I fear that we may have done the grocery stores of Xcalak a major disservice on this blog in recent months. In past posts we have detailed getting food from the food truck, driving to Mahahual for small items and stocking up in Cheutmal but until now we’ve never addressed the grocery stores of Xcalak. We haven’t addressed them because other than an occasional stop for a snack and a drink on the way someplace else we’ve never really shopped in them. It takes at least 30 minutes to get to Xcalak from our house so rather than shop there we usually just tack an extra hour on the trip, make a day of it and head to the bright lights and dozen restaurants or so of Mahahual.
But today we needed to purchase a few small but very important items that the grocery truck usually doesn’t bring, and we didn’t have the time or inclination to spend all day doing it. So today my friends, today we tell you about the grocery stores of Xcalak. And by grocery stores I mean small, family run abarrotes all of which are nearly identical to the casual observer. While they may look the same at first glance, they are all very different with different hours, specialties and inventories. And those little differences are where the adventure begins!
The items we needed were trash bags, butter, and bug spray. These may seem like minor items but they’re all very important in their own way. As we mentioned, we don’t have trash service and without good trash bags dogs, raccoons etc. would have the trash all over the place and we’d be swamped by flies in minutes. You can’t make mac and cheese without butter and without mac and cheese Jason becomes a very angry little boy. The mosquitos here pack a dangerous bite so we rarely go anywhere without first applying a liberal dose of bug spray and that’s hard to do when you’re out of spray (or mozzie squirt as some call it). So you see, we needed these items but didn’t want to use a tank of gas getting them, so off we headed into Xcalak.
Thirty minutes later our first stop was the Diconsa. It’s basically a store that’s subsidized by the government in an effort to provide affordable food staples such as rice, beans, canned goods and water. In addition to these staples it has ice and a fairly impressive array of bug sprays and mosquito coils and is the closest store to us so it was a logical first stop. It was also closed.
As I said, each abarrote has their own hours and the only way to tell if they’re open is to go and see if the door’s open. Open door? In luck. Closed door? Come back another time.
Luckily Xcalak is a small town and the next store was only about 100 yards down the road. Our second stop didn’t have any of the items that we were looking for but it did yield a few surprises. Old El Paso taco sauce? Prego spaghetti sauce? I know these sound minor but trust me, they’re a big deal. Sometimes we can’t even find this stuff at Costco or Walmart but they’re right here in our own town? Score!
So we had some nice bonuses but that still didn’t help us out with our necessities. You ask anyone in Xcalak where to find something and they’ll likely tell you to talk to Melcher so we headed there next. Melcher and his wife run a nice shop called La Gaviota (The Seagull) that is probably the best known shop in town. However, try asking anyone in town for directions to La Gaviota and all you’ll get is shrugs. It’s universally called Melcher’s and trust me, everyone knows where Melcher’s is. Call it what you like, they’ve got a very nice selection so we had high hopes of tracking down our much needed items.
Now that you know what to call Melcher’s and know that they’ve got a great selection you’re ready to run into town and grab some stuff right? Not so fast there cowboy, there’s a special way to shop at Melcher’s. There’s no browsing, no walking up and down the aisles, you stand at the counter and ask Melcher or Señora Melcher (not her name but that’s what everyone calls her, why break the pattern now?) for what you’d like.
That’s right, not only do you have to know exactly what you need but you must also know how to say it in Spanish since you have to shop from the counter. I mean I guess it’s one way to avoid impulse buying. Lucky for us we only needed three things and I had Googled the words ahead of time. We were able to get butter and bug spray right off the bat but when I asked for “bolsas para basura” Señora Melcher asked me how many I needed. That threw me for a loop. How many trash bags do I need? Since apparently “a boxful” wasn’t an option I had no idea. Seeing my confusion she helpfully pulled four loose bags out from under the counter and added them to our little pile of items. Apparently four trash bags was either how many I needed or how many she was willing to part with, either way, we bought four trash bags.
Rather than drive back to town in a few days for more trash bags we decided to try another store. Glad we did too because Abarrote Dos Hermanos had plenty and they happily sold us five more bags.
Success! We had found all of our necessary items along with a few little bonuses to boot. We had nine trash bags (in 2 different sizes), enough butter for 4 boxes of mac and cheese, bug spray, a kitchen sponge, a jug of chilled pineapple juice and a crazy flavored iced tea and a bag of lime flavored peanuts for the ride home.
An hour in the car and four different stores may not sound like a successful trip to many people but for us it was great! We found all of our necessities along with some other hard to find items all without leaving Xcalak and that my friends, is a successful trip in my book. What the grocery stores of Xcalak may sometimes lack in inventory they more than make up for in adventure.