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.)