Telefono

I have been here several weeks now without the ability to call my friends and family back home. You thought Verizon was bad???? Try dealing with a phone company that has no real competition!!! (Well perhaps that is the same). And customer service people who each tell you something different and either put you on hold forever until you hang up or outright hang up on you if they don’t want to answer or do not know the answer to your question.

My first two years coming to Mexico, I just used my Verizon phone with a Mexican-American plan; that gave me the ability to call home and to text local friends. However, in the push to get everyone off of their unlimited data plans and start charging by the usage, as of last year,Verizon no longer offers that plan. Well, actually you can get it but for no more than a 2 week vacation, not for longer term visits like mine.

So what to do? How to stay in touch when calling home is roaming at 99 cents a minute? Ouch!

cellphoneSolution: A Mexican smartphone.
For about $200, I was able to get a full feature Samsung smartphone (yep, just like the $600 ones back home) which allows me to text everyone here (their preferred, aka cheapest, mode of communication) and call home for the whopping sum of 1 or maybe 2 cents a minute. And if I have wi-fi and the right app, calling home is FREE!

The only trouble is that Mexico operates on a prepay system and for some reason if you do not use your phone for a period of time, they lock the phone and eventually reclaim your number and your credit. Such a deal!!!! ($100 pesos may not be much for me to lose but to someone living in Mexico, that is a lot of money.)

We knew of this usage requirement, of course, so to keep it active, my phone was used for visitors. And, when Vanessa’s family visited, they used it to keep in touch. Vanessa dutifully swapped out the chips (hers and mine) every few months (as required) and used my phone but apparently, somewhere along the line, the phone company changed the rules (again) shortening the time limit for not using the phone and unknowingly my phone number was locked and lost.

After at least 5 long phone calls to the company and several in person visits, I can reclaim my really cool number (111-8855) for a fee, or oh wait I cannot. Like most everything in Mexico, one is at the whim of the powers to be.

As it turned out, I had to start all over with a new number and trying to figure out how to keep it alive when I go home. I’d ask for suggestions but since the rules change constantly, who really knows?!!! I will just put credit on it every month and hope.

With my new Mexican phone in hand and my Internet calling app installed and tested (don’t try this on your Verizon phone unless you want to be rudely surprised with a REALLY big bill, as I was last year), I am ready to make phone calls. Family and friends I will be in touch soon.

And my Verizon phone? Well, it takes very nice pictures. And with the two phones together, I do not have to keep switching between different translation apps; I just consult a different one on each phone  — having the best of both instantly available.

Oh the challenges of international living! But it sure beats smoke signals.

To Market, to Market

“To market to market to buy a fat pig… So says the old nursery rhyme. That is almost the way it is in Mexico.

In the States, we go to the super market, where we can buy almost anything we want in one fell swoop. It is not that way in Mexico, at least outside of the larger cities.

Oh, there are “mercado commercials” (remember to accent the last syllable) — commercial markets somewhat akin to a super Walmart, only much smaller, selling everything from soup to nuts and I don’t mean the kind you eat either.

The  locals in Taxco shop at the “mercado grande” – a giant multi-floor maze of shops and stalls inside and outside, upstairs and down, and all around a conglomeration of buildings and alleys downtown, near the zocolo at the city center. There are permanent shops in the mercado that sell meat, dairy, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies, and more general stuff like watches and batteries, clothing, wine and liquor, flowers, engine parts and repair, plastic household goods, and even a hair dresser or two.

On Mondays, the market swells to include people from miles around selling fresh produce, herbs, maize for tortillas, and anything else you can imagine. And of course, Taxco residents buying what they need for the day or week.

One recent morning I accompanied Irma on her weekly shopping expedition, and I mean expedition quite literally. Come along…

Mercado, Taxco, Mexico

Frutas y verduras (fruits and vegetables) for sale

First we grab the giant economy sized shopping bag, and walk to the market, about 3/4 mile up the cobblestone street that winds through the downtown, down a little alley that by-passes the zocolo proper and up the other side (think of walking through a mixing bowl), around the corner and into the multi-hued semi-darkness of streets covered with tarps (red, blue, green, and white).

Mercado, Chilpancingo, Mexico

Fruit with your brassiere?

Follow her past the cacophony of vendors and shoppers, haggling over quality and price, through a maze of corridors, dodging dangling underwear, winding around the glow-in-the-dark bras, assorted housewares, and hardware vendors, and inhaling the aroma of the comidas (little food stands).

Pig head

“Disjointed”

We continue to wind around and around, up the stairs, and around the corner when I come face to face with a pig — well it was a pig, now just its head (with one eye poorly sewn shut so that it seems to be peeking at me) nicely nestled next to four feet (with toes that look strangely manicured) in some sort of odd and disjointed repose. Next to this is the rest of the animal, sliced, diced and hung in chunks for sale.  Across the aisle is the beef vendor with cuts of meat hung from hooks. Irma orders something, they take down one of the slabs of meat and slice off what she wants, and hangs the rest for the next customer.

Chicken sculpture

Artzy pollo (chicken)

Next we head down the stairs and around another corner where the chicken vendor is busy chopping up whole chickens and slicing the breast into one long thin slice, which is pounded and later cooked up quickly for tacos. Though I saw one foot on the table (in some circles the feet are more highly prized and expensive than the breast), this vendor does not make a sculpture of them like they did in Chilpancingo. Irma buys one large chicken breast, which by the time she gets done stewing and pulling it will feed a family of four or more, and off we go past the sausages and organ meats, to wind around, up, and down some more until we come to her favorite queso (cheese) stand.

Cheese, mercado, Taxco, Mexico

Say cheese

Mexican cheese comes in three basic styles, mostly the same cheese just in various stages of “ripeness” or maturity.  There is crema, a thick sweet cream about the consistency of American sour cream, that they dip with their plastic-bagged hands out of a 5 gallon bucket, turn the bag inside out, tie the ends and send along home with you, the soft, crumbly “fresca,” which sits in giant rounds waiting for you to order a chunk or have the vendor grate it before your eyes. There is also Queso Oaxaca – the Mexican version of string cheese, which is the same cheese only it is pulled like taffy while it is solidifying. Oh and, you can get all three cheeses dipped and cured in chili if you like. This shop also sells milk, yogurt, and canned beans and chilis — sort of your one stop taco or quesadilla fixin’s shop.

Down another set of well worn steps that originally led to a street but which now is permanently part of the market, we come to the women selling maize – a corn flour mixture that any self-respecting housewife takes home to make tortillas (2 kilos please).

Pandeleria (bakery)

Pandeleria (bakery)

Down more stairs, then through what appears to be a broken down wall (they just knocked it out and you descend on steps cut into the rubble which under the passing of thousands of feet have turned into a heap of gravel), then up another we come to the bakery section, where Irma buys bolillos (a short, wide loaf that is sort of a cross between French and Italian bread only softer) remarkably unburned; bread here is often cooked in wood-fired clay ovens, so many times it is more than a little black on the bottom or around the edges. Toast these on a cast iron tortilla pan with a little butter and sprinkle of sugar and it is to die for.

Jomillas

Jomillas

We wind around some more (Are you lost? I know I am.) and come to a set of steps, filled with vendors selling produce, herbs, and live jomillas, the little bugs that give golden salsa here it’s unique flavor.

The steps and the alleyways beyond are full of little tables, or sometimes just a blanket or baskets on the ground, where people from the surrounding countryside come to sell their fruit, vegetables, and sometimes crafts in front of permanent shops selling meat, flowers, hardware, sundries, CDs, toys and you name it. This part of the market is outdoors so you don’t really realize that you are almost out of it until you pass the last stall and there you are on the busy street. We emerge into the bright sunlight, right across from the combi (bus) stop; good thing too because by now our shopping bags must weigh 20 pounds each.

Shopping done

Shopping done

We head home to unload our goodies, but wait, we are not done yet. We empty the bags, peel some fruit and start it and that chicken breast stewing on the stove, and head out to the little mercado around the corner from the house where Irma selects the oranges, parsley, cucumbers, papaya, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and other basic (and heavy) ingredients for her homemade fruit waters, tacos, and more.

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Are you hungry yet?

Taking things for granted – Getting in hot water

Do you know what this is?

Heater wand                                                                                                    It is an electric water heater.

Coming from a country where you turn on the faucet and hot water comes out anytime day or night, you probably have never had reason to use one (unless perhaps on a farm to keep the water trough from freezing or a similar device to warm bird “baths” in winter.)

Recently I read,  “You have to be  flexible to live abroad. Utilities seem to run on their own schedules…  If you get up in the morning and you have water, it is a good day. If you get up and you have hot water it is a great day.”

Thus has been the case, here in Taxco this winter. For some reason the water utility  has seen fit to deliver water in drips and drops, but not enough to keep the cistern full and unless the cistern is full, the water does not fill the tank on the roof that is my water supply. Without water in the tank, no water in the water heater, thus to bathe, I can either heat water on the stove and carry it up three flights of stairs (one being a wrought iron, circular stair that is dangerous enough without anything in my hands, let alone scalding hot water) OR use this device. How?

img_6727-qpr

First you fill a bucket of water, then, making sure the plastic cap on the end of the metal is submerged, you plug the cord into the nearest electrical outlet and you wait. After 10 minutes or so, your water will be hot.

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While you are waiting, you assemble the rest of your bathing needs, including a large bowl of cold water and a cup or small bowl to serve as your pouring container.

Be sure to heat the water hotter than is comfortable so that you can custom mix with the cold water and pour this over your head, suds up, and pour again to rinse.

This method is so efficient that you can wash your hair, body, and your underwear all at the same time, and perhaps even have enough left over to flush the toilet.

The whole process may take 10 minutes and uses, at most, a gallon and a half of water. Compare that to the average American shower that uses 7 gallons of water per minute (even a low flow uses 2.5).

So if you want to save water, you might want to try the bucket method. Luckily for those of you back home, the water is already hot and you can adjust the temperature perfectly, so all you need is a bucket.

Try it, you might like it? And just imagine the savings on your next water bill.