Friday, August 01, 2008

odds and ends

I have now covered each of the broader topics I wanted to discuss about this trip to Mexico, but there were a few items in my travel journal that just did not fit into the other topics. So, here are a few random observations.

Big night out

In each Mexican beach town I have visited, there appears to be an odd segregation -- for the lack of a better word -- in certain types of restaurants. You can easily spot the places. They usually serve Californian, French, or Italian dinners. They are owned by Canadians, Americans, or Europeans, and the food is almost always incredibly good. They have a front row position on the best beaches. And the well-appointed tables are populated by Americans and Canadians (often squiring around friends from Up North).

I left out one salient fact that each of these restaurants have in common. If you eat a starter, an entree, and a dessert, you will leave pounds heavier and at least 300 pesos lighter. That helps to explain why I have never seen a Mexican family or couple -- tourist or local -- in any of these restaurants. Probably for the same reason that I do not see many of the people who work in my legal division at expensive restaurants in Salem.

My father would have had an answer to this comment: "Why are you wasting money in a French restaurant when you can get food just as good at a neighborhood cafe?" And he would be correct. I had some of my best meals from a taco stand for less than $2 and in a local shrimp place for about $6.

The point is that when you live somewhere, you stop eating like a tourist in expensive restaurants -- until the friends arrive and need to be entertained.

Beach views

Before we leave that last topic too quickly, I must admit that I do not mind paying for a view with my dinner. The first night in town I went to a very nice restaurant in Melaque (perhaps the best) and sat on the patio watching the start of a sunset while I enjoyed my meal. The heat and humidity had been a shock to my system. But as I sat on patio watching the sun set over a Mercury sea filled with the bobbing heads of boogy boarders, it was easy to forget the challenges of the day.

And that is one reason I look forward to Mexico.

Food costs

Last year when I visited La Manzanilla, I was shocked at how expensive the food was in the abbarotes -- the little local grocery stores. There were no large grocery stores and the customer base was tourists. I just assumed that the prices were high for those reasons.

I must have been wrong because my three trips to "larger" grocery stores in Melaque drew me back to the same conclusion. As an example, a box of Special K, a quart of milk, and three diet Cokes (Coke Light, of course) total about $10 -- not much different than my local Safeway. The fresh produce was less expensive.

The lesson appears to be: to save money, stay away from soft drinks and prepared foods; buy fresh local fruits and vegetables -- and freshly-slaughter pork. (Even though that last noun would horrify my mother.)


I mentioned earlier that I made the two or three mile walk to Barra de Navidad early on during my visit. I love to walk. But that love -- as love often does -- clouds my judgment. And the Melaque-Barra walk was a perfect example of bad decision-making.

I had planned to start my walk before the sun was too hot. Instead, I left in the late morning when the temperature and the humidity were spiking, and it was like trying to cross the Sahara during -- well, at any time.

I always take a wash cloth and a bottle of water with me on walks in tropical areas -- one to replenish fluids, the other to sop up what seeps out. I was a good half-mile into my walk before I realized both were still sitting on the kitchen counter. Need I tell you that I also forgot my hat?

Safe is a four-letter word

If you want a graphic example of the different attitudes toward safety of Mexicans and Canadians, take a look at Erika's Stairway to Heaven. She is a young Canadian working in Mexico City, who was appalled at the lack of safety procedures used by Mexican construction workers. She would have been speechless at a little incident on the Melaque beach.

I mentioned earlier that the west end of the beach is the swimming beach. The water is usually almost alive with schools of small children. One day around noon, I was walking toward the rocky point on the west end of the beach when I saw a fishing boat with three men pull up close to the beach. One guy jumped out. The other two backed the boat out a distance. The fellow on the beach then looked for a certain spot, held up a dark pipe, and the two fellows in the boat gunned the engine as fast as it would go. It sped through the children, up on the sand, and stopped several boat lengths up the beach. I stared. Everyone else went about their business handling the event for exactly what it was: an every day occurrence.

Here is the boat -- and the man with the pipe.

Here are some of the children -- snug as clams in the sea.

This is probably the only construction worker in Mexico dressed in safety gear. And he is a dummy. I do love the Mexican sense of humor.

So, these are the pieces. What is my conclusion? Gee. That would be a great post for next time, wouldn't it?


Theresa in Mèrida said...

I think your area is expensive, Merida is more expensive than most places but your prices seemed high. A liter of whole milk in a box,not fresh is about $11.00, fresh in a plastic bag is less. I don't eat Special K but I am assuming $40.00 (because that seems to be what boxed cereal costs), oatmeal by the way is $22.00 a kilo. I think cokes (I don't drink them) are about $8. each. So $75 pesos. I think the sodas are cheaper in Costco, but I never acquired the soda habit (thank goodness).Now, the cereal really isn't that bad because you aren't going to eat the whole box in one sitting. Oh, if you buy eggs in the tienda across the street they are $1.50 each.

Anonymous said...

hi steve,

i remember the boats doing the same thing in sayulita. as you said, it's just a daily occurrence. oh, you must have burned to a crisp without your hat on during your walk. hopefully you had put on some suntan lotion. what a cute kitty-i love cats. now, where was the cocodrilo sign?

have a great weekend!
teresa f.

jennifer rose said...

"The point is that when you live somewhere, you stop eating like a tourist in expensive restaurants -- until the friends arrive and need to be entertained."

Not necessarily. If fine dining was part of your social life back in the Old Country, it may continue to be part of it in Mexico. Be careful about generalizing that restaurant patrons at nice places aren't Mexican. Unless you card each one of them, you never can be sure.

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- Foods appaer to be a bit more expensive in melaque than I expected. When I move there, I will have to do my Shopping Thing. Coke Light is my drink. In the States, it seems inexpensive to me because I buy it in bulk when it is on sale. I will just need to learn how to shop more intelligently.

Teresa -- The boats in La Manzanilla do the same thing. And they need to do it to beach the boat above the surf line. This was the first time I saw them race through the swimmers, however.

Jennifer -- Your point is a good one. Drawing conclusions from skin hue is as silly in Mexico as it is in America. However, I got the information from my waiter. He said that the customers were usually torists or part-time residents. I should remember Juan Calypso's refrain, though, that residents are not guests.

Brenda said...

Here a nice shrimp dinner will cost from around 80-120 pesos. These are the places we go to on birthdays and anniversarys. The "normal" places we go the entrees vary from around 45-60 pesos. A ham and cheese torta with all the fixings is 18 pesos, 2shrimp tacos with lots of shrimp are 12 pesos. Lots of good, cheap food here for menos dollars if your cholesterol can stand it.
Not sure what Special K is here. I think 2 liters of fresh milk is 11 pesos, 2 liters of Coke is 13 pesos from the corner store which is about 1 peso higher than the grocery store. We have a variety of sizes of stores here from the mom and pop corner stores, mini markets, to large grocery stores such as VH, Soriana and Ley so we have more options.
You will see lots of situations down here that would not pass the safety regulations up north and there are also corresponding accidents.

Steve Cotton said...

Brenda -- I am certain there must be places less expensive than where I shopped. If not, my grocery bill (just for me) is easily going to run $300 a month -- just about what it costs in the States. And Melaque is not a gringo tourist town -- it is a Mexican tourist town. I must be doing something wrong. But all of that can be fixed.

Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- The croc sign is on the beach in front of the laguna just east of Villa Obregon.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you need to talk to your brother about using Regenicare on a regular basis. There is no need for joint pain. Regenicare can and will repair the damaged tissue in your joints. The protectin in Regenicare works great on the inflammation in your joints. For it to work you must take it on a regular and consistent basis. I read your blog each day. I enjoy it very much. I have traveled for about 30 years to Mexico. The longest we have stayed there is about 4 months during the winter. It is a great place to visit but it does make you realize what a wonderful country you live in.

Hollito said...


I experienced the same regarding restaurants. No matter if it was in Greece, Portugal or Spain - or Mexico. In Greece, on the island of Karpathos, we left all the tourist traps in the harbour behind and went away from the water a few hundred steps. Found a small restaurant with only greece people, and had an excellent meal at a very low price.
The most hilarious thing happend a few years back, when my wife and me stayed in Ixtapa. We went to the marina and had dinner in a fancy italian restaurant. I was the only German there, my wife the only Mexican. ;-)The other guests all were "gringos". The food was nice, but we both were still hungry when we left. And the price was beyond good and bad. I think something like 60 Euros (!)...anyway, all this "fine cuisine" thing is definitely not for me.
Next day we took the bus and drove down to Zihuatanejo. Found a nice restaurant there in a side-street. Only Mexicans there. Had a wonderful meal and paid 1/10 (!) of what we paid in Ixtapa. :-)
We liked Zihua so much that we stayed there for a few days the last time we were in MX. Maybe this could be a destination that would be interesting for you?

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- Darrel and I will talk. Are you coming over for the Tebo's luncheon next Saturday?

Hollito -- I like "fine" dining now and then. However, restaurants everywhere tend to be true class dividers. "Segregation" was not the right word. No one is excluded by ethicity. But prices make a difference. I have a friend from Blackpool who thinks people are daft to spend more than $5 for a meal. As for Zihua -- just too hot for me.

Anonymous said...

I would love to make the Tebo luncheon but can't get away this weekend. I read your blogs everyday. Guess my life isn't too exciting as first thing each morning I check for your next blog!! You are doing a great job thinking through each step. However, you might want to just jump in and get your feet wet. You will learn a lot about yourself and have some fun in the process. Keep your home in Oregon. Down the road it will look pretty good. This way you can have the best of two worlds.

Steve Cotton said...

We will miss seeing you on Saturday. I am starting to think this blog is a form of therapy -- a way to let me keep thinking about the move until I retire. And that day is getting closer. The Salem house is going to be the next issue I have to face.