I had heard about Guadalajara’s market—the Mercado San Juan de Dios. It was huge–the second biggest market in Mexico, which is a country of markets. You can find anything there at bargain prices.
As it turned out, not only was my hotel right above the Plaza de los Mariachis, but it was also just around the corner from the mercado. After a couple of days spent getting oriented to the city, I put on my shopping pants and headed to the market.
I have large family–kids, nieces, nephews, and grandkids–in a big, colorful salad bowl of kin, and I was trying to get something for everyone. Mexico is a good place for that.
The mercado is a four-story extravaganza. It’s an explosion of noise and color. You duck in one of the many puertas, and your senses are immediately assaulted, and you are also lost. The only thing to do is to wander, deeper and deeper into the warren of booths crammed with clothes. sweets, leather, baskets, meat, fish, herbs, produce, tschotkes, household items, live animals, and an entire floor of food booths, like a food court at the mall on steroids.
You can’t easily comparison shop because, once you walk away from the tiny booth where you found that hand-embroidered blouse or wool poncho, you will never find it again. It’s as though the chairs get reshuffled behind you. Everywhere, cries of “Amiga, amiga! Mira, mira!” follow you down the aisles.
At some point, I stopped looking and began buying. A colorful tablecloth and napkins for one daughter. A shawl (rebozo) for…someone. Okay. I was getting it. I was remembering numbers. I was picking up the bartering pas de deux. This was fun!
I was looking for a wool poncho for myself (very handy for cool northern autumns) and a traditional cotton shirt for my dad (which I later learned is called a guayaba, and is worn everywhere in the Yucatan). .
I stumbled across a booth stacked high with clothing. A small, pretty woman popped up from nowhere. As I was to discover, she was a veritable pit bull of a salesperson. I’d start to move on, and she’d yanked me back with “Mira! Amiga! Mira!” I was a fish on her hook, and she was reeling me in. Shirt not big enough? “I have other sizes. Mira, amiga.” More colors? She’d pull out a rainbow of shirts from hidden shelves.
After a long and laborious haggle, we got to her rock-bottom price for a shirt and poncho, which was still higher than I wanted to pay. (Hint: whenever possible, go to the places where the goods are made.) Still, I was excited and pleased. We sealed the deal. I extracted more cash from my money belt (always an awkward maneuver), and I left loaded with bags like Ms. GotRocks coming out of Bergdorf Goodman’s on Fifth Avenue. Only all my bags were plastic and I’d spent less than $100.
I also left without my camera.
I am morbidly afraid of losing things because I am careless, and I have done it so often. Early on in this peripatetic adventure, I’d found out that carelessly forgetting something like, oh, say, a credit card can make your life very stressful when you discover the loss 300 miles down the road. Consequently, I began identifying the “Moments of Vulnerability” (MOVs). These are times of transition when things are either changing or happening fast around you, like laying your sunglasses on a counter when you are paying for an item or gettting off a long-distance bus and looking for a taxi. I try to be extra careful about keeping track of my belongings during those MOVs.
This had been a classic.
I discovered that my camera was missing before I left the mercado, but retracing my steps was a challenge in itself. I eventually located all the vendors I’d visited, but no one had seen my camera. They all appeared to be concerned, but now all those denials and looks of sympathy seemed suspect to me.
I thought I remembered laying it on the heaps of clothes at the booth of the pretty women/pit bull salesperson when I was trying on things, and I went back there twice. The woman made a show (it seemed to me) of looking through the stacks, but came up empty-handed.
In a last-ditch and hopeless attempt, I gave every person from whom I’d bought anything the phone number of my hotel and asked them to call if they found it. Then I left, resigned to the loss of my camera.
This is when you wrestle with demons–suspicion, anger, disappointment. All the fun and happiness deflated like a pricked balloon. It had been my fault. I had been careless. But maybe the vendors were lying. Maybe they were pocketing a few bucks from selling my little bit of American technology at this very moment.
It wasn’t an expensive camera, but it was a good one, plus I hadn’t yet downloaded my photos from Guadalajara, so they were gone, too And now, I’d have to buy another, which would be a daunting, expensive, and time-consuming project.
I was sad all evening. It was like mourning; I felt burdened. I had finally lost something I valued–not that I hadn’t always known this was a distinct possibility, but, now it had happened. It sucked. I didn’t even ask God to help me because…it was only a camera, for cripe’s sake. Why bother God? Suck it up and get a new one, and thank God that you can.
The next morning, I went out to find a place for breakfast without my camera. I felt half-dressed.
When I came back, the guy at the desk beckoned to me and said something about a lady calling from whom I’d bought a shirt and a camera. I was confused. It took me a minute.
“Una mujer llamo? Ella encontro mi camera?”
Yup. That’s what had happened. The lady had found my camera, and she’d called the hotel. I could pick it up after 10am today.
I was incredulous. I was gobsmacked. I was blessed. I felt both humbled and joyous. This was a huge market in a huge city–and these people had found my camera and were giving it back to me.
I went to the mercado and had the usual difficulty wending my way through the maze. The pretty woman and her husband told me how the camera had been under a pile of clothes, and they didn’t find it until they were straightening up to close that evening. They were happy to be able to return it to me. I was relieved to replace the weight of suspicion with gratitude and renewed confidence in humankind.
As I was leaving, the guy in the next booth who spoke good English and who had been peripherally involved in the drama, pigeonholed me and said, “You need to be more careful. A different person would have made some easy money on that camera without a thought. These are good people. Not everyone is.”
I told him that he was right. I’m telling you that there are a lot of good people in Mexico.