09 January 2014
January 8, 2013
We were looking for somewhere to buy fresh fish when the gentleman from Club Cruceros told us about Mercado Bravo. He actually called himself a “marina maiden” and then qualified that by explaining that he was one of these cruisers who left the states and landed in La Paz and never left. There are a lot of those in Mexico.
“You don't want to get fish off the pangas on the beach here. They probably caught them right outside the marina and I wouldn't trust that.” He told us. “Mercado Bravo sells fresh fish, meat and vegetables. You know where Applebees is on the malecon? (Yes, there is an Applebees in La Paz.) Well six blocks up from that on Bravo, you will find the market.”
“The best time to go is early morning on a weekday.” his friend Bill, added. Bill and his wife have been in La Paz for several years too, and although they don't call themselves marina maidens, they have been staying put for awhile. They are promising themselves they are going to untie the lines this summer and cruise the sea. We'll see.
“Great.” Jay muttered as we left the clubhouse. “It's midday and it's Saturday.”
“Oh, let's go anyway.” I said. “We're here now.”
Our marina, Costa Baja, is a beautiful resort with a hotel and spa, restaurants, and an amazing beach club. The only down side (for some, not for us) is that it is out of town. They do have a free shuttle that goes into town every couple of hours. But that means it is a bit of a trek; about a 20 minute van ride and then on foot the rest of the day. Since we had made the journey in and had already walked a couple of miles, what was one more?
The only problem with walking around in La Paz is the uneven sidewalks. The streets run up and down hills and their sidewalks are in great disrepair. Some of the sidewalks look as if an earthquake split them in two with the left side rising eight inches above the right side. And some of the sidewalks have slabs of cement in the oddest places. Like they didn't quite finish what they started. These slabs of cement pop out of nowhere. You will be walking and all of a sudden you stub your foot on a step up that you couldn't see, almost falling. Then, just as suddenly, there are several steps down. The step might be as high as a foot or it might be as short as a couple of inches. Just when you think you have it figured out, you take your next step, but now you aren't looking down because you notice the colorful house, or the dog wandering the streets or the lady selling trinkets, and you drop down ten inches. This time you do fall. All these variations are mixed throughout the city of La Paz with seemingly no reason or thought put behind them. Awkward and not good on the knees.
But we needed to find a local market. We had been to the Mega and Chedraui. We weren't impressed with either. Bad versions of Walmart with lousy vegetables and meat and I didn't even want to walk by the fish counter. It turned my stomach. (They did have good bakeries, though.) So, off to Mercado Bravo. About eight blocks down the malecon and six blocks up the hill to the market.
It wasn't at all what I expected. I don't know what I expected, really. Maybe a smaller version of Ralphs? It wasn't that. More like an indoor farmer's market, only selling much more than fresh vegetables.
As we enter, there is a tortillaria to our left. Nothing like the smell of fresh tortillas. Then we walk through a maze of individual food stands. They were selling tacos, tostadas and more. Every stand sold empanadas, lots of empanadas. There were juice bars too. And each one had counter space for customers to sit around the kitchen and/or grill and eat. Every seat was filled and there were people standing behind them, waiting for their turn. In the background, from another part of the market, I could hear the beat of a bongo drum and a man chanting. This was not the Muzak we Americans use to slow the consumer down. No, this is the opposite and the cadence is fast making me feel like I have to move quickly and buy, buy, buy. Before it is all gone! And there are so many people, moving here and there, and the music is loud and fast and there are bright colors, and merchants are flashing their items in our faces. Our eyes are wide open in wonder. Am I in a market? Or have I just entered a carnival? I am not sure. Jay likens it to a middle eastern souk.
We walk past a man who has just entered carrying a carcass over his shoulder. Jay follows him to the meat counter and watches as he begins to chop him up in small pieces for sale. There are rows and rows of vegetables to the right and left of me. A lady pushes a bucket in my hand. Another man tries to do the same. These buckets are in lieu of carts or baskets and are to put your vegetables in. Each one wants me to buy from them.
“No gracious. Mas tarde.” I say in my pathetic version of Spanish. What I am trying to say is not now, but later. For now, I am just trying to get my bearings.
Jay comes and pulls me over to the fish counter. “Look at this!” He says with glee. “Fresh Amarillo!” I am still in a daze and so don't acknowledge what he has just said. I just stare at it and all the other fish lying on the ice. “Yellowfin.” He adds wanting me to share in his excitement.
“Oh, yes. Great! Let's get some.” We buy enough for the two of us for dinner and it costs less than three US dollars.
We buy some shrimp, chicken and fresh eggs. These eggs turn out to be some of the best we have had in a long time. I go back for the veggies and fill up my bag.
“How are we going to keep this cold?” Jay asks. “If we want to go have a bite to eat?”
“No worries.” I say and ask the lady for “Hielo.” She brings one of those five pound bags of ice adding to the weight we already have to carry.
“No more. We can't carry anymore stuff.” Jay says leading me out of store. “Let's just get a cab.”
You would think there would be cabs outside the market. But this isn't the gringo market like Mega, this is the local market and the locals don't use cabs. We head down the rugged sidewalks carrying twenty pounds of groceries to the malecon where there are sure to be cabs.
Success! And when we hesitate with the name of the restaurant where we want to go, our cab driver guesses, “Bismark?”
“Yes!” we say and we were off to enjoy a meal and toast to our latest adventure.
A week later, I went into town by myself while Jay did boat chores. It was a morning weekday and this time it was much quieter. There was no drummer but a man strumming an accoustic guitar. I took my camera and the merchants were happy to oblige when I asked if I could take their photo.
I bought a ½ kilo of Cabrillo (Black Sea Bass – it isn't endangered here.), six short beef ribs, two chicken legs with thighs attached, 18 eggs, two dozen corn tortillas, one dozen flour tortillas, rice, salt, one cucumber, two Italian squash, one red onion, one white onion, two carrots, 12 limons, one jicama, two grapefruit, two oranges, two bananas, four Roma tomatoes, cilantro, five green chiles and two serrano peppers all for under thirty US dollars! We have found our local market.
Oh and this time I got smart and asked the fish merchant for heilo and got a zip-lock bag full of ice instead of a five pound bag. I'm learning. Poco a poco.