Shopping spree

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Part of the huge market at San Francisco El Alto

San Francisco El Alto

The markets in Guatemala are great fun – both to visit and soak up the atmosphere as well as to buy everything you can possibly imagine from livestock to clothing, handicrafts to garden tools, food to shoes etc etc. Often the products are all slightly strangely positioned next to each other; for example, in the middle of a series of stalls selling super-brightly coloured textiles, you will find someone else selling soap, some dried fish or large lumps of chalk (which is ground to a powder, mixed with water and used to soften dried maize). And why not?

San Francisco El Alto

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“Soap” both for washing clothes and yourselves BUT there is a catch: while they get things clean, the smell is pretty bad….!

The small town of San Francisco El Alto (near Xela) plays host to Guatemala’s largest market on Friday while crowds of craft vendors and tour groups flock to Chichicastenango on Thursdays and Sundays for its twice-weekly large and well-known market. Villagers will walk for hours carrying their wares to reach these markets arriving at dawn when they spread out their merchandise and wait for their customers to arrive. And then the business (and hard bargaining) begins!

San Francisco El Alto

To feed the army of traders, hawkers and customers at Chichicastenango, many temporary comedores (canteens) are set up under awnings and the manufacture of tortillas seems incessant. Exactly how many tortillas can the population of this country consume? An awful lot it appears!

Comedores and tortilla making in progress, Chichicastenango Market

And once the shopping (and the eating) is done, it seems that the women load their purchases onto their heads and off they go, making the long return journey back to their villages. After all, there’s usually no room to carry their goods on their backs as this spot is often already occupied by a baby or a small toddler held in position with a piece of bright material. Even though I’ve watched ladies “load up” their babies in this way multiple times, I still don’t fully understand how the children don’t simply fall off before the material is fully tied up. I guess somehow the child knows not to wriggle off before he or she is secured. Impressive stuff.

Chichicastenango Market

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