Day 2: Mercado Central, Guatemala City

Well, “they” were right.  In the middle of Guatemala City, population: ~1 million, rooster racket will wake you up. Followed quickly by planes, dogs, and honking horns. Guatemala is a noisy place. I’m glad I followed the advice of seasoned Guatemalan travelers and tossed in some earplugs at the last minute. Before we get to the Market, I’d like to take a minute to rave about the tipico breakfast in Guatemala. Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, plantains if you’re lucky, a little piece of fresh queso and black beans that are so delicious I miss them to this day.  French pastries have nothing on this ultra-fresh, bursting-with-flavor start to the day. Farm to table is a way of life here, not a fancy millennial “clean-eating movement”.

Today we planned to go to the big public market in Guatemala City before heading into the western highlands to Quetzaltenango which is also known by its Mayan name Xela. If you’re consulting a map, Xela looks to be maybe 2 hours or so from Guatemala City. Except just kidding, it’s more like 4-5 hours because of road conditions, that (in)famous Guatemalan traffic and mountainous terrain. But first, the market.

The Mercado Central is an underground market that has at least three levels with the uppermost level full of all the beautiful handcrafts and the lower two levels being all the meats, produce and other foodstuffs.  By and large, tourists don’t venture down below the artisan level. As with any crowded space in a big city, using some common-sense precautions will make sure you have fun and stay safe.  We had pretty limited time at the Market, so we focused on the level with all beautiful handcrafts.  Everywhere you looked were gorgeous, brightly colored textiles piled high, beautiful tote bags, leather goods, scarves, clothing, shoes, paintings and jewelry…..and all of it is handmade (well, not the “Guat’s Up t-shirts, but you know what I mean).  Now, the cultural expectation is that you haggle over prices, but given that we can afford the list price and the sellers could really use the money, it feels ethically challenging.  Our rule of thumb is to never, ever low-ball a seller and just don’t be a jerk.  Another cardinal rule of market shopping is that if you like it, buy it because you will not see it again at another stall.  Every single stall has something different and I am so glad I heeded this advice!  I had a blast picking out just the right little treasures for family and friends.

It was hard to leave, but we piled back into the van and headed UP…..Xela is located at an elevation of nearly 8,000’.  We arrived at our hotel in the early evening, but because Guatemala is located 4 degrees north of the Equator, days and nights are equal and last 12 hours each, so it is nearly dark by 6pm.  Our driving days were always way more fun than you’d think. I spent the hours flying from one side of the van to the other hanging out the windows with my camera completely agog at the passing scenery: volcanos, cows in the back of pick-up trucks, and farm fields that go straight up the sides of the mountains, I mean, volcanos.  No doubt I annoyed the crap out of my seatmate, Karen, as I launched myself across her lap for the 100th time that day because “OMG that’s an even better view of those volcanos out your window now that the road curved left”. But she was nothing but kind to me for which I am eternally grateful.

Tomorrow is our first day of teaching, so there was a fair bit of prep work to do after dinner. Will there be rooster alarm clocks in Xela?  Stay tuned!


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