Everyday Essentials: San JuanicoJanuary 24th, 2013 | Posted by in Everyday Essentials | Mexico | The Places We've Been
Our description of our journey has evolved greatly over the last year, not just in how we share it with others, but in how we understand it ourselves as well. Perhaps fellow nomads Erin and Simon explain it best in their Slow Travel Manifesto. We don’t view our lifestyle as a trip as much as we see it as simply living in different places for short periods of time. This month we live in San Juanico. Next month we’re living in Guanajuato. Of course, in many ways, we will always be visitors, but the goal is to learn how typical life plays out wherever we are – the history, the traditions, the culture, and all the details of everyday life that go with them. To that end, this will be the first in a planned series detailing some of what appear at first to be more mundane details of a place, but will hopefully be illuminating as insights into the grind behind the “glamour.”
Shopping for food or other basic supplies in San Juanico, one quickly notices contrasts with the usual American model of competition and consolidation. Coming from the U.S., one might expect a town of San Juanico’s size (roughly 1,000 residents) to be served by a single store, perhaps two at most. Instead, this mile long swatch of sand and asphalt is home to no fewer than a half dozen small stores, convenience size at best, referred to as either abarrotes or mini-supers, all stocking similar products at similar prices. The one closest to our casita is Abarrotes Lupita, a corner store a block away. The next one is a block further. On top of that, every Friday a market sets up in the middle of town bringing produce at lower prices than stores stock them in addition to fruits and vegetables that aren’t found the rest of the week, luring a bustling crowd out to shop. The reasons for this phenomenon aren’t immediately clear (though I expect this model will soon seem more familiar than that of superstore monoculture). The size of the town certainly encourages good old-fashioned walking, which might mean competition is based on distance and not on price or quality. In addition, the expectations of each store for a sustainable level of profit are presumably lower here than might be expected back home. Whatever the reasons, the stores proprietors are all friendly and helpful, quick to let us try something unfamiliar or to point out another store that might have something we are looking for if they are out of stock.
As a small town in the middle of the desert, water was certainly in short supply during San Juanico’s formative years. There is no natural (saltless) water source nearby and no town plumbing system either. That is not to say that houses here don’t have running water. Most houses are served by a self contained water system. Outside our house, for example, are twin 600 gallon containers. Every other morning a truck comes by, puts clean water in the incoming container and pumps out the waste container (let’s hope they don’t ever get the two mixed up). The whole system is powered by an electric pump – ours runs on a car battery so that we have running water even when the power is off. We have been told that the water in this system is clean enough to imbibe, but most of the town buys purified 5 gallon water containers for drinking. Just two or three houses down from us is a water outlet, where we shell out 15 pesos ($1.15 USD) every four or five days for a fresh container of water.
There is no laundromat in town, and with a few exceptions it seems like most residences do not have washers and dryers. The remaining options are to hand wash (we tried that once; it is definitely not fun if you have a lot of clothes to wash and your forearms might ache for a day or so afterward) or to take your laundry to the nearest lavandería. Ours happens to be two buildings further down the road from the water outlet. Based on weight or size of load or some other measure we aren’t really sure of, expect to pay between 60 and 80 pesos ($4.60-$6.15 USD) for a load of laundry, cleaned, dried, and neatly folded.
Mexico’s petroleum industry is government controlled. The consumer facing firm for gasoline purchase is called Pemex, and it’s green and red color scheme will greet you beside the road in any moderately sized settlement. It is legal (or at least it is in practice) to resell gasoline bought from Pemex – indeed on our long desolate drive through the desert down the Baja Peninsula we would see a small shop or restaurant with full jerry cans of gasoline displayed in front of handmade signs just beside the highway. San Juanico is not large enough for its own Pemex station, so a few industrious types drive to the nearest Pemex ninety miles away, fill up barrels, and bring them back to town. This naturally makes gasoline more expensive here, but it is available at a couple of locations in town.
If you have been reading our recent posts from San Juanico, you have probably picked up on the fact that electricity to the town is strictly rationed and is only turned on from 5AM-Noon and 4PM to 11PM (unless there’s a town fiesta or someone at the power station has something they want to get done that requires electricity, in which case it may be on all night). This means, of course, that our internet is also only on during those hours. If an emergency were to arise, we could power our house’s electrical system with a gas-powered generator, but we have thus far relished the mandatory system reboot. As far as the internet goes, it is connected via satellite (HughesNet), is fast enough for most browsing or work-related activities, though not for streaming video (meaning weekly Thursday meetings with clients necessitate a 2 hour drive to Ciudad Constitución, and like many other things here, is rationed. Our account gives us 250MB of download bandwidth per day (and unlimited uploads), which we have run over more than once causing a massive slowdown of speed. Luckily we were able to find a usage monitor that tells us how much of our limit we have used.