Last Friday, December 12th, was Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, one of Mexico’s most important religious events. In the evening, many of Patzcuaro’s townsfolk headed for the basilica to attend the special mass held on that day; the children went all dressed up in costumes with their offerings. Here in Patzcuaro, as in many smaller towns and villages across Mexico, businesses and some shops closed and people took the day off, even though it’s not an official holiday.
Patzcuaro offers an ample range of shops and markets – including an abundance of fresh food purveyors – without the need to travel long distances. Because the town is protected and regulated architecturally, all of the stores must paint their name on a white background using a particular type-face; the first letter of each word is red and the subsequent letters are black. There are no neon signs, no glowing logos on poles or walls with advertisements or signs protruding from the premises. It all looks a bit olde-worlde, and somewhat deceiving because, although the modern look and feel is missing, many of the stores are the same chain stores you may see elsewhere in Mexico, offering the same sorts of goods once you step inside.
There are no billboards in Patzcuaro’s center. Contrast that with Mexico City, which is so full-up with billboards, that the natural landscape is obscured by them in many places; indeed, you cannot go anywhere in the capital without being surrounded by a constant saturation of advertising noise: Patzcuaro, and other towns like it in Mexico, offer a respite. However, Patzcuaro is not an ad-free oasis: not be out-done by the rules, local businesses employ cars or trucks to drive around town and the local neighborhoods with loud-speakers strapped to their roofs: a recorded message beams out, imploring ‘housewives’ and others to buy certain goods from certain stores; to fill your home’s gas tank using a particular local supplier; to take up current local supermarket offers; and there are even mobile voice-ads offering the counsel of a local ‘fortune teller’ in matters of money, luck, love and relationship. These mobile ad-machines operate between about seven o’clock each morning, and cease their neighborhood rounds by dusk.
If you like eating fresh, wholesome, food you’ll love Michoacán. The climate and rich, arable, land in this region provides an abundance of good food to choose from. The state is the “avocado capital of the world” – if you have ever bought an avocado abroad that is of Mexican origin, it was most probably grown around here. Local, open-air, markets set-up daily proffering a wide range of fresh foods and condiments: nothing is flown-in, what you see in the local market is in season and was grown here. Right now, in December, you may enjoy delicious mandarins, juicy sweet oranges, strawberries and guava. Later in the year, for example, mangos will appear, too. The local markets offer an eye-popping display of color and variety; the scent as you wander through them is one of fresh, ripe, food that is begging to be consumed.
There are some small supermarkets in the center of town, the best-established is “Super Codallos”, on Codallos street, about a block west of the Plaza Grande. It’s owned and operated by a family who has lived here for generations, offering a decent range of everyday items and also a good deli counter where hams, cheeses, sausages and other condiments are sold by weight. It’s interesting to note that the supermarket does not stock or sell any fresh produce at all – because right outside is an open-air market, selling everything fresh and often directly from the fields it was grown in.
On the same street, you’ll find a bakery which bakes deliciously fresh bolillos and other breads all day long – including Sundays – as well as a small range of doughnuts, cream cakes and other sweet bread. A couple of doors down is a wine and liquor merchant (a larger wine cellar may be found around the corner on Romero street) and within a stone’s throw is a local butcher, who proffers any cut of meat you may desire. Nearby, you’ll also find the local chicken merchant (polleria), who also sells eggs and other produce which compliment poultry.
You can find “tienditas” everywhere in Patzcuaro – small local stores offering a range of basic comestibles, home wares, confectionery, sodas, beers and liquor; some also have a small deli selection in addition to a limited range of dried pulses, chiles and spices as well as the most-frequently used fruits and vegetables such an onions, tomatoes and limes.
Earlier this year, Soriana, one of Mexico’s leading super-market chains opened a supermarket here in Patzcuaro, situated on the libramiento (by-pass road), about four big blocks east of the town center. In addition to a range of comestibles, confectionery, sodas, beer and liquor, Soriana sells home-electrical goods, some hardware, music and DVDs, some audio and visual entertainment systems, a limited range of tents and camping gear, a small selection of toys and stationery, limited ranges of men’s and women’s clothing, a good range of personal care items, a pharmacy and some limited computer equipment and computer peripherals.
Although Patzcuaro’s relatively-new Soriana store proffers a small number of items which you cannot source elsewhere in Patzcuaro; notably, its extensive delicatessen counter, some specialty foods, some high-end imported liquors, and its extended range of personal care products like toothpastes and toothbrushes, you can actually procure nearly everything Soriana sells somewhere in Patzcuaro’s center, albeit from different stores. For example, Elektra, a nation-wide store selling home electrical goods, white goods and home furnishings, has a branch store in town; local pharmacies offer most medicines and a reasonable range of personal care items and, although Soriana sells a small range of mountain bikes, you’ll get a better selection, better service and even repair help at the local bicycle shop on Ibarra street in town. Whether Soriana’s presence is a good thing is currently a moot point, locally. Some say that it takes trade away from the local shops, while others argue that Soriana provides good jobs and encourages local traders to raise their game.
Patzcuaro also offers a number of other commercial amenities. MultiPack and Estafeta, Mexico’s principal courier companies, have branches situated on the libramiento, and they are also agents for FedEx/DHL.
There are various local car work-shops which offer tune-ups, repairs, body-work and so on, although each workshop appears to specialize, so if you need your brakes and radiator fixed, you’ll need to take the vehicle to two different places.
Plenty of outlets in Patzcuaro offer over-the-counter foreign currency exchange, but they deal exclusively in US Dollars. If you want to negotiate Euros, Pounds, Canadian or Australian Dollars, et al, you’ll need to do that in Morelia. However, Mexico’s big banks all have branches in Patzcuaro: Banamex, Bancomer, HSBC, Santander – they’re all here and their ATMs will dish out pesos all day and most of the night.
Oxxo stores, Mexico’s equivalent (and in many cities, competitors to) Seven-11 and Circle-K, have two stores in Patzcuaro; one on the south side of the Plaza Grande and one at the eastern corner of the Plaza Chica. These convenience stores are open extended hours offering a range of fast-foods, snacks, sodas, coffee, confectionery and other goods.
Patzcuaro’s shopping also extends to an ample range of boutiques and curio shops selling good quality textiles, shoes, sportswear, locally produced arts and crafts, gifts, pottery, musical instruments (especially guitars made nearby in the village of Paracho), cell phone shops, internet cafes, home wares, kitchen wares, and more besides…
For socializing, Patzcuaro provides a good choice of cafes and restaurants, most of which are situated in or around the center of town. Some of the better hotels, like Mansion de los Sueños and Mansion Iturbe, also offer good restaurants open to the public.
Patzcuaro is a small, highland, town and so ultimately the choice and variety of goods and services on offer here will be limited by its geographical size and location. However, the colonial city of Morelia, just a forty minute drive by car (about an hour’s journey by bus) offers you access to most of Mexico’s ‘big brand’ stores like Liverpool, Costco, Wal-Mart, Superama, and also American franchises like Starbucks Coffee without having to travel to Guadalajara or Mexico City.
Talking with expats living here, they report that almost everything they need on a day-to-day basis they can procure locally in Patzcuaro; monthly (and in some cases quarterly) trips into Morelia enable them to stock up on items which they like to consume but which cannot be purchased locally, and to buy specialty or gourmet foods (e.g. tofu), to buy clothes or shoes, or to select from wider range of imported foods or goods from the USA and elsewhere.
Continued: A Month in Patzcuaro – Expatriates
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