One thing I don’t think I have written about is my daily life here in Punta Gorda. I know I have indicated that people say hello to you when walking down the street. And I know I have mentioned that people pick me out and talk to me, especially after I hurt my ankle, and I get stopped and asked if I am the RE/MAX lady but I haven’t really described a lot of the other elements that make up my day here. So that will be the subject of this week’s entry.
Punta Gorda is a small town of approximately 6000 people, made up of 50% Mayan, and the rest are Chinese, East Indian, American, Canadian, British, German, Garifuna, Creole (not necessarily in this order of percentage). And I am sure there are other groups that are here but I just haven’t identified them. The interesting thing is that all the grocery stores are run by the Chinese, with the exception of 2 of them, which are run by East Indians. The Mayans run the little craft shops, several clothing stores and the rest of the businesses are run by the rest.
Down on Front Street is the market. Front Street is right along the coast so some of the buildings block the view of the water from the market attendees.
None of the so-called grocery stores carry a big selection of fruits and vegetables. Because electricity is relatively expensive – at almost $0.41 per kilowatt hour – the stores don’t have refrigeration units like we do back home. So if you want fresh fruits and vegetables you go to the market. The market is part of my rounds every few days or so. I buy fresh tomato, potato, onions, carrots, celery, cabbage, zucchini, cucumber, oranges, pineapple. Mangoes aren’t in season yet. We can get apples but they are imported and cost $1.00 BZ each. A Belizean dollar is equal to fifty cents American. I sometimes buy bananas at the market but this is a rarity because the people I am staying with run a small business called WannaBanana and the product is chocolate covered frozen bananas rolled in coconut. So she, being Brandie, gets crates of bananas a week. A crate of bananas containing approximately 100 bananas costs $10.00 BZ. Thank goodness I love bananas.
So going to the market is a constant activity. I am sure my brother would love this as he really likes going to the market and gets up at the crack of stupid to get there before the crowds show up. Here that isn’t such a big deal because the market runs 6 out of 7 days.
Getting groceries is another matter. Remember those Chinese grocery stores I mentioned? Well, they are no larger than our convenience stores back home. And what you can get in one store you can’t get in another. There are 6 grocery stores in a 1 mile (I am being generous on distance because I am not quite sure) stretch of street. The staff don’t speak very good english and they don’t put signs out with the name of the store. So we have come to identify the store as peach chinese, green chinese, lilly’s chinese (named after one of the ladies that works there), chinese beside the chinese restaurant, clean chinese, and it goes on. You can see how it might be confusing to find your way back to the store where you found product “A”. I have started a matrix so that I can locate what I want, at the best price, and at the size I want. One of the stores carries the small bottles of ketchup, while the next one carries the family size of ketchup. And it is like this for most items. Some stores carry only soy milk, while others carry both soy and regular cow’s milk. So, which one is which? It takes a long time to do the groceries when you want specific items and can’t remember which store carried it.
Some of the grocery stores also carry small apartment size washers and stoves. Others carry chairs and clothing. Others carry bicycles. There is no such things as a store being dedicated to a particular line of goods like there is back home. You can’t get raisin bran in each store. You can’t get a 1 litre size of yogurt in each store. So grocery shopping takes a while too. Hence, the matrix.
And then all the other little shops – you just have to go into each one to see what is sold in that store. In one store you can get sewing notions along with clothes and music cds. In another store you can get wedding dresses, first communion clothing and material to make clothes.
Some days I go to the Fi (fu) Wi (wee) Chikin store where I purchase our meat, chicken mostly. Which, by the way, is a really good price. This is one store that does carry some fruits and vegetables. Today I also picked up stew beef to make stew, so I also picked up 2 potatoes, 2 carrots, and 1 small red pepper. I can also get grapes here – at $10.00 BZ per pound. Every now and then I just want some grapes.
I make my purchase and walk back to my place via Front Street. Many of the streets are unpaved which makes for interesting navigation because the potholes and ruts are often filled with water. Fortunately, the vehicles move slowly so getting splashed doesn’t really happen.
The kids ride their bicycles freely on the streets, people are out walking all the time and generally this is a community of people. People aren’t stuck in their air-conditioned vehicles or in their air-conditioned homes. Instead, they are out, getting what they need, and being friendly on the street. It doesn’t quite make up for missing family members back home, but I think my days would be less bearable if people here weren’t as friendly as they are.
Even with the ex-pat community – we have all come here for some personal reason, shared or not, and because of this we form bonds a little easier with each other. We are all outsiders together sharing one common element – our desire to start a new life someplace where life is not quite so hectic, where you can stop and sit on the dock of the bay, and watch the tide roll away, (Otis Redding) and then take pictures of crabs at the seashore. (It really is there, top corner of the rock).