive 2015 fall tour, but they were also gearing up for 2016’s annual Circus Mexicus.  But, there was another surprise–

The exclusive Mexican Moonshine extra añejo in a ceramic, commemorative 20th anniversary collector’s bottle depicting the “Fizzy Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy” album by Roger’s then group, The Refreshments.

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The band financed the effort so successfully via an Indiegogo campaign that the extra funds enabled them to parlay Mexican Moonshine as a featured tequila in twenty locations–including their own branded cantinas– throughout Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

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Tequila Tasting With Roger Clyne

A staunch reposado enthusiast, Roger was making it his personal journey to research extra añejos in order to help him define his preferred flavor profile

2015-10-21 12.39.43for Moonshine’s upcoming XA offering.

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Known for their varied and extensive tequila menu,

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naturally, an impromptu tequila tasting ensued courtesy of the Taco Guild’s gracious bar manager.

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After selecting and sampling a variety of tequilas from other producers with varying production methods,

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including some exclusive ultra añejos from behind the Taco Guild’s sacred bar for over an hour, it was time to say goodbye to Roger and Alisa.

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After supplying the Clynes with a bottle of blanco tequila and an añejo mezcal (for educational purposes, of course!), we hefted our bulging bag of leftovers onto the Cruise America RV.

Playing Catch Up

On the way back to our RV park, we stopped at the local supermarket to stock up on supplies for the what we expected would be the crown jewel of our tour–

The Grand Canyon.

After catching up on our required social media chores, a light dinner was in order along with sips of Mestizo Mezcal to chase away the creeping chill of the Arizona evening.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Tequila Aficionado’s Tequila & Mezcal Road Show, Part 2

[From October 14 to October 28, 2015, Tequila Aficionado Media, accompanied by 33 expressions representing 19 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show christened, The Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and hysteric–highlights.]

Inspired In Albuquerque

With the help of Mezcal Legendario Domingo, Lisa and I brainstormed about our black water tank problem.

We would contact Cruise America RV’s headquarters in Mesa, AZ via their Facebook page, and make an appointment with their service department.  Since we were already fans, this impromptu visit would also serve as more content for Tequila Aficionado and Lisa’s personal blog.

Brilliant!

Get Your Kicks

Get your kicks

Having trekked from Albuquerque to Phoenix a few times before,  both Lisa and myself were aware that portions of Interstate 40 coursed along the Mother Road, historic Route 66.

Mother Road

And having lived in New Mexico for many years, I knew that a stop at Route 66 Casino for more photo ops was a must, especially because Route 66 Tequila had come on the tour, as well.

Route 66 CasinoIt was a memorable pit stop for us.  We made a few new friends and had fun doing it!  Check out this video highlight.Route 66 Casino Arrow

 

 

 

 

By The Time I Get to Phoenix

Once we left New Mexico in the rear view mirror and entered Arizona, the scenery changed and so did our mood.

Looking forward to our lunch date with Roger Clyne of Mexican Moonshine in the next couple of days, we decided to enjoy his latest CD, The Independent, and sing along–with hand puppets.

Don’t judge.  It was a long drive!

After a mid-evening check-in at the Desert Shadows RV park in Phoenix, coupled with a late dinner, a snifter of Route 66 tequila for a nightcap seemed appropriate.  But, not too many.

Our appointment with Cruise America’s service department to address our black water tank problem loomed early the next morning.

Cruise America Headquarters

Things-RVers-Say

An impressive fleet of RVs greeted us at Cruise America’s headquarters in Mesa.  Its size and depth was deceiving with ample showrooms inside.  No matter which department we dealt with, though, the company’s dedication to customer service was first rate.

While the service department examined our damaged RV, we spent time speaking with Vice President, Michael Smalley, on several topics concerning Cruise America’s long history and company philosophy.

You can watch the interview here.

Thank You, Cruise America! 

An hour later, the head of the service department conferred with Mr. Smalley.  Knowing that we were pressed for time, Michael advised that the quickest way to get us back enjoying the road and working on our tour was to switch us to a newer RV rather than to have us wait any longer for repairs on the black water tank.

After unloading clothes and supplies from our old RV and reloading the new one, we waved goodbye to our friends at Cruise America and shuttled back to our RV park in Phoenix.

That afternoon, Lisa was expecting her longtime friends and members of her writer’s group, and she was bound and determined to introduce them to fine sipping tequila from Casa 1921.

 The Butterscotch Martini Girls

Once we were safely back at Desert Shadows with a brand new RV, Lisa regaled her friends with 1921 La Crema.  You can view their official introduction to this tequila gem here, and their rave review here.

As for me, I took the time to sit underneath one of the many fruit trees near our space, lit a cigar, and enjoyed the rolling clouds that signaled a cooling monsoon shower just before sunset.

Arizona Plate

Tomorrow, we’d have some Mexican Moonshine in the forecast, courtesy of Roger Clyne.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Tequila Aficionado’s Tequila & Mezcal Road Show, Part I

[From October 14 to October 28, 2015, Tequila Aficionado Media, accompanied by 33 expressions representing 19 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show christened, The Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and hysteric–highlights.

You can also view a complete video playlist of our adventures on our YouTube channel here…]

On A Dark Desert Highway

Somewhere outside Carlsbad, New Mexico

 

On a dark stretch of highway in southeastern New Mexico, a road weary Lisa Pietsch guided the Cruise America RV that Tequila Aficionado Media had rented for the historic Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour.

Avoiding oncoming eighteen wheelers hauling oil and speeding two-ton diesel  trucks, she counted the minutes until she reached her destination for the night, the Carlsbad KOA campground.

Suddenly, she gasped as a huge piece of truck tire appeared in the high beam headlights ahead of her.

With no way to avoid the giant twisted remnant on the two lane highway without swerving and fishtailing the thirty foot RV, she gritted her teeth, straddled the rubber and hoped for the best.

A resounding ka-thunk ka-thunk let her know that she had successfully survived what could have been a perilous situation.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Lisa discovered what had actually happened.

Uncomplicated Sipping

Feeling like the castaways from Gilligan’s Island, what was supposed to have been a leisurely six hour drive from San Antonio, Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico turned into a 9 hour ordeal that began with early morning packing and stocking the RV.

Once we parked and hooked up the water and electricity at the campground for the night, Lisa announced that all she wanted was something uncomplicated to sip on for a late evening nightcap.

Malinalli blanco fit the bill perfectly.

Black Water

After a sluggish morning, we decided to drive for Carlsbad Caverns in the early afternoon.

Unhooking the RV, Lisa noticed the damage to the black water tank.  The coiled tire we had straddled the night before had poked a sizeable hole.  If any of us needed to use the bathroom while we were on the road, it would spell disaster, especially for those following behind us.

With fingers crossed, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

To The Bat Cave!

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After struggling with our selfie stick trying to capture a family photo outside the park sign, we hustled into the visitor’s area for a mid-afternoon tour of the caverns.

Once inside, we were met with this alarming notice–1016151439a

Bats are dying!

While we weren’t able to manage a tour of the Caverns’ famed bat exhibit that featured the Mexican free tail bats, there was enough important information to post in the above article.

Attack of The 10 Foot Martians 

1016151716 1016151717aOn our way back from Carlsbad Caverns just before nightfall, we were able to do a bit of souvenir shopping and picture taking with carved bears and aliens.

We had no idea that the alien culture was so prominent in Carlsbad, but we were sure that Roswell, our next day’s whistle stop, would have more than enough little green men to spare.

In the meantime, we appropriately eased into the  gray, stormy evening with Tromba tequila.

The Truth Is Out There

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From the moment that Alien Tequila hopped aboard our Tequila & Mezcal Tour, I knew that a stop in Roswell, NM at the UFO Museum was a must.

Walking through this charmingly quirky city with a bottle of Alien Tequila hidden in a bag made these photos even more delightful.

1017151250aAfter more souvenir shopping, it was off to our stop for the next two nights at my old stomping grounds in Albuquerque.

R & R

Having stayed at this particular KOA campground during our first family RV outing earlier in the Spring of 2015, we were familiar with the amenities and felt comfortable enough to enjoy some down time.  The driving had taken its toll on Lisa, so a two-day respite was just what she needed.

JLP Margaritas were the order of the evening.  After catching up on emails and drafting blogs, Senda Real made an appearance, as well.

Finding Photo Ops

When you’re stuck behind a computer from 5 to 8 hours a day like Lisa and I usually are working to make Tequila Aficionado Media even more interesting, compelling and educational for you, finding ways to create more inspirational photo and video opportunities is challenging.

Stepping away from the home office and being on the road really lends itself to “outside-the-box” creativity.  If you remain open to possibilities, even the simplest things can serve to generate epic social media content and articles.

Which is exactly what we needed since we were still faced with the dilemma of the damaged black water tank.

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Bats Are Dying!

1016151502aDuring Tequila Aficionado Media’s historic Dia de los Muertos Tequila Tour, Lisa Pietsch and I paid a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.  Before exploring the awesome depths of the caves and the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, we were also met with this alarming notice.

Even though it’s the Mexican freetail bats that are suffering man’s encroachment onto their turf, all bats are going through a hard time, including the “tequila bat.”

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Vicious Circle

The industrialization of the tequila making process, and to a certain extent some mezcals,  has made the preservation of the agave (blue, espadin, etc.) vital to the longevity of these industries and to the survival of the people who rely upon them for their existence.

It’s no secret that the weber blue agave is susceptible to diseases now that it is not allowed to bloom a quiote or stem for pollination by the lesser long-nosed bats.

By not letting the agave run the length of its lifespan, it is also upsetting the eco-system and natural migratory patterns of bats that rely on the agave for sustenance.

The agave gene pool has been tampered with by the explosive growth of the 1016151541tequila and mezcal industries.

The plant’s natural defenses against diseases and pests are compromised.  This means that pesticides are required to defend the valuable agave crops against diseases and pests.

In turn, the pesticides are hazardous to the health of harvesters, bats, bees and birds alike.  Not to mention the eventual pollution to the soil, ground water and water supplies.

It’s a vicious circle that agave growers can remedy by simply letting a portion of their agave crops grow naturally.

What Can Consumers Do?

Look for certified organic tequilas, mezcals, or sotols for starters.  These must follow certain protocols which prohibit the use of pesticides in order to earn the USDA seal.

1016151438aIn addition, though considered a marketing buzz phrase, look for agave spirits that are produced with agave or sotol that has been “wild harvested.”  Chances are, none of them are using pesticides.

Secondly, seek agave spirits brands that claim to be “bat friendly.”

According to Angelica Menchaca Rodriguez, whose PhD studies are concerning this very subject, look for mezcal made with maguey papalote (agave cupreata) since “…this species cannot reproduce without the intervention of bats and can be found mainly in the state of Guerrero.”

The Tequila Interchange Project is working with Rodrigo Medellin–the Batmanbatfriendly of Mexico–in the pilot stages of a massive Bat Friendly Tequila & Mezcal Recognition Program that will likely include some beloved brands of tequilas and mezcals.

In the meantime, be kind to bats.  Build bat houses for them to roost in as suggested by the Bat World Sanctuary.

The bat you save could be your best sipping buddy.

 

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

Mexican Bats Finally Get Attention

From the Vault June 11, 2002

margarita, vault

Even as swarms of monarch butterflies flutter back to the United States from their winter home in Mexico, another less-loved but equally large migration has winged its way north: tens of millions of Mexican bats.
bat1MEXICO CITY (AP) –U.S. schoolchildren fascinated by the orange-and-black butterflies might not go quite so gaga over a wrinkle-nose little flying rodent like the Mexican free-tail bat, now summering in caves and under bridges in a broad stretch of the Southwest from California to Louisiana.

But the bats’ migration is perhaps just as endangered as the monarchs’ — even though bats more directly benefit human beings by eating thousands of tons of agricultural pests and keeping the desert blooming. They even help make tequila.

The bats’ annual October-April migration — the same schedule as the butterflies’ — contains marvels similar to the monarchs, whose successive generations manage to find their way back year after year.
For example, using just chirps and smells to guide her, a mother bat can quickly locate her baby on a cave ceiling crowded with as many as 20 million other bats, while many humans have trouble finding their kids at the shopping mall.

Bats are already becoming a class project at some schools in Mexico, much as monarch breed-and-release programs are in the United States. About 100 million butterflies winter here, and about the same number of bats.

So why the difference in treatment? Both suffer. The monarch is an indirect victim of deforestation. Loggers are cutting down the fir trees it prefers.

But for decades, Mexico’s bat caves — once some of the world’s largest — have intentionally been burned out, bulldozed, poisoned, filled in or covered up. Farmers sometimes set tires alight, and roll them into caves to smoke out bats.

“The problem is truly and simply one of human perceptions,” said Rodrigo Medellin, a biologist and foremost bat researcher at the Autonomous University of Mexico, referring to the bat’s poor reputation.

One reason is the unfortunate overlap of habitat in Mexico between vampire bats — which don’t migrate to the United States — and the insect-eating, people-shy free-tail bat, which gets blamed for the vampires’ attacks.

“A rancher sees vampire bite marks on his cattle, and he goes after the most visible group of bats around, which is almost always a group of non-vampire bats, like the free-tails,” Medellin said.

Vampires are secretive, and roost in small groups of 50 to 100, while other bats nest in groups as large as several million.

It all adds up to a bad rap for the bats.

Wild_agave_michoacan“When we go into classrooms and ask children what image they have of bats, they almost all say things like, ‘They’re ugly. They suck your blood. They’re the devil’s messengers. They should be killed,”’ said Maria Luisa Franco, an educator who works for the Migratory Mammal Conservation Program.

Using bat games and smiling storybook characters like Marcelo, a nectar-eating bat, and Valentin, a vampire, Franco and her team try to dispel some of the myths and inform children about bats’ useful functions.

Unlike monarch class projects, however, Franco is careful to tell children they shouldn’t enter bat caves or handle bats. And as part of a community outreach program, adults are told how to safely poison vampires.

“It’s a trade off,” said Steve Walker, who, as executive director of Austin, Texas-based Bat Conservation International, helps sponsor the education program and would rather not see any bats killed. “But when you look at the effect (of vampires) on other bat species, it’s worth it.”

Even the tequila industry wants to join the conservation effort, in part to make up for past sins. The link between tequila and bats is found in the endangered long-nosed bat, which is the main pollinator of cactus and agave along its migratory route to the U.S. Southwest.

“Bats are intimately connected to the tequila industry,” said Ramon Gonzalez, director of Mexico’s tequila council. But in the face of the newfound popularity of the drink, farmers of agave are expanding acreage with plants the bats can’t eat.

The long-noses stop at flowering cactuses to eat nectar along their migration, thus spreading pollen from one plant to another, increasing their genetic diversity.

But to catch the distillable sugar that is the heart of tequila, producers have to harvest agaves just before they flower, thus reducing the bats’ food source. Instead of naturally pollinated plants, farmers use farm- or laboratory-produced seedlings, descendants of just a few plants.

Bat advocates are pressing farmers to let just a few agaves flower in each field.

“We want to let the agave flower, but then you lose that plant. It has no commercial value,” Gonzalez said. “We would be quite willing to let some plants flower, but we need to know how many are needed to sustain the bats. We need someone to do a study.”

header-smallAlong the way, the bat advocates have had some successes.

Consider La Boca Cave, in northeast Mexico, a couple of hundred miles south of the U.S. border. It was once home to what may have been the largest colony of warm-blooded animals in the world, an estimated 25 million free-tail bats in the 1960s. The largest current colony, in Bracken cave near San Antonio, holds about 20 million.

By the early 1990s, the population at La Boca had dwindled to only about 100,000, largely due to vandalism. Teen-agers would enter the cave with flashlights, bonfires, or firecrackers, or pelt the bat-crowded ceiling with rocks.

Such disturbances cause waves of young bats to fall to the floor, where the carnivorous beetles that live in such caves reduced them to skeletons in a matter of minutes.

With the help of bat education programs, the La Boca colony started to revive, reaching about 350,000 in 1996 — when Latin America was hit by a wave of reports of a mythical bloodsucking animal, the Chupacabras, literally “the Goat Sucker.”

Chupacabras was variously described by those who had “seen” it as a kangaroo or turkey with claws, an alien or a panther-like beast. Still, although they didn’t fit the description, bats paid the price.

On one occasion, several adults went to La Boca cave to wipe out the evildoers, the supposed Chupacabras. But they were met at the mouth of the cave by a group of youngsters who had done a classroom project on bats.

bat, tequila“The kids stopped them,” said Medellin, the bat researcher. “They told them about the positive aspects of bats, what kind of bats lived there, and they talked them out of killing them.”

It all causes a kind of feeling seldom associated with bats: “It made my heart glow,” Medellin said.

On the Net:

Bat Conservation International 

Learn all about tequila from field to glass and then get paid to share your love of agave spirits with others! Buy Them Both Now!

How to Get Paid to Drink Tequila:

How you can turn your passion into profits and get paid to drink tequila as a blogger, vlogger, podcaster or author

 

Salud!!