A Day in a Village Store

Soon after my arrival in Creel, which is some sort of a base camp for exploring Copper Canyon, I have realized that I’m not the kind of a masochist that would, out of pure pleasure, go and descend on a gravel road 1.800m in to the valley to a town called Urique. And this descend would be only to ascend again for about the same height difference on a road that most maps don’t even show it exists. From the top the road goes down again and again for about 1.800m to a town called Batopilas. From this town, there is only one road out and yes, uphill. And since I have already mentioned twice 1.800m, I will use the same number here again. It’s not exactly accurate but you get the picture.
Instead I have decided to skip Urique and head for Batopilas on the main road. Obviously climbs and descends are not limited to the previously mentioned route. The main road has it as well, they are just not that extreme. Nor are they innocent either. On my second day out of Creel I made only 36km of progress. Average speed was around 8,5 km/h and most of the afternoon I have spent slowly climbing on a twisting and steep road leading out of a canyon of the upstream Urique river. On top (well, a bit further and to the side) is a village called Samachique which was my goal for the day. In Creel I got a contact in this village, Ruben and Monse, a couple in their early sixties. After I have asked two kind ladies for directions I found myself in front of a house not unlike any other in the village. It’s just that this one was “hiding” a store in the main room together with some sort of a communal area with two tables, some chairs and a wood-stove (after all we are at 2.000m above sea level). Quickly we managed to agree that I will stay here for the night and in the morning I will leave Lou and the rest of my gear here and head into the valley by bus.
After a two-day trip to Batopilas where I have enjoyed once again temperatures well above 20°C and indulged myself into doing nothing, I went back to pick up Lou and continue on my way.
The bus left me all wrinkled (I got up at 3:30) at the beginning of the village and after a half an hour walk through the high mountain morning chill I had arrived to the store. Ruben opened the door and Monse had made coffee and served me breakfast. Comfortably I had sat into a chair next to just lit wood-stove and arranged to stay another day here. I’m in no rush, here it’s nice and warm and I’m interested to find out how everyday life looks around here.
Little after 8 (opening hours are obviously not fixed) the store officially opens. It’s not that there is a crowd of customers outside (actually there is none), it’s just that the main doors remain unlocked and that the curtains on both windows are pulled aside. Besides the two windows, the room is lit by two energy-efficient light bulbs and a TV in the corner set to the morning show. I have no idea what it’s about.
The store is comprised of two counters and some shelves next to two walls. They are full of various goods. From toilet paper, instant noodles, fish cans, pasta to menstrual pads, toothpaste, batteries and sandals. A good portion of the room is occupied by fizzy drinks and crisps can also be found. Vegetables on offer are limited to a box of tomatoes, few onions, bag of potatoes and a bag of beans. My special status of a temporary resident enables me access to the back room, which is where my bed is, and so I know that the meet is stored in a freezer in the corner.
Slowly a few people show up in the store. It turns out that one of them is a worker laying tiles in the back room, another (member of the Tarahumaras, the famous long endurance runner Indians) is Ruben’s helper, the woman, also a Tarahumara, is Monse’s assistant. All are served coffee (Monse’s assistant serves herself one). Outside the day is slowly breaking while we’re heating ourselves next to the wood stove and the time is passing by in a gentle small talk (my basic Spanish is limiting my participation). All apart from me slowly attend to their business while I watch rare customers coming into the store. Some just for a quick purchase while others stay longer after Monse invites them for a cup of coffee. There are also two deliveries of new stock during the day. Also the delivery men are invited for a coffee and a chat.
Purchases are mainly cash only with a few exceptions. In this part of the world a cashless purchase means that Monse in her big, blue notebook writes down the amount of purchase. Buyers will pay their debt later when they will have money. Cards (debit or credit) are absolutely useless here. Not only there is no internet for POS terminals (or anything else for that matter), there is also no mobile phone network.
Monse and her assistant also take care of regular daily meals. At 11h it’s time for a second, slightly heavier breakfast, at 15h lunch is served. Around 17h it’s time for an afternoon snack. These meals are served also to some visitors like a mute Tarahumara that came into the store at around 17h. He did not buy anything but that did not stop Monse from giving him a meal.
At around 19h the flow of customers stops. It’s already dark outside. The store is still officially open but Monse is more focused on preparing dinner while watching one of the many Mexican soap operas that have been showing all day long on the TV in the corner.
Little after 10h Ruben comes back and dinner is served. After we eat and chat for a while, I go into the back room where I sneak into my sleeping bag, happy that I was able to share this day with everyone here. Happy that I have spent it in a place where a store is in the service of the community. A place where people come to chat and sip coffee, a place where people still trust each other and the storekeeper will write down your purchase for you to pay when you will have money, a place where, if you are hungry, you are fed.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

PS
Next post will have photos 🙂

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