Patzcuaro is nestled in the mountains at the side of a lake, a very hilly town with
cobblestone streets, many quite narrow and filled with flaws.  When we first arrived,
our first order of business was to find a residence, as we could easily spend a month’s
rent at a hotel in less than a week.  We had a few leads, and moving from one
encounter to another we managed to get in touch with Monica Grey, who owns a
number of apartments and duplexes in town.  She set us up in our current home,
essentially a one-room apartment on a hillside, pictures of which you can see
When I heard “one room apartment” I was obviously doubtful, but when we saw how
big that one room is – plus the fact that it also was fully furnished, has a full kitchen, a
bathroom, a huge loft and plenty of storage space- we deemed it quite adequate for our
needs.  Best of all, it fit our budget at $300 a month, water and trash pick-up included.  
For the practical minded among you, I’ll add that we pay for electricity, which looks
like it will run about $20 a month (heavily subsidized by the government).  The stove
and water heater are gas which is supplied by two tanks at the back of the house.  The
gas people prowl the town  with these canisters and drive by our house two to five
days out of the week, blaring announcements underscored by tacky music.  A tank
runs about $30 and they seem to last us 3-4 weeks.  To round out the utilities,
everyone here uses bottled water for drinking and cooking, and the water guys come
by twice a week.  For less than $2, they haul in one of those big jugs of water which
fit on a dispenser unit in our kitchen (actually we run through about three of these a

The next essential to explore was stocking the kitchen with food.  There are plenty of
places to eat around here, of course, running from nice sit-down restaurants to
sidewalk cafés around the
Plaza Grandé to little stands in the marketplace or along the
perimetro (the road running around the town).  Many of these stands are absolutely
portable, often simply a table with a tarp strung up as shelter.  It’s sometimes difficult
to find satisfying fare for picky little girls around here, plus we have been warned that
indeed, as has been often reported, some of these small stands are questionable in their
standards, and we’ve heard first-hand experience of people who have gotten ill from
eating there, a few with typhoid (though we THINK we were innoculated for that
before we left the US!).  Still, we knew we wanted to have most of our meals at home,
so we had to get used to the idea of shopping around here.

First, there are a number of supermarkets around here.  The largest we’ve found is
probably the closest to an American grocery store, the
Super Cadallos.  The first time I
shopped there, I ran in while everyone else waited in the car.  It was a bit maddening,
though, as they don’t arrange their foods according to the same type of marketing plan
I’m accustomed to.  Typically now, we all tromp into the
Super Cadallos and can
pretty much go right to where we need.  There are many things they don’t have here
that we would probably get at home – some that come to mind are pepperoni, deli
turkey, lemons or lemon juice (they do have lemons, but they are very small green
things, smaller than a golf ball).  I’ve had a hard time with spices as well, as there’s not
a huge selection and I’m just not familiar with all the Spanish names.  I’ve also been
frustrated at trying to find canned whole or chopped tomatoes – all they seem to have
is tomato sauce, and in order to make a decent spaghetti sauce I have to start with the
real thing, which is surely better but it’s a big pain to peel, seed and chop them for

The second part of food is the
mercado, or the marketplace, downtown.  This place
could be an essay in itself, and if I can’t find any photos in my collection I’ll have to
remember to take some.  There are essentially two parts of the
mercado, part in a
permanent structure and part along two streets alongside that.  Along the front at the
Plaza Chica, there are a few people selling baskets and knick-knacks and such, and
behind them a variety of food vendors.  There are four narrow corridors running back
through a variety of booths, running from blankets and
serapes to clothing (very much
American casual style stuff).  Buried back in all this is a meat section, with separate
booths for chicken or pork or beef or fish, cheese, and huge piles of barbecued meats.  
And there are a number of each of these specialties.  Back here is definitely the place to
buy meat – I’m not thrilled with the selection at the
Super Cadallos.  A kilo of
hamburger is about $8 – they grind it right in front of you and it is very lean.  A
chicken will run from $4-7, depending on the size, and these ladies will cut the thing up
in front of you.  It’s fun to watch them hack the birds apart so expertly.  Same thing
with fish – they slice and gut them with two swift strokes, chop off the head and then
slice out the fillets.  The fish is by far the cheapest, as we can get enough for everyone
for about $2-3.

Outside on the streets are the vegetable stands, interspersed with a variety of other
goods – curious to me are the ones who simple have a table piled with socks.  You can
get bootleg movies here as well, if you’re comfortable with stiffing the filmmakers and
don’t mind seeing someone get up for popcorn in front of the camera.  Anyway, fruits
and vegetables are quite inexpensive and enough of good quality.  You can find nuts,
flours, rice, dog and cat food, all kinds of stuff.  Here is where I get my tomatoes – all
of them are those long, oval ones.  

But the really challenging part about shopping here is figuring out where they might
have the item you need.  Where do you find sheets of tissue paper (the gift wrap
type)?  Why, what appears to be a hardware store, of course.  What about printer
cartridges?  The internet café... and apparently only one internet café seems to have a
decent selection of these.  Socks?  Well, don’t go to the shoe store!  Try one of those
tables with the piles of socks, if you don’t mind really cheap socks that are probably
too small for your boat-sized feet.  When we first moved in, I asked the landlady where
to get sheets, and she directed me to a little shop about three block off the
.  She said it was next to a pet store, and when we got there we couldn’t find
the place, so we went to the pet store and, in my broken Spanish, I told them I was
looking for sheets.  The lady managed to communicate that indeed the shop next door
sold them but wouldn’t be open ‘til 4.  We came back after four, and again I managed
in my broken Spanish that we needed Queen sized sheets.  I surmised I would have to
come back the next day for them, so I bought some pillows, then we picked up the
sheets the next day, having been in our sleeping bags for the previous two nights.  
Now, one would think that perhaps I could get a shower curtain at this same store, but
upon inquiry I was sent to yet another store – a tiny place that was so full of stuff piled
from floor to rafter, hanging from the ceiling, backpacks, kitchen gadgetry, mops,
buckets, crayons.  The smiling family behind the counter was able to produce several
shower curtains.  I selected one and paid my twenty pesos or so, discovering only later
that it was really too short for the shower ... but I JUST DON’T CARE!  

Ah, well, I’m starting to get used to finding what I need.  And if really want something
and can’t find it ... put it on the list for the next trip to Morelia and maybe we can find
it at Walmart!  Though Walmart has its differences as well and should perhaps be left
to another day ...

#  #  #
Next Essay

Back to Pen's Points

Email Pen
Quest for a Shower Curtain
The girls at the Basilica - you
can see some of those
tarp-covered stands in the
Pen's Essays - 7
Finding a birthday cake for Abi
was a chore in itself - the
bakery we wanted to use was
closed and we ended up getting
one at the
Super Cadallos -
which turned out to be quite
Dave usually makes the
coffee - of course we've
found a good supplier of
Mexican beans!