Wow

Country/Day: Guatemala/31

Bikes Fixes: 38

Bikes/Day Average: 1.23

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Looking for, well, anything?

I have a very exciting blog post for you today, but first I want to touch on my latest post, and the e-mail sent out to my supporters: I am currently looking at other places to volunteer; namely, (1) I’ve found another bike shop, (2) There’s an organization called Avivara that does everything from tutoring to engineering projects – it’s two folks from Washington state who started the project instead of retiring, (3) There’s an organic farm I found on WWOOF that sounds very cool.

I will likely make a decision by the beginning of next week, and will post and e-mail when everything is final.

Anyways…

Yesterday morning I went to the market in Chimaltenago. I already posted about the market in Itzapas – it’s biggest on Sunday and covers maybe a gym-sized area. The market in Chimal is biggest on Friday and covers… er… the analogy I used was “it’s like the State Fair,” I think. It really is. I wish I had a map to confirm, but basically, it takes an hour to walk from one side to the other. The only difference is, instead of each building being one display, there is tent after tent after tent of venders selling everything from… well, everything. I said about the market in Itzapas, “this is a place you might say ‘you can buy anything at.’ “ I wouldn’t have said that. The market in Chimal? Yes. Anything. It was amazing. I could walk through that market every single day of my life and not get bored. It seriously is like the State fair, but better. At times, even when outdoors, as far as you can see there’s a “ceiling” made up of wares for sale.

Let’s get to it.

– – –

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We left about 6 AM in light of not wanting to bike back in the heat. I wore my jacket the whole way there as it was just a little chilly (and yes mom, I wore a helmet). On the way there we passed a lot of interesting things which reaffirmed my interest in bicycle-touring round these parts; namely, a lot of people going to work in every way imaginable. A number of people walking and riding horses. I saw an old school bus pull into a farm, then the emergency exit opened and workers started pouring out of it. There were also a few cyclists… I got a nice shot as some of the ones in front of me turned into a field on their way to work. I think I’ll call it “Sombreros get to work.”

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Oh also, from the time we left, we inadvertently didn’t look at any clocks until 10:30 AM, so I don’t know how long anything took. Mostly we just got lost in the market, and it was a blast.

So anyways, we arrived at X time, locked up our bikes, and started our trek through the best market ever. Sarah (another volunteer who has been here before, so acted as a sort of guide) was most familiar with a particular side of the market, so in order to be able to fetch our bikes we parked on that side. It was also the side with the animals for sale, so for a while we were wading our bikes through horses, pigs, and cows. After locking up our bikes we waded some more before getting to the material wares.

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Would you like a cow, sir? 

Aside from horses, pigs, and cows, there were also dogs and cats (and everything from babies to full-sized animals, so yes, we got to cuddle puppies). In another part of the market we would find ducks, rabbits, pigeons, and… well, I can’t possibly remember them all.

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Hey! It’s even smaller than the cafes in India!

(and fewer walls to boot)

Our first mission was to get something to eat, as that was part of the point of going to the market (“Breakfast is so good there!” said Sarah over and over again the night before). So we sort of ignored most of what was for sale, planning on coming back to it, and found a “cafe.” And by “cafe” I of course mean a square-shaped assortment of wood planks with someone selling something in one corner and seating everywhere else. We got chicken chiquitas with rice milk, and it was to die for. Q12 ($1.80).

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I’d want more, but there has to be something else equally as delicious somewhere else…

Then started the wondering, and there was, as I mentioned, everything for sale. I’d like to let the pictures do most of the talking, but I think some narration is warranted. We started by just picking a direction and walking.

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You think this is impressive? Things are just getting set up!

After a while you start to feel you might go so far in one direction you’ll miss out on something else, so you walk back to where you started from, pick another direction, and go that way instead. What really makes the experience though, is that every now and then you’ll turn a corner or walk past a barrier and see a wall of _____. Most of the vendors aren’t very organized; I was on the hunt for a belt, for instance, and we found maybe 10 different belt vendors, in all different corners of the market. So it’s pretty startling when you just see a wall of ____, or a collection of ____. This happened many times, and was never any less surprising for it. The first “wall” we saw was comparatively small – a wall of sombreros.

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After walking past a few suit shops and an umbrella store (Sarah bought an umbrella as she couldn’t fit one in her bag and it has been raining lately – Q30 ($4)), we turned a corner and were in a land of clothes. This was one of those places where the wares hung up high make a “ceiling” of sorts, and even if there wasn’t an actual ceiling, you couldn’t see much of the sky.

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As I mentioned, I was on the hunt for a belt. We had passed a few belt vendors at that time, but I was convinced I could find exactly the right one. After a while I wanted to compare belts from various vendors, as they were all “really close” to what I was looking for. Of course, I didn’t want to walk back and fourth from vendor to vendor, relying only on memory to compare them. So I lined up a few and started taking pictures.

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This is just four of hundreds of one style… of hundreds of styles.

I have many great photos of belt vendors which I will post at an appropriate time, but at that point in the day (or likely, still early morning), I was focused only on a particular kind. I had seen Carlos Jr. wearing a hand-embroidered belt at the shop, and I wanted one. Hand-embroidered belts, among other things, are one of the few things you can’t go back to the states and eBay (globalism sucks).

At some point during my belt-venture, we passed a small vendor off to the side, selling only belts in a rack about three feet tall and one foot wide (comparatively very small to the other vendors). Ithought I saw the belt I wanted, but was mistaken – it wasn’t even close enough that I could see myself ever wearing it. Despite that, the vendor was apparently very desperate to make a sale. Upon first inquiry he quoted me Q70 ($10), which I thought was a little high, given it was obviously used, and that similar belts elsewhere were starting at Q65 new. I told him no thanks, but he kept shoving it in my face and dropping the price. Sarah was letting me do my thing, as I can be a pretty competitive bargainer, but I wasn’t playing around. I told her (in English, to be clear it wasn’t a bargaining tactic – I figured the vendor wouldn’t understand me) I was ready to go. As we were leaving, he put the belt in a bag, tied the bag shut, and tried to put it in my backpack, saying “35! 35” (Q35, or $5). I felt bad, as it was obvious he wanted to make a sale, but no matter how little something costs, if you are never going to use it then it’s the most expensive thing in the world.

We kept wandering and at some point turned a corner and had another one of those “wall of stuff”  moments. Only, this was a “room after room of walls of stuff” moment. I was so startled I swore to myself. What was it?

Fabric.

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I can hardly begin to describe how much fabric there was. Together, the rooms comprised the floor space of a Jo-Anne Fabrics, yet each room itself had as much fabric as just one. You could have sewn all the fabric together and covered the entire country with it (each fold you see is at least a 10×10 piece). As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s all hand made. Yup.

Needless to say I couldn’t resist. I’m a bit of a seamster and am always looking for cool, creative projects (often inspired by unique fabric). This is another of those things that you can’t just go home and eBay. Fabric is probably one of the most expensive things you can buy in Guatemala, with prices for full pieces ranging from Q600 to Q3000 ($100-500), depending on quality and intricacy. You can make a lot with a 10×10 piece, but even fitting that in my suitcase would have been a hassle.

Fortunately, there were periodic piles of scrap pieces (by “scrap” I still mean 3×10′) at huge discounts. I fell in love with a 3’x6′ piece but wasn’t willing to pay much for it… I’m always hesitant to spend a lot of money, and knew I could come back for it if I changed my mind. The vendor quoted Q250 ($40). Again, I really wasn’t looking to spend a lot that day, so I tried to leave, but he kept asking me what I was willing to pay. I quoted something as a joke to try and show him I wasn’t serious – Q100 ($15). We both laughed, and he came back with Q180 ($25). I was surprised, but quickly became aware he really wanted to sell it, and he must have known I really liked it (unlike Mr. Belt Vendor earlier that day), so we settled on Q150 ($20). At Jo-Anne in the States, high-quality fabric is easily $20-30 a yard, and I got two yards of fabric, not to mention it was hand-made… so I’m alright with that.

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Would you like any grain ever (front)? Or any pepper ever (back)?

We ventured further into the market, having found a corner a while ago and being fairly confident in our bearings. This time we got the food section (different from the restaurant section – there isn’t one, they are everywhere), and, well, again… everything. Grains I didn’t know existed. Grains I knew existed but in colors I’d never seen before. Chicken legs. Frog legs. Hog heads. Everything (by the way, there will be more photos on Facebook once I get back to the states. They just take a while to upload).

We also found another section of animals for sale and got to cuddle kittens and bunnies.

On our way to (finally!) another corner of market (actually it wasn’t a corner, just the vegetable section, very similar to the market in Itzapa) we found another “restuarant” and sat down to eat. This one was off to the (a?) side and seating was at a sort of bar, so you could see out and watch people move by with things for sale and things they’d bought and, well, needless to say it was a hubbub of people moving about.

Oh and by the way, while navigating through the 3′ wide aisles you run into all sorts of people, and there’s always people carrying huge carts of stuff (I almost got a great picture of one but at the last second someone walked in front of my camera) shouting “Permisso! Permisso!” (“Let me through! Let me through!”). Sometimes you and the ten people behind you back up for twenty feet before you find a shop to step into. The small spaces make photos frustratingly difficult.

Anyways, at that point we saw a clock (10:30 – we’d been there for about three hours) and realized we should think about heading back. I have only the one pair of shoes and had seen another pair I was interested in, so for the next 40 minutes we learned how hard it was to find something for a second time. I did get a cool picture of a belt vendor though:

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Or more, someone selling belts “one the side” (or the ceiling, as it were).

Target ain’t got nothin’ on that.

We finally found the shoe store and, after the vendor disappeared into a hole in the ceiling, found out he had my size, but not in the color I wanted (he suggested I paint them), started trudging back to the bikes.

We used the bathrooms on the way back (Q1.50, $0.18 per use, and oh – no seats). Coming out of the bathrooms, we saw a new section of market we hadn’t seen yet (as if we’d seen it all anyways). This was, as Sarah so poetically put it, “the junk section.” You know the idiom – one man’s trash…

I had already bought a belt at the point (and am convinced it’s the coolest best I’ve ever seen – we even swapped the buckle with another belt to get the colors right), but passed the second-coolest belt in a “junk”  pile, and couldn’t resist. At the end of the day I ended up with 4 belts, all very cool and unique (for those of you who don’t know, I tend to wear, er, unique clothing), and am convinced I’ll never have to buy a belt again. Two are the hand-embroidered style, one is made of purple webbing, the other… is… awfully abstract. I paid Q105 ($15) between the four of them. Score.

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Would you like some rope?

After the junk section we started through the animal section again on the way back to our bikes, and got to hold piglets (by the way, when cuddling puppies, I told the vendor (whose job was, essentially, to pass puppies around) he had a really great job. He thought so, too).

I feel like I could start that story over, tell it just again in as many pages, and mention completely different details. I mentioned it was as big as the state fair but with a new vendor every ten feet, right?

That was the market in Chimaltenago. When can I go again?

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