Paradise pretty wonderful, not perfect

Food seems to be a recurring theme of my columns.

I like to cook and try new things. On this little Mexican island of Isla Mujeres, many opportunities exist to try new and tasty treats and learn new ways to prepare them. However, grocery shopping, especially at the large supermarket, is not for the faint of heart.

We have numerous small neighborhood tiendas, kind of like 7-Elevens, but much smaller and without fuel. Tiendas carry beer and staples such as bread, tortillas, beans, rice, candy and chips. The proprietors are friendly and helpful.

At each end of the island, there are large old markets with several stalls that sell meat (not refrigerated, just hanging there), vegetables, fruits and textiles. Each market also has a huge, noisy machine that shoots out fresh, delicious corn tortillas. Everyone who works there is welcoming.

However, the most popular place to buy everything from groceries to furniture, clothes and appliances is our new Walmart-pretender called Chedrauri (pronounced Che-drou’-eee). It also is the most challenging place to buy groceries. Unlike stores in the U.S., the people who work at Chedrauri are neither especially friendly nor helpful.

For instance, like most large Mexican groceries, the employees do not stock at night. They restock shelves during the day, often blocking entire aisles. If you cannot get to the product you want, you must wait until they are finished stocking.

In the U.S., returning a defective product is usually quick and easy. Not so in Mexico. The store manager must be called and they have to have a lengthy conference to determine whether you should get your pesos back. Usually, they allow the refund, but it’s not freely or easily given.

At checkout, the cashiers’ main motivation is getting you through the line quickly. To that end, she scans the item and then actually tosses it into a pile at the end of the belt. This rough handling is common with all the cashiers, leading me to believe that management has trained them to move quickly.

I often say, “despacio, despacio!” meaning “slowly, slowly,” which elicits only a frowny face from the cashier. Eggs and bread take a real beating going through this process, to the extent that sometimes each is in bad shape when you get it back to the boat.

Cashiers also do not take kindly to customers who question prices of items. I watch carefully as they ring up items because I have discovered that the price on the shelf below the item is not always reflected in the computer. In those cases, the price in the computer is always higher. If it’s a small difference, I let it pass. A big difference forces me to point it out.

Recently, a bottle of wine that was marked 86 pesos on the shelf rang up as 140 pesos. I pointed it out to the cashier, but she just shrugged her shoulders. I returned to the wine aisle, removed the price on the shelf and brought it to her. She had to call over the manager, who reluctantly changed the price.

All of this took several minutes and caused stern looks from the customers in line behind us. There was no apology from the manager or the cashier.

We usually pay with our debit card. Last week, we had filled our cart with our weekly shopping items, found an available check-out lane, placed the items on the moving belt and watched the clerk ring up about 1,000 pesos worth of groceries. When Phil offered his card, she calmly said “No system!”

That meant the Internet was down, and we could not use the card. Fortunately, he had enough cash to cover the cost, but we don’t usually carry much cash. An announcement over the PA system or a sign at the check-out line could have forewarned customers that they must have cash.

Recently, a local Facebook page for gringos called “Islaholics” warned people that the whole computer system was down at Chedrauri, and they couldn’t use the scanner in the check-out line. There were four cashiers in each line, trying to tally purchases without the use of their cash registers and scanners. The post on Facebook cautioned, “Stay away from Chedrauri today!”

Okay, my rant is finished. I accept the fact that things are different in foreign countries, and the new and exciting things about the places we visit far outweigh my Chedrauri complaints. I just didn’t want you to think that everything was always perfect in paradise. It’s pretty wonderful but not totally perfect.