Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shopping and Roadtripping

The market we went to was not too far away from the restaurant. Our driver (who was a contract chauffeur with the school) managed to maneuver gracefully through crowded streets and around dogs that wondered about here and there.

“We don’t kill our dogs here in Guatemala,” Esmeralda supplied. One of the guest had very recently been to Nicaragua, where it was remarked that there were many dogs to be found dead in the streets and it bothered her that there seemed to be so little concern for the animals.

“Oh no, not here. Now, this market, this is a good market; we will go inside you can find everything inside.”

The outside of the market was very familiar to me, even though I had not been before. This reminded me so much of Seomuen Sijang, my favorite market in Daegu and a place where I happily lost many hours of my life on the weekends, going back and forth from a variety of different shops looking for fabric and baubles and all sorts of other things that I either did or did not need. Much like that far-away market, this had an odd assortment of T-shirts, packaged goods, blankets, table runners and other odd trappings that were always so interesting and attractive to tourists. The outdoor seemed to have a more general market feel, aside from the trappings of tourism; there were also everyday items and the types of household goods a person might want to pick up.

There were also several places with armed guards sporting guns, perched just at the door.

A reality.

This was not Korea. The number of well-armed security guards I had seen was starting to filter into the foreground and I recalled that Guatemala was not someplace I would be willy-nily traveling by myself, as if I were in Shanghai or Seoul. Here there was an actual danger. I had done my appropriate travelers' homework for Guatemala, reading up on the embassy website and also going through expat blogs. As with most things when traveling to a foreign country, common sense in most situations was advised. It went a little further here though, with how to deal with yourself when you were being robbed, how not to attract attention to yourself as a tourist, how to blend in and be safe, when to stop being out alone, when to stop drinking and go home. Much more cautionary in some ways than other countries I had been in. Since my primary business was working, I wasn’t worried about having too much time to get into any mischief, but I was quite aware of the fact that this was not Asia. The armed guards in front of all the well-trafficked shops only brought that point home with so much more clarity.

We slipped inside a wall and it was a night-and-day change; from the ramshackle dusty scattering of the outdoor mall, the indoor mall was a clean and neat well-kept tourist space. Indoor being a relative term as, like the restaurant, the mall was open to the air with only an overhanging roof to keep out the rain. Otherwise the only thing that made this indoor was the fact that it was surrounded on all sides by wall and there were armed guards you passed by in order to get in.

The stalls were piled high with all kinds of knickknacks and I could not figure out what I wanted, if I wanted anything; it was just a big jumbly pile of mess. However, my fellow travelers dove right in, asking quickly in Spanish how much this or that was and negotiating with the señoras who were unwilling to let anything go for less than a specific price, but really, were much like ajjumas, willing to bargain all the way down.

 I found that since I was surrounded with so much Spanish I was able to keep up, but I kept confusing my ciento with cinco and my cuantno estas with comprar muchos and eolmayos, making me a hot mess of linguistic fail. Fortunately my hosts took some pity on me and helped with the basic translations so I could figure out what was going on, and eventually I ended up getting some pretty shot glasses, a dozen or so beaded dangles to give out as gifts, and a magnetwhich apparently did not survive the trip back to the Chicago.

Shopping was completed in short time, and we endured some intermittent rain as we wandered about the shops. Finally the hosts called it time to be done and we all piled back into the van for the hour and a bit drive back to Guatemala City. On the way we spotted a bright rainbow in the sky, although it was rather elusive to photograph. Like all the other colors in Guatemala, it was so real. There was something about the colors that made the place almost too real. There was such a sense of vibrant urgency in all the colors in Central America. I could see why it had inspired so many writers and claimed so many more artists, writers, poets, and lovers. It was full of that kind of enchantment.

I parted ways with the hosts at the hotel, dropped things in my room and napped for a bit, finally having dinner in the large and open dining room downstairs, watching the stars sparkle over the pool. After some wine and some thinking, eventually I slept, working myself up for the events of the next two days.

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