Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guatemala - Let’s Go Shopping

Antigua Market
We’ve been last week to the market in Antigua on both Saturday and Sunday. While the Sunday market was very quiet, we thought that the Saturday market in Antigua was quite fun to observe. You can clearly see the difference between a BIG market day (where people come from neighboring villages and even beyond) and the normal market day (just for the local village).

Check out our videos below of the two days in Antigua.

Well after Antigua, when we visited two more BIG markets in the highlands, we have to say that the market in Antigua is nice for our first Guatemalan market experience, but nothing like what we are about to see elsewhere.

Highland Markets:
The Mayan people fascinate us with their culture and costumes.
They wear their wonderfully colorful and original clothing in their normal everyday life…also men, although the younger men have traded their local variation of culottes for western garb. We admired the western look that many men seem to veer towards. Cowboy hats and shirts cut in a western pattern but with their own special hand woven cloth. In one particular town “Solola” they heavily embellished the shirts with embroidery and some even went to the extent of using glistening and glittery embroidered appliqués.

We read it was in a "bat" pattern but honestly I thought it was more like an combo of late Elvis or even Liberace el Latino!

Oh my god, why are you wearing
the same dress as me?
Apparently, the variety of designs, colors, and styles originated by the Spanish invaders requiring each village to have a particular identity so they cold easily be recognized. Kind of like a visual uniform as opposed to carrying around ID cards!

Usually women wear a Huipil, which is a blouse embellished with much embroidery often onto hand woven material. The symbols can range from geometric to floral to animals and birds. The cut the shirt is more like a poncho. It is a long rectangle with a hole for the neck and then the sides are sewn together.

Most are quite thick and heavy. Julane would have loved to buy one as she didn’t really bring a warm jacket and had intended on wearing layers instead but with the cold nights and much higher altitude looming in the near future, she was tempted to add this to her gear. But after trying one on, it was really heavy and also is quite a blocky looking thing (they cinch it with a tight thick belt) that it looked more like maternity clothing instead! (and not so practical either)

The ladies (and young girls) wear long skirts (although a few villages wear a knee length version) that is about 4 meters of cloth wrapped around the body, with two pleats folded in the front and the wide belt (also about 2 meters) then binds the huipil and the skirt into a units. They usually also have a shawl which is more of a length of fabric and often is folded and just balances on their heads when not in use.

Traditional head dress
It sort of seemed to be a sun-hat in mid-day and a shawl when the temperatures dip down and a baby carrier at other times…well and also a bag to carry the shopping home. Hey, it’s got to be the most versatile item around, with the right marketing maybe we could sell them to women everywhere. It’s better than the cloth bag concept that only had one function!

Chichitasnenango’s Thursday Market:
We decided to take a direct “chicken bus” to Chichitastenango (ChiChi).
You probably read the term “chicken bus” in our previous blog, and we said we’d explain more about them later… well you have to stay patient, it’s not the right time yet. But to give you a basic understanding: they are retired school busses form the USA that have a second life in Central America. Our direct “chicken bus” or Camionetta, as they are called by the locals, was supposed to be direct from Panajachel to ChiChi, that was until the driver abruptly stopped at the crest of a mountain, jumped out and popped open the hood. For the next 20 minutes the only thing that we could see of driver and the conductor (the guy that collects the money) was their feet sticking up in the air, their head deeply immersed in the engine compartment.
Occasionally, one of them would come back into the cabin grab a tool like a wrench, hammer, etc About 25 minutes into the roadside repairs, the locals (one after the other) got off the bus, but not because the driver or conductor had informed any of the passengers of the severity of the bus’s injury. We guess they just had enough of waiting and decided to flag down the next Camionetta. To our surprise, the conductor was handing everyone some of the money back, without even having to really ask for it. Well the locals expected a refund, it seems, but we were a bit surprised when we also got one. But we joined the queue and received our 10 quetzales too. Later on the next bus, two jovial, rotund local ladies gave me the run-down in Spanish on the correct prices for the segments of this journey. So we discovered that we had been overcharged (if you remember in another blog, we commented how surprised we were that people were so honest.

Woman selling pots in ChiChi
We now correct this: no, we have and will be “fleeced” on future buses too). We learned to always inquire beforehand and then refuse to increase the fare to a foreign double or triple one. See we live and learn!

The weather here (outside our little sunny and warm lago mico-climate) is much colder though. Yes we are rising in altitude and someone turned out the sun. So the temperature sank to a bone chilling level.
Fresh fruit for sale
Luckily we didn’t need to wait long for the next bus, and ironically, the first bus that came along was also originating from Panajachel. Bummer, we could have spent 30 minutes longer in bed and still arrived at the same time!

The ChiChi market is twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays). In old times, mountain villagers would come from all around to attend the BIG market day, carrying their goods often in darkness to arrive in time to sell them.

Traditionally dressed Women,
with the cloth backpack

She has the "backpack"
and the head car
Now it seemed to be more of a tourist market; although, there was a large section that catered to the local’s needs: Chickens and all kinds of edibles, dry goods, and clothing, etc.

Julane especially liked the chicken area, check out our video of the ChiChi market below.

The chicken selling street
look, she lays lots of eggs
 We wandered about jostling with the bus loads of western and local tourists and actually enjoyed the few hours that we stayed there. Julane ended up buying a shoulder bag created out of an embroidered huipil which is nice to use when a big daypack isn’t required.
So many temptations

She also bought a large scarf or narrow shawl (depending how you look at it). And last but not least, one of the amazing versatile bag/skirt/bed cover/baby carriers! A beautiful piece of (about 3+ meters) fabric, woven with a foot loom, which cost 100 Q or $15 USD. So this trip really was a shopping trip after all!

Mommy can we go home now?

The trip home was less eventful. We got a direct bus with 10 minutes of waiting. After all each bus that makes the trip needs to return to its base, meaning Pana. The funny part is everyone seems to like to sit in the front. They will crowd four people into the bench seat while in the back of the bus, there will be loads of space. We haven’t figured out why yet. Perhaps they feel it’s safer or they like the coziness?

Selling water storage containers?

Talking about Pirates:
Gangster face masks are
for sale too.

Latest Hollywood movie?
Yes we have, fully "legal"
Pirate versions of course

Solola’s Friday Market
As you’ve noticed, market days are not everyday. Bigger towns often have two days for the shopping festivities while a smaller town might have just one and many towns just have the normal market activities that never differ. The town midway down to Panajachel (or up in our case) on the super curvy road called is Solola. It is actual the provincial capital of the same name, and therefore also hosts the regional government and university.

Meat Market
Solola, or Sola – as the locals call it, has Tuesday and Friday as their market affair. So aren’t we lucky? Two markets back to back.

Watermelons anyone?
 The market in Solola is much less touristy than the one in ChiChi, we did see the occasional Gringo roaming the narrow alleys. Most of the goods were for everyday use, fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, dried fish, tools, kitchen utensils, clothing etc. The number of stalls selling clothing was much less than in ChiChi and clearly aimed at local visitors of the surrounding villages.

We also saw in Solola live chickens for sale, but this time they didn’t have their “own” street. Rather, they were sold in “mobile baskets” worn on the head (check out the picture below).
It the chicken navigating  for her?
Another indicator that this market was truly local and not touristy are the many people that sold just about any kind of old junk. They would lay a tarp down in the middle of the road, then throw a few old items - that have truly seen better times - on it and try to sell them.
Selling traditional clothes
Flea market is not the right term for it, as most of the stuff in a western flea market is typically handicrafts or old (but working!) items. We are not kidding, but we’ve seen rusty kitchenware, old used shoes that had seen many year of use, calculators from 20 years back, and lots of parts that seemed to have come from blenders, stoves, and whatever other machines.

The market had an atmosphere of a “see and be seen” affair, especially in the park that was at the edge of the market area which was full of young and old, all dressed in what must be their Sunday apparel.

Fresh veggies
Headless chicken. But if you like
the feet too... check the red basket

Honestly, we enjoyed just sitting in the middle of the park and observing the activity. The colors were so vibrant and impressive, we absolutely loved the Solola market and recommend it.
Check out our Video below:

If you want to buy clothing, masks, and other souvenirs we suggest you go to ChiChi. But if you are looking for great photo opportunities and a day of observing the local Mayan people and immersing into a “real” market you must see Solola.