Posted: 09/11/2011 in Capitalism, Development, Mexico, Personal

It is something to get used to the reality that going out means absolutely walking everywhere. This may reveal something American or suburban or both about me, but I feel like I’ve tackled the project in the last two weeks with notable enthusiasm. In a given day, I walk to work and back (which is 2.6 kilometers round-trip), to the post office and back to work (about another 3), and out to the store or market. That last trip adds 3 more if we’re going to Bodega Aurrera (or Mexican Wal-Mart, in all seriousness –part of the Wal-Mart Mexico empire) or .5 if we’re headed to Mercado Chorizo (the local covered market, filled with the stalls of local produce vendors and shop owners with the slightest variations in merchandise). At least I think that’s what it’s called. I am fascinated by both of these places for very different reasons, but that’s a topic for another post.

My daily walk to work.

My daily walk to work.

Naturally, going to lunch means walking as does going out after work as does making plans to see a site. If there is something that I am noticing now that I am walking on average about 8 kilometers a day, it’s that I’m tired. I truly like the walk-ability of the city and I like walking, but I’m just not used to doing this much of it all the time.

Account also, please, in the equation, that this is not easy walking. Mexico City is a sinking concrete city built over an ancient lake-bed on top of a seismic fault. (I feel inclined to add here that there is also a looming and active volcano, but I’m not sure it contributes directly to the jumbled slabs of sidewalk I’m getting to.) You must watch the path in front of you at all times. Additionally, there are always people in the street to dodge and be dodged by and I think crowds are good –business-people in the morning, school kids, parents and grandmas in the afternoon, vendors all day long, and everyone after 6:ooPM. I feel a lot of safety in the crowds in Mexico City. They are beautifully normal, though they do require a bit of grace and attention to navigate safely (Mexicans are incredibly good at this and there is no pushing on the sidewalk –in the subway though, all bets are off). Truthfully, cars are what I’m most unnerved by in Mexico City. There are cars everywhere. Every side-street is lined with parked cars on both sides and, as a result, most of the smaller streets are marked as one-way, though it is likely you’ll see a car driving the wrong way about half the time. Mexicans in this city drive like maniacs. On big streets, at least 6 cars will fly through a light that’s just turned red while motorbikes and motorcycles never bother to follow the lights or the lanes at all. I feel I can describe it best as a warfare mentality. Mexican drivers are at war with each other, with traffic, with their city. Even my mild-mannered taxi driver from the airport who spoke so softly I had to lean over the front seat to hear him drove like we were about to botch the mission and lives were at stake.

All this conspires to make running to the store to get something (and then carrying it back) a little exhausting. This is why I am quickly falling in love with my Tienda de abarrotes –the tiny convenience store just around the corner from my apartment. If I go down to the stop sign on the left side of the picture and hang a right, my apartment is three or four doors down on the left. Lately I’m spending more time and money at this Coca-cola advertisement on the corner.

Tienda de abarrote around the corner from my apartment --lucky, lucky me.

Tienda de abarrote around the corner from my apartment --lucky, lucky me.

I introduced myself to the owner. His name is Juan. At first I would come in every morning and get a cup of coffee. For $14 (pesos), I would get something equivalent to what a 7-11 cappuccino machine might produce. But this past weekend, Juan stopped stocking his automated coffee machine, so I took matters into my own hands and visited Bodega Aurrera to buy a coffee pot. I was going to show it to Juan on my way home and tell him, “Look! The world is changing…” but he wasn’t working this once.

It might have turned out that with morning coffee covered I would’ve stopped finding reasons to visit Juan’s store, but the truth of the matter is that Juan seems to have everything. Water, of course. Eggs? Check. Dish soap, hot sauce, milk, matches, and fresh Oaxacan cheese? All of the above. And I am far from the only one. Today, I was taking a bit of time standing in the tiny space, crowded on all sides by bags of chips, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted and I was in everyone’s way. On a Saturday afternoon, Juan had a steady stream of customers. Two little boys buying ice cream sandwiches. An older guy getting two big bottles of Coke and a churro. A mom and her young daughter picking up milk and bar soap. I had previously wondered how this corner supported the two almost identical stores (I never go into the one marked Sol… I don’t know why not), but now I know how.

Juan’s tiendita is a huge addition to my life here thus far. And he’s probably saving my life by keeping me from walking too much farther.


  1. […] I will miss the few neighbors who know me, the women who sell me my produce at the market, and Juan at the corner store where I buy my water and late-night […]

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