Day 6: Mercado Hidalgo and the Quest for Produce

How do I know that I’m in Mexico and not, say, Vermont? At a B&B in Vermont, the most recent handwritten comments in the guest book would not say:

“Killed two scorpions today in the bedroom.”

Needless to say, I’m somewhat more alert than normal when putting on shoes, and let’s just say that I’m not sure how soundly I’m going to sleep tonight.

As today is a Monday, and as I’m still working my job while I’m here, I spent a good portion of my day on the phone in meetings. Luckily, I’ve discovered that Skype-to-regular-phones works astonishingly well, so there’s no communication penalty to being in Mexico. I took several of the meetings while basking in the sun on the balcony overlooking the city, often putting the phone on mute to hide the sounds of blaring music and laughing children that are a constant here. As meetings go, it was pretty blissful.

Owing to the time zone difference, my meetings didn’t start until 11 a.m., so I had a chance in the morning to go for a light run. I say light, because the altitude makes anything that’s not perfectly flat darned near impossible. After making my way down into the city I scoped out a running route that took me through some of Guanajuato’s many downtown tunnels. It was a little eerie running through a tunnel, but also less crowded with pedestrians and an interesting exploration. I really had no idea where any of the tunnels lead, but the one I took popped up right next to Teatro Juárez. The geography of this city is still a complete mystery to me. Luckily, it’s a small enough town that anywhere I end up I can easily find my way home (it doesn’t hurt that I can see the mountain that my home sits on from anywhere in town).

After the run I walked back to the base of the callejon that leads up to the house and bought a bag of roasted-in-the-shell peanuts from a street vendor for a mid-morning snack. I also scoped out a nearby vendor who appears to be fresh-squeezing orange juice on the spot. I will visit him tomorrow morning for a post-run drink.

After several hours of calls and work, I took the requisite siesta and then headed out for some exploration and shopping. I took a new route from my house, even steeper down the side of the mountain, and then a different set of side streets toward the city centro. Nearby, I discovered a much-closer tortilleria and grocery. Alas, on my way home the tortilleria was closed, so it’s a tortilla-free day for me. For those who are wagering, I’m stuck on 30.

My walk took me past several of Guanajuato’s notable museums, some of which I plan to hit in the next week, as well as many interesting businesses and restaurants, including what I have to imagine is Guanajuato’s only Irish pub. The menu did not appear to be particularly Irish, to my untrained eye, unless carnitas are a Dublin specialty.

Then I hit the Mercado Hidalgo, which is the city’s bustling market featuring everything from butchers to fruit vendors to restaurant booths to pirated CDs and DVDs to all sorts of odds and ends. It’s in a spectacular building that was inaugurated in 1905, originally intended to be a train station but ended up as a mercado. Go figure.

It’s packed to the gills, inside and out, with anything you could want to buy, including the city’s largest selection of fresh meat and produce. I’d been in there a few times and bought a few bananas, but now it was time to get serious food. I hit my favorite fruit and vegetable booth, run by a charming lady who is always quick with a smile and who puts up with my mediocre Spanish, buying some mini-bananas, potatoes, oranges and carrots. I bought corn from another vendor, and hit one of the carnecerias to buy some chicken breasts. The large pile of chicken feet was a reminder that this meat had probably been chicken-adjacent rather recently.

On my way home I got thoroughly turned around exploring some new streets and plazas, but eventually made the steep climb to the house, where I rewarded myself with five mini-bananas (they taste very different than standard-issue bananas) a boiled potato and some corn. I’ll make myself some orange chicken after this blog.

Depending on what you believe on the Internet, it’s either perfectly safe to eat anything and everything in Mexico, or I will die a slow painful death just looking at a piece of fruit. I’ve decided to aim for a happy medium of being reasonably cautious, cooking food thoroughly and using the BacDyn disinfectant on anything that seems squirrely or raw. Speaking of which, BacDyn sounds like something from the movie Terminator.

In the evening I did some more work, serenaded by loud music playing from the courtyard of the theater directly below my house. Standing on my balcony, I could watch a community dance recital to music ranging from Latin standards to Wooly Bully. 

Now I’m enjoying the beautiful lights of the city from the living room, accompanied, as always by the sound of music playing and dogs barking, which are both constants here. It’s a delightful way to spend an evening, scorpions be damned.

Oh, and for those following along from yesterday’s post, manzanilla-flavored Crest toothpaste appears to taste exactly like original-flavor Crest. Not quite as exotic as I’d imagined.

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