January 27, 2010

Adventures in Shopping

It’s been a week since our last green vegetables were consumed.
Three days since Maia ate her last apple.
Two days since we ran out of tomatoes.

Every day we go into the little tienda in Magdalena Town and shop. One day we found a few limp carrots. Another day it was eggs and onions. Yesterday it was a small bunch of bruised bananas. Today there was nothing.

We’re headed to Puerto Vallarta soon—there are big grocery stores there. But even if we leave now, we won’t be there for almost five days. Five more days of no fresh food seemed like too long as we ate our cereal with powdered milk this morning. So we piled into the dinghy and set off for Puerto San Carlos—eight-miles.

Eight miles is nothing if you have a car. It's not even a big deal by bus or by bike. But by water it’s wet, and bumpy and far. Made farther by the fact we weren’t sure which part of the town had stores. We asked a fisherman in a panga where to land for shopping. He pointed vaguely at a beach. On shore we found ourselves walking aimlessly along dusty, stinky industrial roads—laden with jerry jugs for fuel and a back pack for groceries. So we asked again--and got another general wave of a hand. So we turned right and headed for a green building.

While we were walking a shiny red pickup stopped beside us, “Are you looking for something?” we were asked by a smiling young man who spoke decent english.
“Pemex-for fuel,” we told him. He waved down the road, vaguely.
“And groceries?” 
Another wave, this time the other way.
Then he offered us a lift.
We were lost and tired from the trip so we climbed in. First we went to the Pemex. But it was when our driver took us to the weekly market and we met his third ‘brother’ that we began to worry.

It’s not uncommon for Mexicans to offer us their services. They’ll fetch fuel, watch that our dinghy doesn’t drift away or scrub the bottom of our boat. Anything, really, for a few pesos. Most of the time the service is fair and well appreciated, but there are moments when it can become quite overwhelming to be seen as rich Gringos who have money to burn. The number one rule of agreeing to any service is setting a price in advance.
We hadn’t done this.

“Me llamo Diane,” I told our cheery driver.
“Gabino,” he told us.
Then I broached the subject of money--and his time. No money, he told us. He said when he has time he likes to make friends. He likes to hear about the world outside of Magdalena. He asked about Vancouver—and if it was true we had no snow for the Olympics.

Gabino runs a whale watching boat, and he’s a fisherman. He’s 35 and has been in San Carlos for 30-years, he says he makes a good life and he likes to give back. He took us to another shop (also staffed by his family-“it’s a small town and my family is big”), and helped us find things that would have taken hours on our own. So we asked him if we could take him for lunch.

We took him to his favourite torta shop (this time not staffed by family). When the (really excellent) food arrived he told us he was a Jehovah’s Witness. I braced myself for his sales pitch, realizing that the true cost of our morning together was about to be paid, wondering if we could maybe just offer him money after all. But then he began to talk about other things; the weather, the recent storm, September’s hurricane, my work. We traded business cards.

After lunch he drove us back to the dinghy—we miscalculated the tides and it was high and dry. Gabino helped us get it the 50 metres down the beach. Then he turned to Maia, took her hand in his and told her he had something serious to say. “Ah, finally, now we’ll pay,” I thought, assuming he would try to convert her.

“Always remember that friends are better to have than money,” Gabino told her solemnly. 
He watched her, to make sure she understood, before he released her hand.
“Friends make you rich..."


Kate said...

ooh. That gave me (good) chills.
What a fortunate meeting.

Bethany said...

I must be an emotional basketcase right now or something...