Our morning aboard Bertie is calm: coffee and a quiet breakfast. Little do I realize that my temperate zone brain is about to go on overload. Heidi and I are headed ashore for our first provisioning trip. After we leave Acapulco, we’ll be spending at least one week sailing offshore Mexico, and then two weeks crossing to the Galapagos. There are lots of loose ends to tie up, produce to buy, and other random miscellanea to acquire.
Peter takes us to shore, a quick minute or two in the skiff, over to the public landing. I see three life birds as soon as I step ashore: two kinds of dove and something that looks like a Bananaquit. I snap a photo, then am whisked away by Shopper Heidi. I’ll have to look them up later. I don’t take another photo all day. This is not the day for birding, nor photography.
Heidi and I start walking. We’ll take a cab home after we’ve filled our shopping bags. It’s HOT here, the sun a powerful weapon. Cardboard is stuck on the outsides of car windows to keep the interiors from melting. Most people wear hats and sunglasses. Anything shiny reflects an almost nuclear glare. The sidewalk territories are built out with wood frames, covered with tarps, fabric, and cardboard. From the outside, it looks like a strange linear shanty town, extending down both sides of the street. On the inside, it’s a shady music-filled tunnel, a busy marketplace: toys, plastic, candies, candles, CDs, electronics, phone cases, syringes loaded with refill printer ink, t-shirts, belts, jewelry, fruit, shoes. Women pat corn-and-mushroom hotcakes with their hands and fry them on hot iron cookers. A man sells fruit juices from a cart filled with ice. My mouth waters.
Too many impressions, sights, sounds, smells… I am so hot, glazed with sweat, sunblock, and car exhaust. I follow Heidi, feeling 1) not very useful except as a pack animal and 2) like such a gringa! White as a fish-belly, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and big floppy hat, camera around my neck. I finally put the camera away in my backpack.
Heidi is the goddess of navigation and translation. She’s quite fluent in “shopper’s Spanish” and “cabbie Spanish” and knows her numbers, and thus is fully equipped to negotiate. Anything she doesn’t understand, she can look up in her translator apps on her phone. She knows how much things should cost, and isn’t afraid to insist on being charged less. Then she leaves generous tips. It seems like a good way to do business. Thanks to her skill, we find all the stuff on my list: hiking shoes, a spare camera battery, socks, contact lens solution.
We make our way to the Mercado Municipal: a warren of stalls, narrow passageways, wet uneven pavements. Dogs sleep in the shade. Fabric, incense, religious candles, ten flavors of mole in pottery casks, cones of raw sugar, sacks of beans, lentils, rice, piles of nopales cactus pads, tamarind pods, braids of garlic. Little girls with pigtails, mannequins with nipples and big rounded peachy buttocks, a meat market with pig heads and chicken feet, flies, a man cutting up meat on a tree-stump chopping block. Feral cats gulp down discarded hunks of gristle. Loud music and delicious-smelling food permeate the air. Families sit in a little café with checkered tablecloths, wedged into some tiny interior space of the Mercado, eating lunch together, tortillas and beans and green vegetables. My stomach growls. A man sharpens a large knife on a motor-driven stone wheel, sparks flying everywhere. We buy a giant cabbage, some carrots, peppers, onions, consider a pineapple. By the time we leave the Mercado and re-enter the blazing hot street, I have short-circuited a bit, which feels good. I just let the sensory overload flow through me, and concentrate on walking. Don’t trip over a person or a dog or fall into a hole. Don’t step out in front of a bus.
The bulk of our shopping takes place at the Chedraui, an air-conditioned chain store, a short bus ride away from the Mercado. It seems almost antiseptic compared to the street vending and the Mercado… but much calmer. We fill a cart. I try to convert pesos to dollars, but am not quite up to speed yet. Compared to Alaska, everything is stunningly cheap. I could live here for a long time on very little cash. I’m dazed and confused, but Heidi is on her game. She’s in the zone. This is her gig: shopping, planning, bargaining, packing. She artfully fills our five carrier bags and my backpack with our loot. We catch a cab back to Fiesta Yate Bonanza (the nearest landmark), and get a ride back to Bertie with Vincente Dos. I take a deep breath.
Now, that was interesting.