January 22, 2018
John and I have always loved going to estate sales, yard sales and farmer’s markets. There’s something about buying from local community members that is special and we have always made it an adventurous treasure hunt each time we take a “market” excursion.
Before we succumbed to our travel addiction and hit the road permanently, we used to make Fridays “date day” and would go to as many estate sales and markets that we could cram in before it got dark.
We love ‘em!
A few weeks back, when we were housesitting at Rancho San Francisco in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, it was part of our weekly duties to buy specific vegetables, for the animals, from three main markets:
Our eyes kind of glazed over when Stephanie, the owner of Rancho San Francisco, added going to these bonanzas as part of the “chores” to do. Now we’re talking! Right down our alley…literally!
The first Tuesday of our house sit, we loaded up our grocery bags, refrigerated containers and tuned the map apps on our phones to find the Ajijic Organic Market. We had been told that it was on the far west side of the city and was a big deal each Tuesday. We figured that if it was such a big deal it would be easy to find, right?
Honestly, with all the places we’ve traveled, our best adventures seem to happen when we’re LOST. So why should Mexico be any different? Here’s what happened.
John was driving and I was the lookout. We drove and drove and then drove some more until we saw a colorfully decorated wall, with a very ornate gate, where a throng of people were entering. Bingo! John found a parking place a little ways down the road, we gathered up our shopping bags and took off for our first Mexican market experience!
As we got closer to the gate we heard a brass mariachi band playing inside. I commented to John, “Wow! They must make market day a festival event! This is gonna be great!” There were vendors walking around selling several small types of ice cream, breads and fruits. And there were all sorts of little house structures brilliantly decorated with colorful paper cut-out banners.
As we kept walking toward the music, we noticed that several of the little houses had food stacked by them, as well as paper flower wreaths. We slowed down a bit as several young children ran by us.
John: Are you sure this is the right place?
Anel: Uh…not exactly. What is this?
John: I think we’re in a CEMETARY!
Anel (with an eye roll): Pulleeez….There’s no way they’d have a festival with a band and people selling food like this in a cemetary!!!
We stopped and just stood there for a minute or two. I took a closer look at the little houses and the wreaths around them. A few people glanced warily at our shopping bags.
Anel: Oh my, I think you might be right.
John: I think we’ve just crashed someone’s funeral. Let’s get out of here.
Anel: Wait…get some pictures…
We put on our “we’re so sorry” faces and John inconspicuously pulled out his phone and snapped a few quick shots. Then we vamoosed.
When we got home we did a little research.
The previous week Mexico had celebrated Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
During the observance period Mexicans honor and remember loved ones who have passed away. It’s not a sullen, morbid time, but rather a festive colorful celebration where they visit cemeteries, decorate the graves and spend a lot of time there, in the presence of their deceased friends and family members.
Aha! So that’s why the place was all decorated! Wow!
We found out later that Mexican funerals are an opportunity to truly celebrate the life of the deceased person. They often include a procession through the streets with incense, colorful clothing, mescal and a brass band. Funerals are community events, not unlike those in John’s home town (New Orleans) that involve a processional and a jazz band. Everything done, though it appears partylike, has a solemn purpose: to honor the dead.
Similar to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, the Ajijic market is set up on a cobblestone lane that is more like a back street walkway than a road. It happens every Wednesday and has a little bit of everything. Ajijic’s large retired, expat population frequents this market and it is generally very crowded.
Vegetables, fruits and flowers are plentiful and very reasonably priced. Clothing, hats, sunglasses, colorful pottery and unique artwork line the narrow pathway, where the market convenes.
John got a real kick out of the fish vendors. This area had a huge variety of fish laying on a platform of crushed ice. I didn’t notice, but John swore that some of the pescado (fish) were still flopping. Now that’s what I call fresh! We bought shrimp there at a fraction of what we had paid at the store.
I loved the colorful pottery and woven rugs. Every now and then you can see a local artisan painting or working a loom as they created unique, authentic treasures.
One day we saw a guy carrying around a crate of bull dog puppies for sale.
There is definitely something for everyone at this delightful place.
The week after our cemetary adventure, we finally found the organic market in Ajijic. This market consists of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as dairy products and some grass fed meats. We went for Swiss chard and collard greens for the iguanas and ducks. We were amazed that the leafs of the greens were separated and neatly stacked in a plastic bag to be sold.
This is an indoor market and if you are into healthy, organic foods you won’t want to miss it.
The Chapala market occurs on Mondays and, of the three, is our favorite. It is mainly attended by locals. We found some great deals here. Because we went in early December there were loads of booths with children’s clothes and toys. I found some Danskin exercise outfits for about a quarter of the price that I would have paid in Texas. John bought some shorts and a shirt. We also loaded up on local honey and veggies.
Stretching over ten city blocks, this market is definitely the largest of the three. We liked it because we could rest and readjust our bags on the cross streets.
All in all, if you are in the Lake Chapala area you won’t want to miss these markets. Going to them is more like attending a full-fledged event, than a grocery store run. We had a blast and got some excellent deals like:
Danskin Exercise outfit:
Getting lost in a Mexican cemetary: