In case you have started to think that John and I are on the Mexican WalMart tour…..yesterday we made a trip into town. This involved all kinds of new experiences.
Riding the bus: for the princely sum of 10 pesos (sixty cents) each, we rode an air-conditioned bus the half hour or so into the Central Market in Old Mazatlan. Compare this to the $30 in cab fare I spent the week before to get to and from the Mega Market.
A real- live Mexican market: The Central Market in Mazatlan is an experience not to miss, but not necessarily for the faint of heart. It took a couple trips around to figure out the pattern, but there is (more or less) a produce aisle, a beef aisle, a pork aisle, a chicken section and seafood section. All interspersed with clothing and tourist chotskies. And one cheese dude. And an upstairs that we didn’t go to but that I read is a selection of eating places.
Unlike WalMart or Mega Market, I would have to actually interact with the vendors to purchase anything so when I try to shop there, it will be an embarrassing test of my nascent Spanish, for sure. Like a two-year old trying to buy ingredients for dinner. For an example of the potential confusion, there are three words for fish – pez, pesca and pescado. Pez is still swimming, pesca is “catch” as in “catch of the day”, and pescado is what’s served on the plate. Sort of like cattle, beef and steak all mean something slightly different.
Finding our way around a foreign city: After walking through the market and seeing the wares, John wanted to walk towards the beach and look for lunch. We used his iPhone to pull up maps and try to follow them, which is tricky because many streets don’t have signs. But we managed to reach the ocean.
Panga beach: We passed one section of the beach that was full of parked pangas. Presumably they had brought their catch in to sell to the ….
Palapa restaurants: Another section of the beach was lined with palapa restaurants, which all looked alike. We stopped at the first one that had good smells wafting from it where we enjoyed….
Pargo Zarandeado: Pargo = red snapper. Zarandeado is a method of preparation that involves selecting the fish from a tray of choices, butterflying the fish, topping with spices, onion, tomato and peppers, encasing it all in aluminum foil and cooking over wood coals, then served on a tray with salad, rice, tortillas and salsa. Could not have been yummier.
The waiter was a young man, I surmise it’s a family-owned business with his dad or uncle or maybe grandfather or maybe all of them cooking or behind the bar. Or maybe the family thing is my own romanticized idea. Nonetheless, the service was attentive, the food was plentiful and delicious and when we stood to leave to thank them and tell them the food was muy delicioso, they all looked very pleased and happy for our good experience. Even John, who usually sticks to the 15% tip rule to the peso, said “Leave extra tip”.
Finding a bank: Next up was finding a bank with a working ATM. The street along the beach is the one the bus took in, so after lunch we just started walking because we had both seen banks “somewhere along here”. After a couple beers and a diet coke we walked far enough without finding a bank that we needed to stop for another beer just so we could use the bathroom. “Somewhere along here” turned out to be a lot further than we thought – we walked a total of just over six miles yesterday.
Catching the return bus: There doesn’t seem to be a schedule, nor are there designated bus stops. Correction, there are designated bus stops, there just aren’t marked designated bus stops. So we stood with a couple other people who looked like they were waiting for a bus, signaled the bus we wanted and hoped for the best. We got second best – the driver pointed ahead about 30 yards, stopped to discharge other passengers and moved on – without us aboard since we were still 25 yards behind him. At least now we knew where the correct stop was, and the next bus came along in about 10 minutes.
Nuclear chicken: The next morning, I meandered over to Hajimi to invite Jessica and Jim over for dinner tomorrow. Sadly, were planning to leave that afternoon, but Jessica was inspired to take me to the “chicken place” a couple miles or so from here. We walked until an appropriate bus came by – this was what I call a “shoe polish” bus because the route is written in white shoe polish or something in the window. They are not air-conditioned and apparently will stop anywhere that you are as long as you give the proper signal (arm extended toward the road with a couple fingers pointing). Cheaper too – 7.50 pesos.
For 100 pesos ($6 US) you get a fully cooked (bright yellow) chicken fresh off the coals with rice, lettuce, sauce and hot tortillas. Sabroso (tasty).
By the way, the symbol for pesos is “$”. Imagine being confronted with a menu with prices like $25, and being sensitized to U.S. prices and not yet clear on the exchange rate. To add to the confusion, in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, some of the menus were provided in English with U.S. $ prices, others are Spanish with English translations and prices in pesos.