El Abastos

As I mentioned earlier, El Abastos resembles a farmers market on steroids. It is roughly fifteen entire blocks of vendors. After a decade of navigating the Abastos, I have learned to streamline my shopping. I basically go to two streets: the first one and the thirteenth one. 

Upon arrival, I drive straight down the main street, on guard for the many vehicles and people who are trying to escape from middle Abastos. (They will pull out in front of you or walk in front of you without giving it a second thought.) By the time I arrive to street thirteen, I have lost count of which street I am on and have to rely on visual clues to find my way. I painstakingly recognize the brightly colored yellow loading dock at the dog food store, take a deep breath and quickly turn into and array of chaos. For some reason, unknown to me all the parking spaces are marked perpendicular to the loading docks instead of at a 45 degree angle and to make matters worse they are about 2 1/2 feet too narrow for a car. With a large dose of luck I spot a sliver of space located about midway down on the right. After parking it is not uncommon to only be able to open the car doors enough for an anorexic teenager to fit through the gap. Often you have to climb over the seats inside the car in order to escape through the sliding door on the side of my minivan. 

I normally only go to three stores on this street: the disposable plastic store, the cleaning liquid store and Señor Nuez (Mr. Nut). On a good day, I can be in and out of all three stores within 30 minutes. 
If we are purchasing for an upcoming group or for the Hope House kitchen we go to a handful of other stores, including the dry good store where we buy beans, rice, oats and dried soy, another general store for eggs, oil and a few odds and ends and finally the cremeria (which sells deli meats, cheese, cream and the like). We have spent up to three hours making these purchases, but with a little effort can whittle it down to about an hour. 

With the back seats stowed in the floor board of the van, the loot is strategically, well maybe haphazardly would be a better word, strewn in the hatch. After loading the car it is time to go, it is not uncommon to find your vehicle blocked in by some cowboy who has pulled up behind you and left his truck parked there as if you have no plans of ever leaving. Sometimes you may have to wait a half hour for him to return, but mostly the driver of such vehicles remains aware and quickly moves the roadblock when he notices you are ready to leave. 
With phase one complete we pull out to the end of the street to make our way back to street one. The returning street is always lined with huge trucks laden with goods, my favorite are the semi trucks filled to the brim with produce, not bags or crates of produce mind you, just fruit or vegetables thrown in the back of the truck and piled high. Today we passed a truck laden with millions of chili poblanos, you know the large green chills used to make chili relllenos. (I wasn’t able to snap a photo, because I was too busy trying to drive safely through this treacherous sea of metal and tires.)

Several years ago the powers that be decided to build a parking garage beside street one. Now you can shop there without needing a chauffeur to circle the block until your are finished making your purchases. I park and take the long stair case down to ground floor. Here I buy plastics, like trash cans, plates and large serving bowls. I also buy baking supplies. In the event of an upcoming party, supplies like candy and piñatas may also be purchased on this street.

If we survive El Abastos, we normally eat lunch and shop Costco before making the 45-minute drive back to our pueblo. (Look who we spotted on the drive home, guess he had a little shopping to do at “El Abastos” too.)


Driving in Mexico 

Driving in Mexico is nothing like driving in the United States. It is much more aggressive! In fact I always joke saying, “Mexicians are never in a hurry, until they are in their cars.” If you live in Mexico you know that there is a lot of truth to that statement. 
Successful driving in Guadalajara requires two things; a working horn and a passenger who is ready to flap their arm out the passenger window in order to signal other drivers that you want to pull into the right lane. (For some reason here, the turn signal doesn’t seem to indicate lane change.) It is the craziest thing, once that flapping hand comes out of the window, people readily yield and let you maneuver in front of them. If you engage your turn signal, the drivers behind you in either lane will quickly close the gap between them and the car in front of them, immediately boxing you in, however if you use the magic hand trick these aggressive drivers suddenly become chivalrous readily allowing you to change lanes in front of them. 

 When we moved to Mexico in 2002, I immediately said, “I think I might be able to drive in Guadalajara, but the one place that I do NOT want to drive is to the Abastos!”  

The Abastos is like a farmers market on steroids. It is roughly fifteen entire blocks of vendors. They sell everything from produce to plastics, dry goods to dog food and they supply all of the local stores with their goods. You need no membership to purchase there, only a courageous spirit and a willingness to go head-to-head with any vehicle from a motorcycle with a plastic crate strapped onto it to an 18-wheeler. There is no rhyme or reason to the traffic patterns, mostly it is survival of the fittest. Within less than a week of being in Mexico, & much to my chagrin, I found myself navigating the turbulent roads of “El Abostos.”

Only in Mexico

Many things that were once strange and unusual to me in Mexico have become common place. So lately I have purposed to “see” these delightful differences so that I can share them with you. One sight immediately came to mind. I intended to make an effort to get a photo to share with you, but before I had the chance to hunt down this treasure, God arranged a divine appointment for me. As I walked out of the hair salon today I had the perfect photo op. It was better than I could have imagined. I quickly snapped a couple of photos & bought some mangos just to position myself in a better location for a close up shot. (I figured the least I could do was to pay $15 pesos in order to better share this with you.)  
I guess you could say that this car is the Mexican equivalent of the American Ice Cream Truck or perhaps a modern day food truck. Well this “food car” moves from place to place throughout the lakeside. As the owner works, her 2 young children play quietly inside the car. Outside with the trunk propped open she prepares Respadas (flavored shaved ice) and Fruta Picada (diced seasonal fruit). The shaved ice comes in many delicious flavors: vanilla, Jamica (pronounced hi-mica), pecan, strawberry and coconut are a few favorites. After shaving the ice with a small metal hand-held shaver, it is placed into a plastic cup. Then it is covered with a decadent mixture of fruit or nuts & syrup. It comes with both a straw, & spoon, because it is truly a food and a beverage. The tropical fruit has been sanitized, pealed, diced and then also placed in a plastic cup. It is accompanied with a fork. For about a dollar you can enjoy fresh mangos, jicama, cucumber, pineapple, papaya or watermelon. All accompanied, of course, with the traditional Mexican topping of chile, lime, and salt. Either snack can be placed in a small plastic togo bag if your not planning on eating them immediately. But who can wait?!?! I’m mean, who doesn’t love “Respadas” & “Fruta Picada” both traditional Mexican treats which are bound to make your mouth water!