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Monday, January 31, 2011

1/30 Business as usual in Mexico

One of the things I enjoy most about Mexico is how differently they do business. There is a flavor to it that is much more than a difference in language. It all seems so laid back and relaxed and that attitude permeates life here. They are wonderfuly hard workers at the same time that they are in no hurry at all. Theirs is a life of daily closures for siesta time and the fact that almost nothing is open on Sundays. Most early mornings are starkly quiet and most restaraunts don't start serving dinner until after 7pm. Its "Island Time" to the max and visitors can never forget that manana doesnt really mean tomorrow it just means "not today."

Even in the smalles of towns everyone seems to be in business. All it takes is a small store front and your good to go. For that matter you don't even need a store front. A blanket and a piece of ground is all one needs to lay out their wares. Most of the stores are run by family and offer a limited supply of goods. The local small tienda's selection may be only a half dozen types of fruit, a few heads of lettuce or cabbage and corn and flour tortillas, cold beer and bottled water. But it sometimes seems like there are half a dozen stores on each block. Every store though has a metal rack or two holding snack cakes and cookies in small packs (the mexicans must have a sweet tooth because the rack is almost always front and center.)

Wherever there foot traffic there is a business. No store front? You just need a piece of sidewalk or street. The only requirements for a restaraunt are a couple of plastic tables with chairs, some tortillas and meat of some kind, a bag of ice in an ice chest with a few beers and cokes thrown in, a few limes and a charcoal grill. Walla! Many have no signs and often have no menu at all. We are sometimes confused as to weather a place is serving meals to the public or if it is just a spill over of the family kitchen. It's a regular occurance to see your waiter slip out the door and run to the closest store for that coke light you just ordered. In fact as dinner time rolls around you see the cooks emerging from the tiny local stores with arms full of fresh produce, cheese and meat for the nights offereings. One place we have been to for advertised nights of music has completely run out of food for the evening, twice.

The entrepenuership here is truly amazing. Get a good price on watermellons? Fill your truck bed, pull over and wait. Live near the bus route? During peak times a fellow climbs aboard for one stop and then walks down the asle selling individual servings of chips and pauses to shake the salsa on as you watch. The buses too are a favorite for selling packets of stickers or small packets of sewing needles, or fake tattoos and comic books. They climb on, hand out their wares and then work back through the bus picking up either the unwanted merchandise or the required pesos. I find it baffeling that there is a fellow here in La Cruz who has two trampolines( I wish I knew the whole story behind that,) he sits at the edge of the main square selling jumps on his trampolines. They are decorated and even have lights for the nighttime jumpers. Day after day, night after night he sits in his folding chair in front of a small TV watching soap operas or soccer and waits for someone to want to jump. I personally have never in a month seen anyone so inclined but Bill swears he actualy saw some kids jumping around inside once.

Food is forsale everywhere. Have a hankering for some hot corn on the cob? Most evenings there is a fellow who pushes his wheelbarrow through town selling roasted and spiced ears. One of my favorites to look at is the wooden push cart filled with colorful sweets. There are candied sweet potatoes, gummy worms and dried mango, a rainbow of pastel marshmallows, lemon peanuts, spiced pecans, jewel colored gum drops, hard candies and luscious carmels. In the heat of the day he is always followed along by a buzz of hungry bees.

Anything and everything can be sold out of the back of a truck. If it moves there is always the accompanying loudspeaker calling out their arrival to each new neighborhood. Tonight we saw two men with a pickup filled with mattresses and hand hewn wooden bed frames. They slowely drove the streets of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle loud speaker blaring, patiently looking for anyone who just might decide tonight is the night to buy a new mattress. There are trucks full of giant bottles of water, propane for home delivery, bread and donuts and vegetables and fruits, trucks that sell clothes and trucks that sell housewares. And several times every week in every individual town there are markets. Herein La Cruz we have the Sunday Market(jewelry, art, local handcrafted items and fresh baked empanadas mmmmmmm) Wednesday Market(used clothes, housewares, coconut juice and toys and games for the kids,) Thursday Market(vegetables, sweets, fresh fish and shrimp and artisan breads.)

If whatever you want isnt available it is as likley as not that you will be told manana. "Manana we will have for you." Manana never seems to come but they will smile and asure you again. Or you may need something specific so you go across town to find a certain business. You make a point of not going on a Sunday (most everything is closed on Sunday)and surely not on a monday and definitely not during siesta time. You find the business but the big rolling door is closed. No note, no listing of hours of operation, no idea. It is almost impossible to tell by looking at the writing above a rolled up door if the business is even in business. But don't let looks fool you. Just because it looks abandoned doesnt mean a thing. Its just not open right now.

Away from the small towns the stores usually have lots of security people around in full uniform. The more epeletts and flapped pockets the better the security force it would seem. In one mall we entered it lookrd like there were more security personal than there where customers. Near banks, cash machines and silver stores they security looks more secure as they cradle their machine guns. Loaded I presume. At the Wallmart or the Mega(the big box grocery store) they are militant about not allowing you to take in any bags or packages and so employ people to stand at the entrance to spot the bag holders. So you stop at a desk at the entrance and exchange your bags and packages for a numbered ticket. At one marine store we were the only customers in the store and the only gringos around. We left our bags in exchange for a handmade paper ticket that said "7." When we finished shopping we returned and fumbled for our number. Ours were the only two bags in their rows of cubbies. The two people at the cashiers desk, the salesman and a uniformed guard all watched as we fumbled through pockets. No 7, no back packs.

Then there is the guy in every town who asks you if you want to go fishing or sightseeing. He sometimes is behind a desk or at a stand but often is just walking the streets offering first rate services in helping you find the worlds best fishing, whalewatching or zipline trips. He is just as likley to be at his corner at 10:00am on as he is to approach you at midnight in the square on a Saturday night while he's hanging with his buddies drinking cervesas. He is always hopefull that you will finally change your mind. Or maybe all the gringos look alike? We have though finaly learned the trick to stopping the timeshare sales crews from going into their long spiels. You simply tell them "vivo aqui." Which means "I live here." It goes to reason that if you already live here you have no use for a time share so, walla you are left alone. One persistent fellow in Mazatlan kept approaching us night after night. He was good natured and often showed his sense of humor. One night we were walked along in the hotel zone and after once again turning down the chance at an amazing one time offer he perked up and grinned then asked Bill who now sports a ponytail if he would maybe rather have a good haircut!

Here in Banderas Bay the area is so spread out (we are nearly 30 miles from downtown Puerta Vallarta) so when we need to go shopping it takes most of the day. Oh and you never know how much the bus is going to cost you. I swear every single time we have taken the bus it has been a different price. A gringo tax seems to always apply as they decide weather or not to give us a paper ticket in exchange for our fare. Mostly it seems dependent on the drivers mood. We are still not sure what we are supposed to do with the paper tickets when we get them. Though once in Mazatlan an official looking person actually came on the bus and asked us for our ticket! So now I pack them away until I have a pocket full and then reluctantly leave them off in the trash. I think the tickets are supposed to help the bus company acocunt for how many passengers the driver picks up but it seems about 30/70 weather he gives us one or not. Oh and the bus company employs a fellow to help you get on the right bus. He stands or aften sits in a chair and yells out what bus is coming. Though the stops are listed in big letters on the bus windshield. Just the other day I finally figured out that there are actually two sets of bus stops. They hopscotch each other along the main thoroughfare and one has to be carefull not to stand helplessly at the wrong bus stop. The city buses are full, noisy and often have no shocks. One we have caught has places in the floor where you can watch the street pass by below you. The ATM buses have soft seats and even curtains on the windows to keep the sun out. There is no difference in price and no ryme or reason to their schedule. Yetat some seemingly random point the ATM becomes and express and goes from stopping and starting wherever and whenever to driving you a mile past your destination while shaking his head and frowning at you.

All in all we are getting the hang of things. With a bit of persistance there are few things that we can't find here that we want. There are two Wallmarts, a Sams Club and a Costco here but there is a decided lack of cheddar cheese, natural peanut butter, 12volt inverters and stainless steel U-bolts. So far we have not found life unlivable without any of those things. Well, the lack of good peanut butter has us living on the edge! Kat

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