By far our favourite mode of transport in Puerto Escondido is the ubiquitous blue colectivo. Essentially a single or double cab flatbed truck the vehicle has been modified to include a bench seat along each side and an arched structure of steel framework covered by a cobalt blue tarp to provide shade for passengers in the back. The local colectivo travels between Barra and El Mercado, a trip of around 15-25 minutes depending on the traffic and pick up stops and seems to cost 4 pesos(around 40cents) no matter where you get on.
From our rented home “ Casa de la Lily” we walk up the dusty street towards the highway, past the mangy brown dog lying on the road with his tongue lolling in the dirt and the handsome turkey who puffs and displays his beautiful plumage for us, oblivious to the unavoidable fact that Christmas is fast approaching.
We stroll past the roadworkers labouring under the blistering sun and wait outside the grocery store-slash-carwash where at any time of the day several men in jeans and open shirts slump lethargically around the plastic table in front downing Coronas or Pacificos.
It is never a long wait. A couple of minutes at most between colectivos; a flash of headlights, a nod of the head and we are on. Each new passenger acknowledges the other occupants with a ‘buenos dias” or “buenas tardes” depending on the hour- if possible those already seated squish along to make room for others. Others stand, holding onto a metal bar overhead. A sturdy rope is strung from the back and Marcos’ favourite place to ride is there, standing on the bumper, precariously perched just centimetres from the asphalt below, holding tight across the jolts and bumps of neverending roadworks and relentless topes( speedbumps). Mexicans here are more overt in their curiosity and much less precious about personal space. One day a middle-aged man and woman climb on board, hoisting several large bags of dried beans onto the floor then clambering over them to try and find space on the already crowded vehicle. The womans pink polyester shrouded armpit ends up in direct alignment with my nose and having nowhere else to turn I am very grateful that the smell of soft floral deoderant is far stronger than the slight hint of tropical BO. Another time a young gangly man, tall and atypically lean for this area tries his luck at wedging into the last 10 cms left on the bench. The two strangers seated beneath him have no room to move but noone seems to mind as he spends a good 10 seconds wiggling his butt against their legs trying to manifest a spot. After a while he gives up, chuckles to himself and rides the rest of the way standing. I tackle my claustrophic tendencies by counting the number of passengers ( 23 being the record for the trip), wondering about their lives and staying as close as possible to the opening in back.
Always they stare at us, openly, unselfconsciously, and after the first couple of rides I decide to follow suit, discarding my sunnies and inspecting the other passengers as they inspect me; honey-skinned toddlers, their wide round eyes like deep pools of chocolate, check out my speckled pale skin and yellow hair with wonder (or alarm?). Young mothers doze between stops, their babies pudgy fingers wrapped protectively around thick brown locks; Weary older men with half- formed cataracts carry machetes on their hips after a hard days work in the sun.
Sometimes we take the Colectivo to Super Che, the new Mega supermarket in town, to do our weekly shop. In the bakery section we take tongs and a silver platter and cruise the aisles of fresh delicious goodies. We pile our platter high with donuts, pastries, muffins and donuts, filling a large paper bag for less than a couple of dollars. Schoolchildren in their uniforms bag the groceries at the check out- some look as young as Sienna. One day I am shopping with Marcos mum who is visiting for several weeks. I go through first with my shopping cart and she is following behind; some confusion ensues when the two schoolgirl workers seemingly refuse to let her put the last of her groceries in my cart. “Its Ok “, I tell them, “We’re together”.” No, no” they protest, taking the last 2 bags out again and putting them back into the other cart. We go back and forth a couple more times between carts, me not understanding their Spanish and them not understanding mine until suddenly it dawns on me, they don’t even work there! They’re behind us in line..the next customers with their own shopping cart. They’ve been trying to explain me the last two bags belong to them and I’ve been happily smiling and attempting to steal their groceries! I apologise profusely and they walk off with their bags, giggling and shaking their heads at the stupid gringas.
Sometimes we take the colectivo all the way to the last stop; El mercado, the central marketplace which spans a city block between Calles 9 & 10. The array of fresh fruit and veg is wonderful here; papayas, limones, radish and mandarins, pineapples and peaches, magenta potatoes and delicate squash flowers. We avoid the meat section where smelly strips of dull brown flesh hang from hooks and a flayed bloody cow head has pride of place at the front counter of one stall. Every part of the animals is on display and for sale and flies buzz hungrily around alighting wherever they damn well please. There is very little refrigeration here so we steer clear ( no pun intended) of the meat, poultry and seafood sections and focus our culinary attention on fruit, veg, dairy, herbs and breads. Usually there are too many bags to take the colectivo home so we catch a taxi, an extravagance at 25 pesos and return home to cook up a storm in our Casa de la lily kitchen.
An extra bonus included in our rental is the wonderful presence of Marcella and Cruz who come every day except Sunday to clean and chat, even cooking for us when we ask.
We enjoy delicious traditional frijoles, chile rellenos and the scrumptious tamales Oaxaquenos of Cruz’ mother. I am definately picking up some new ideas to practice in my kitchen back home!
(Footnote* 29th Dec-We are now back in California with only a few weeks to go until we return home…however i still have more to blog about Mexico and our Christmas here in the snow so keep your eye on your mailbox!)