As you would expect, shopping for groceries on an island is much different from shopping for groceries on the mainland. There are just two major supermarkets in Vieques, one in downtown Isabel Segunda (often just referred to as Isabel) and one in Monte Santo.
There are other options for supplementing your weekly grocery store runs. Most neighborhoods have what is the equivalent of a gas station mini mart, called a colmado. These offer less of a selection, but if you’re in a pinch, or need another six pack of Medalla Light, these small stores can often bail you out of a jam. I’ve been to the Green Store in Esperanza, La Tienda Verde, and they tend to offer a larger variety than most colmados. I’m glad to see that after 8 years since my last visit, the Green Store is still going strong.
There are also fruit stands and trucks, which often set up on specific days of the week. They offer a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables than you would often find in the supermarkets. The prices are also pretty reasonable.
The first day that I landed on Vieques, I made a grocery store run to the local supermarket, Superdescuentos Morales, on Rt. 200 in Monte Santo. I’d been given the heads up about how different the shopping experience can be on a small island.
It’s different for me this time around. Completely different. All of my three previous trips to Vieques were as a tourist. I was staying at the Hacienda Tamarindo in Esperanza, my favorite place to stay on the island. A full American breakfast was included each day with our stay, but beyond that, we ate out. Whether it was grabbing sandwiches at the panaderia (bakery) or eating at restaurants, we never had to cook. Beer or wine was usually picked up at the colmado or Kuhn’s.
Now I’m LIVING on Vieques, in a home, for 5 weeks. This girl needs to shop for her food and supplies. So off I went to Morales.
Parking is tight, and often full. I’ve done a few 20 point turns in the parking lot already. You’d think by now I’d just grab a shopping cart when I enter the store, because I always come out with more than I intended. Before I know it, my hand basket is filled to capacity (with heavy stuff) and my arm is falling asleep.
Every time I’m in the store, I go down each aisle. I’ve found that to be necessary because things aren’t always “together” as they should be. Personal hygiene items, for example, are spread out all over the store. Drinks also are in different locations.
A good piece of advice. If you see something that you want in the supermarket, buy it. On the spot. Don’t wait. Don’t ditter. There’s a good chance that the same item won’t be there the next day. You also never know when the item, if ever, will be back in stock.
I also found that even though I’m not buying meats or frozen vegetables, I’m spending a significant amount of time in the cooler, which is separate from the main part of the store and has its own entrance and exit. It’s cool in there. I don’t have air conditioning, in my jeep or in my house. I think I need to spend more time there!
Prices are higher than your mainland grocery store. I think we all expect that, given the fact that all the items are shipped in. You’re paying not only for the food costs, but transportation as well. I was surprised, for the most part, how reasonable the food costs were, especially canned goods. I did pass over many items though, when I looked at the price tag (like cheese, chips, prepackaged rice mixtures, and cereal).
I’m learning to be flexible here. The cashiers I’ve had so far don’t speak much English, but they respond to a smile. I don’t know if this is true or not, but when I mentioned this to someone I was talking to here, the said, “Oh yes, they speak English. Many of them just don’t want to.”
Selection can be limited. People don’t often yield right of way in the crowded aisles, so I move over. The aisles are tight, as in, you can’t turn your cart around in them tight. You either back it on up, or you continue on down it.
That first day at the supermarket brings a smile to my face. My grocery bags were packed by a kind older gentleman and I had paid for the order. He and I struck up a friendly conversation, and he offered to help me out with my bags. I told him that he didn’t need to, that I was ok, but he seemed eager and willing to help. So accepted his help. And we chatted some more. And I don’t doubt that he’s probably the sweetest older man that I’ll meet during this stay on Vieques Island.
Oh, and did I mention, I bought canned octopus? I decided to pass on the canned beef tripe stew, even though it had vegetables in it.