Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mercados vs. Grocery Stores


I just got back from a bus trip to the Mercalto, the Merposur and the Mayoreo. In an earlier blog, some guy told me a funnel was called a mercalto, or at least that’s what I thought he said, but in fact, he was saying I could find one in Mercalto, it’s one of three major markets. Mercalto is the nicer, newer, cleaner, less crowded market of small vendors selling everything from ice cream to dried fish, clothing to electrical supplies, plastic chairs to tarps. The Merposur is directly across the street and is packed solid with booths. It has more little restaurants that make tacos and tamales, served on hard plastic plates covered with a plastic bag, so all that gets tossed in the trash is the bag. I kind of like that clean way to do things, sure beats huge volumes of Styrofoam going into the landfills. Some of the places serve directly on the plastic plates, then wash them in a big tub, along with the flatware used by customers. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite sanitary, but so far, I’ve never gotten sick eating in one of them.

Mayoreo is a wholesale place, or so you’d be led to believe by the name, but in fact it’s just a grocery store like many in the US. The prices for everything are a tad higher than the mercados. A 4-pack of TP is $13p, where I can buy the same thing in the Mercado for $10p. It doesn’t sound like much but I can easily spend $100p in the grocery, I’m weighted down if I spend that much at one of the markets. The Mayoreo does have wholesale items like 50 kilo bags of white flour, dog food, corn masa, detergent and other things, but they also carry a wide assortment of yoghurt, cheeses, cookies, cleaning supplies and bottled water.

When I got here, Alexandra had left a giant water bottle that I swapped at the tiendita down the street for a full one. I left it as the bottom of the stairs, inside the locked gate and would refill smaller bottles to haul the rest of the way up to the house. That worked out until the giant bottle got light enough to carry up the hill. However, our half full bottle, purchased just a few days ago, disappeared.

Our landlady Maria Elena, Mateo (little guy with the bib)
and John in his new bib from 'WalMart'.
The landlady came yesterday. She brought her daughter who cleaned out the downstairs apartment, and the same handyman who blew water all over when he replaced the faucet. Today when I went down to refill the small bottles, the big one was gone. The trash had been removed and the area was really cleaned up nicely, which leads me to believe the handyman took the bottle. I wasn’t sure why he’d do that until I went down the hill to buy another and found out there’s a $50p deposit on the bottle! So now I’m not sure if someone else in the neighborhood might have climbed over, or taken it when the gate was left open, or just what. Hmmm. The missing water bottle. Hardly the subject of a detective novel.  We’ll simply have to hide it better or bite the bullet and man-handle it up the 61 steps to the house (John counted them!). 

I never thought I’d be so concerned about water, but the stuff coming out of the tap should not be used even to brush teeth. It can be boiled and sterilized. It seems to be good water otherwise, it’s probably from a well. There are a lot of minerals in it that settle out when boiled. I noticed that when I heated some to wash clothes. Brigitte boils tap water all the time, so that’s what I’ll have to do for a while. This is what it means to live in a ‘second’ world country. It’s not third world…..I don’t have to pull my drinking water from a well with a bucket.

The largest market, the San Antonio, is north of the center of town. It’s the one with the stinky meats and fish. I’m sure I’ve not explored all of it and probably won’t. We’ve stopped there a few times when in that part of town, but that’s a very long way to schlep heavy bags of fruit and veggies when I can buy the same much closer. I think my preference so far, and this is my American bias: is Mercalto. It’s simply more spacious with more light, covered with a large arched roof in one section and a big pitched roof in the other, to keep out the rain. Because it’s newer and probably more expensive to rent a booth there, it’s cleaner. The roof leaks in places though. I was there yesterday during a serious thunder and lightning downpour. The din on the roof made normal conversation impossible, and in no time vendors were postioning buckets and covering up their goods with tarps. 

There is another store we’ve not had a chance to explore yet, another WalMart type called Chedraui. It’s a Mexican chain. In Palenque I saw an official looking road sign pointing off to the right: Chedraui 2km. I thought it was a town.

The Night Market setting up around 8:00pm.
 I love to take photos, John loves to shop. He hadn’t known about the night market until just a couple of days ago. We stayed late in town to see the Zapatista movie at Kinoki. Afterwards we wandered down to the plaza and the indigenous market was going full blast in front of the Cathedral. I stumbled across it my first night here. Women set up blankets in some preordained fashion and then spread out their goods. Mostly they sell embroidered and hand-woven clothing, blankets, shawls, stuffed animals, and purses, plus some jewelry and leather goods. In spite of lamp posts shedding some light on the proceedings, it’s quite dark. The women have bright LED lamps they pop on the minute you start to look at their stuff. One girl, maybe 16 or 17 was very insistent that I look at her things. She spoke Tsotsil, Spanish, English, and when a French lady came up, she addressed her too. I was cold and she noticed me holding my arms tightly against my body. She pulled out a wool shawl and almost forced me to buy it. How could I resist someone working so hard, so quick and smart?  
All kinds of woven goods for sale,
including giraffes & zebras.

There are still many things I’ve not done, and probably won’t on this trip. I’d love to do some hiking, or biking. But I need to find people who would do that with me. The guide book is clear about not exploring too deeply into the indigenous areas without a guide.  If I were here longer, I could go with Brigitte to more villages. We are going to another one tomorrow, to photograph a ceramic sculptor.  I would like to visit some of the high lakes and kayak or canoe on them. It’s a beautiful area, and while I’ve done a lot, I’ve barely scratched the surface. John will stay another month or two. We’ve discussed renting a place here since it’s such a good base for exploring Guatemala and central America. It’s a lovely cosmopolitan city.