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The Scavenger Hunt

Living in San Miguel is like one continuous scavenger hunt. Each item we would like to find goes on the list, and then we go searching. Like a scavenger hunt, it takes a team to play, requires physical and mental effort, and with each item that we check off there is a sense of discovery, accomplishment and satisfaction. “Winning” means knowing the city, its language, and the way it functions. It is a game that will never end for us, one that we can truly never win, because we started playing here so late in life. But it’s so much fun checking off each item that we find, the final goal doesn’t really matter.

One example. When we first got here we needed to find a grocery store for supplies for the house and some basic ingredients. People suggested going to La Comer to stock up. It is a cab ride away, but a cab anywhere in the city costs only 50 to 60 pesos, about $2.50 American, so cost is not prohibitive. We were told it would have everything, including specialty items we are used to buying in the States. We hopped in a cab and ten minutes later arrived at La Comer. It is an enormous, modern, bright store with lots of space between aisles. Turns out, it is owned by Costco. But I am overwhelmed by big stores and try to get in and out as quickly as possible, often forgetting what I went to buy. Jack hates big stores too and since we never shop at Costco in the States, we were determined after that to find Mexican markets instead and give our money to local shop owners. “Market “ was the first item on our scanger list.

Turns out there are seemingly endless choices. Markets where locals shop very close to our house, others in el Centro, and just about every neighborhood. Prices are ridiculously low, and produce is mostly fresh, though you have to pick and choose, plus an organic market where gringos shop, a 20 minute walk away. every Tuesday there’s a Tianguis, an outdoor temporary market just for the day that’s as big as 5 football fields that sells everything from produce to shoes to electronics to food cooked as you wait. But our favorite way to shop is from individual sellers at food stalls—-a fruiteria for fruits and vegetables, a tortilleria for freshly made tortillas, a polleria for chicken, a pescaderia for fish, another for pollo asado, or grilled chicken and a carniceria, or butcher shop for meat, and a wine and liquor store blocks away. We are set when we want to eat at home. Check that off the list.

The latest challenge was finding wood for an art project that we will be making when our friends Andrea and Paul Kane arrive in a few weeks. We will be taking a workshop to learn to make (hah!) Amate Papel, an ancient form of art made by Otongi people. I heard about them through friends and met them at an Alternative Design Fair. Otongi are one of the oldest indigenous people in Mexico. They use tree bark to make into paper and then weave to create a design. In order to work with the bark, the first step is to pound the hell out of it. For this we will need a piece of wood the approximate size of the project on which to pound. The artist who will be teaching us doesn’t speak English or Spanish, but Otomi. Her daughter, fortunately, speaks Spanish. She said the wood, which she called tabla MDF, should be not too big. So where to find it? I looked for carpenters, but then it dawned on me. The word must be madereria (madera means wood). Lo and behold, I struck gold! I found a madereria not far from us. The man patiently cut two pieces for us 18x18, one for Jack and me, the other for Andrea and Paul. Proudly, I carried home our find. Now if Jack and I can only survive the 8 hour workshop without English or artistic talent. But at least I found what we need to bring.

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