A Travellerspoint blog

Mexican oddities and gringo teeth

sunny 16 °C

If we had nothing else to do, it might have been fun to wait around and see how this car managed to squeeze out of this predicament.


Parking in San Miguel, with its steep, narrow one-way streets punctuated by driveways and no-access areas, is at an absolute premium. Watching drivers parallel-park is legitimate entertainment, and leaving the car behind with no wiggle room does not appear to be a concern. Many cars bear the bumps, scrapes, dents and gouges (that we just got banged out of our car) with absolute insouciance. If we lived here, I would spend $500 on an old truck and be good to go.

Every walk we take is filled with oddities like this, and of course we spend much time wondering about them. (This is what happens when you are together 24/7, with no jobs to go to, and time to talk about trifling matters). We passed this building and a great debate ensued.


This is a fancy little store, thoughtfully merchandised, and I thought the facade had been deliberately designed to look like the plaster had fallen away. Stephen believed the opposite - that the building was in that state of disrepair, and they chose not to change a thing. Now, as I look more closely at the picture, I have no idea. Feel free to weigh in.

This evil little Chucky is the "doorman" at the head shop that is just around the corner from us, and a couple of days ago, we noticed a sign had been attached - advertising for "a salesperson with a good appearance".


Who are these wooden ladies, with arms sternly crossed? They stand guard from their second-floor windows, giving no clue as to who lives within. The ground-level door, with just a street number, appears to be a private home and not a gallery.


Most Mexican towns and cities have some version of these hedges in their zocalos and centre squares and I've always wondered at the work involved in keeping them perfectly and geometrically pruned. Now we know - it's a three-man job - one on the ladder pruning, one on the ground sweeping up debris, and one supervising.


We took a bus out on Tuesday to the weekly tianguis that is held on the outskirts of town. The SMA tianguis (open-air market) is a don't-miss event with everything for sale from tires to toothpaste. We were both interested in the experience; I was especially drawn to the idea that I could rummage through massive tables of used clothes, priced from 20-80 pesos. But first we had to get there, and the bus ride was an experience in itself. We were amused by this sign - Amor En Silencio - Love in Silence?


We wondered what shenanigans the young-uns had gotten up to in the past that required such a rebuke. Young Mexican couples are notorious for their breathtakingly brazen public displays of affection, but they're not especially noisy.

The tianguis was spread out over several acres, with a staggering amount of stuff for sale - just staggering. Aside from some handmade furniture, there was very little in the way of authentic Mexican goods - the theme here seemed to be Chinese electronics, and shoes and clothes, with an emphasis on Ralph Lauren knock-offs and the ubiquitous Aeropostale hoodies beloved by Mexican youth.

Food shopping here was fantastic - piles of beautiful vegetables and fruit, stall after stall of freshly prepared juices, quesadillas and tamales - the locals walking out with bulging bags of food for far less money than they'd pay in town. Still - I'm trying to imagine the folks at Health and Safety in Canada (or the U.S.) walking through this market without cringing. No protective packaging. No sneeze-guards. And that's just the candy - the meat, chicken and fish counters are a whole other ball of wax.


And then, the fun began. I've been a thrift shopper for decades, and tend to hit the consignment and thrift stores in any town we visit, but nothing prepared me for the tianguis tables in Mexico.


Bales of clothing are shipped here from the U.S. and distributed throughout Mexico. A seasoned thrift shopper will know within a minute whether or not the table is worth stopping at, and you can't waste time - you're competing with gringos and locals alike for the best stuff . (Shirley, you would be right at home here!) It is also a wonder to see such visible proof of how much we produce and waste - in just this market there were at least 40 tables dedicated to used clothes. I passed by tables of pilly sweaters and dowdy skirts, and hit the motherlode with one specific table, where I found four items - a crisp white shirt, tan linen pants, a sleeveless top in a small paisley print and a patterned t-shirt that another gringo lady assured me was "perfect." Total cost - 240 pesos - less than $20CAN. I found a lot more, of course, but sadly, like the fish that are too small to eat, I had to throw back the size 6's. I could see the unopened bales under each table - every week would bring fresh treasures. If I lived here, I'd be on that bus every week - not an enthusiasm that Stephen shares in the least.

On the other end of the economic scale, it is possible for gringos to buy regional cheese and imported goodies from the lovely Luna de Queso deli. As one of our acquaintances in SMA pointed out, a cheese purchase might require a bank loan, but it is no doubt a comfort to know that the temperature-controlled cheeses, as well as several varieties of cold-pressed virgin olive oil and Maldon sea salt available. We had a delicious (and very reasonable) lunch there.



San Miguel is like that - there are limitless opportunities to spend as much or more as you might back home, but in those same high-end shops there are often affordable treasures to be found. We've been admiring copper sinks - they are installed in a number of the better bathrooms around town. I stopped by a store today that carried a huge supply of all things copper, and discovered to my delight that a sink I really like is just 1200 pesos - less than $100. On the other hand, I saw this magnificent necklace, designed by one of San Miguel's big name silversmiths, and it is one of the few things I've seen so far that I have really coveted. However - it is $500, and while it is worth that amount (jeweller-friends, I'm sure you'll agree), it will have to find another home. (more in another blog on the financial approach necessary to travel for months).


We've mentioned many times the creative and artistic approach that Mexicans take with their homes and businesses. Not to be outdone, even the fumigator has put some thought into his presentation. I would hire this person, based on the sign alone.


Now this is something quite foreign to me, but not apparently to a number of devout Catholics. While we were in Puebla, we saw baby dolls with a number of outfits for sale. They all signified something, (although not the Baby Jesus, to the best of my understanding) and they were being reverently and tenderly carried to church by men, women and children. We haven't seen those same dolls here, but we've seen a few stores that carry religious figures (the Pieta, life-size Jesus, and disciples, and glass cases with anatomically correct babies). I think a 6-foot cross of Jesus, bloodied and bowed, would be a frightening addition to the living room, and I have no idea where this little case would go. Please believe me, I am not being irreverent or disrespectful, I am really curious to know more.


The library in San Miguel, as in Oaxaca, is an excellent meeting point for gringos, and this one is a treasure. It has a great cafe, an 80-seat theatre for movies and lectures, a book sale every Thursday, and a number of events and language classes. We've had coffee and sweets at this cafe a couple of times - there is always someone to strike up a conversation with.


A few days ago, we met up with this gentleman, Morgan, who has his photos of bull-fighting on display. Morgan is originally from the U.S., but has lived in San Miguel for 35 years. He was heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway as a boy, and that interest in bull fighting led him to Tijuana as a young man, where he met up with bull breeders and matadors. He told us some wild stories about rides in big trucks with big men and steel cases full of American dollars. Bull? Who knows? That's the thing about Mexico - anything is possible.


And finally - on to the subject of gringo teeth. Dental tourism has been a big thing in Mexico for years - procedures here cost one-quarter to one-half of what they do in Canada (no idea about the U.S.). Last year we had our teeth cleaned in Bucerias for $45, and the waiting room was filled with gringos working their way through implants, bridges, crowns and other dental work that has become cost-prohibitive back home. This year, we had our cleanings done in San Miguel for $60, compared to roughly $200 that we would pay in Canada. We did a bit of research once we got to San Miguel, and then headed over to this very inviting dental office, run by a mother-son dentist team, both of whom speak perfect English.


The waiting room was immaculate, and offered magazines in both Spanish and English, as well as water and coffee, and curiously for a dental office, a bowl of candy! Both Stephen and I had appointments with the son, Javier, who had been to the U.S. on a tennis scholarship. There are not many hygienists in Mexico; the cleanings are usually done by dentists. Valeria, his assistant, was there to set up the tools and get us lodged in the chair. The wall was filled with diplomas and credentials, and the tools were all wrapped and had disposable parts, so that was reassuring.


Javier advised Stephen to get a bite guard, as he was grinding his teeth, so he was fitted for that and picked it up today - $100. I asked Javier what a crown would cost - 7000 pesos, or $600 CAN, which is at least half of what we would pay in Canada. The takeaway is this - if you need to have a lot of reconstructive dental work done, especially implants that will cost thousands and thousands of dollars, it might be worth it to investigate coming to Mexico.

We've been up to lots of interesting things - movies, art walks, and great restaurants - more on that in the next blog. As well, we have he said/she said perspectives on our trip so far that we'd like to share. See you soon!

Posted by millerburr 15:01 Archived in Mexico

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Very well written, Ginny! Practice makes perfect

by peter hohenadel

San Miguel seems like a very nice, interesting town. I get the impression that there is much to do.... One would not get bored with everything San Miguel has to offer. You both seem to be having an amazing experience with all the places you've both seen.
I look forward to hearing more. Who knows we just might make it out west. Take care!

by Marilena

YOU MADE ME VERY ENVIOUS AT THAT MARKET. what a fun day that would be. Tks enjoy your blogs so much better than a trip to mexico. Enjoy.

by shirley robertson

Thanks Ginny

by Annie

Wow! Loved your blog ... so many things for us to discover through you! I was right in there with you, digging through the piles of clothes, looking for bargains! Glad you found some (although it probably doesn't make up for the necklace you left behind.)

by Heather

Ah the bliss of absurdity and travel-education, looking forward to dinner and a full conversation.


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