Misadventures & The Mercado- Solola

February 28, 2011 in blog, Guatemala, North America, Travelogue


Elisha, driving the morning boat


Some mornings, I just should stay in bed… or on the living room floor in my sleeping bag as the case may be. Friday was one of those days.


It all started out just fine. A quiet breakfast of tea while the birds whistled in the garden. The usual serene walk to the boats with the sky an unbelievable blue behind the mountains. Visiting with friends and neighbours on the enbarcadero while we waited.

We were headed up to Solola, the capital of our particular Department (like a province, or state) which is no more than a small town at the top of the mountain. It’s the one that was completely cut off from the outside world when we got here because mudslides had covered the road both above and below the town. It took them more than a month to begin getting supplies in regularly again.



Typical men's garb for the Maya in our area


On Fridays there is a thriving local market in Solola. It’s not a tourist market, or a craft’s market designed to draw in bus loads of Gringos with money. Instead, this market is for the locals and is filled with booths heaped high with fruits and vegetables, machetes, iron work, wooden implements, household weavings, plastic containers, cheap shoes and pirated CDs. In and out and around weave peddlers hunched under everything from piles of woven blankets, long sticks of plastic toys and cotton candy, soap, candy and gum to tubs of coyote fat (don’t ask.)


We took the chicken bus up from Pana, it’s only 3Q a person and the hair raising thirty minute ride at break neck speed back and forth through the switch backs, up nearly 5,000 feet is worth every penny of the 36 cents USD that works out to. Grammy and the kids got seats. Derek and I stood, he hung from the bar at the very front nearly swinging out the door of the bus with every turn and quick stop; I was able to wedge my back against one seat, my knee against another and managed to knit on Elisha’s sock for most of the journey. This always amuses the natives.

Gramps didn’t come and Derek only took the boat and bus with us, so Grammy and I were on our own with the kids for the morning. It’s a strange thing to be vomited from a chicken bus (for that is what it feels like as the crowd surges forward and expels you from the front or the back of the bus) onto the street. Inevitably you’re deposited on the plaza, or town square, next to the market, which is the universal chicken bus stop.



Why yes, this IS a smoked armadillo on the half shell!

Immediately barkers press in from all sides, selling anything and everything, offering a ride, questioning you to death. Calmly, Grammy and I made for the cathedral, this is always a good place to go, sit quietly for a minute, catch our breath, collect our children, who’ve been scattered in three directions upon exit from the bus, and plan our attack on the market.


The purpose for our visit to this particular market on this particular day was to purchase looms. Imelda, the Mayan lady who’s been by to offer to help with the house, or the kids and to sell us her weavings has been enlisted as my new weaving teacher. In characteristic Guatemalan fashion, she’s not too reliable where time is concerned. She was meant to meet us at the boats and accompany us to Solola. That didn’t happen, so, Mom and I set off to sort it out ourselves.

The market at Solola this Friday was an unusually crushing experience. It seems every indigenous person within long walking distance had turned up to buy or sell and we could barely make progress down the long aisles of stalls.

Twice we were stuck, immovable, in the same little clump of people and my antennae went up. Mom and I are a bit of a spectacle in a real local market. We were the only white women on the bus and stuck out like a sore thumb in the mercado. My mother has gorgeous silvery white hair that is the envy of most Mayan women; they usually can’t believe it’s real, and I’m VERY tall, at 5’8.5”, in a country where most of the local women are the size of my eight year old. There is no way to move through the crowd unnoticed.

It was after we’d stopped at the sanitarios (the bathrooms are ALWAYS the first stop with my boys) and payed our 1.5Q each for three squares of toilet paper that we encountered the same little clump of people again as we attempted to exit the inner market into the overflow market on the street.

I looked right into her black eyes, noted the large mole on her lip, her green embroidered huipile and almost smiled at her when I felt her fingers on my bag. My eyes widened and I looked down with my most irritated Gringa look and she vanished like smoke into the crowd.

My bag was cut. My brand new bag that I got in Chichicastenango last week, the first one I’ve purchased in at least five years and the first one I’ve really, really liked, in much longer than that. A clean, 8” long slice right next to the seam. A razor cut. Typical.

Fortunately, the side she cut contained my knitting and I’d been holding my wallet through my bag, as I always do in markets, and so she got away with nothing but my look of wrath. The real piece of luck was that I wasn’t cut. We’ve heard stories of other travelers being terribly hurt in similar situations when someone makes a quick clean cut at a bag but slices the wearer deeply right above the kidneys. Never travel with a fanny pack.

It’s impossible for me not to be irritated when this stuff happens. If you travel long enough it’s GOING to happen; it’s a when, not an if. And in the grand scheme of things, this was minor. I couldn’t help but wonder if Dad had come or if Derek had still been with us if they’d have picked another target. Mom and I, two gringo women alone in the market might have had a target painted on our backs. Who knows. It’s impossible to tell. Either way, it was a drag.



Cow tongues!

Happily, Imelda eventually found us. She’d showed up late to the docks, heard we’d already gone and came after us. Since we stuck out so badly, she located us and proceeded to haul us from stall to stall purchasing the madera parts, the back straps, the ropes and the various hilos, threads, necessary to begin weaving. This is one of the things I’ve wanted to learn since we arrived in Guatemala and I’m excited to have procured a teacher, even if she didn’t show up yesterday to begin our lessons as promised.


The rest of the day followed in the footsteps of the morning and included a rough, wet boat ride home (this is predictable any time after 1 o’clock) the boys snapping off the water pipe in the garden whilst playing soccer (AGAIN!!) Subsequently we spent half an hour trying to sort out why the water was not working in the house (post pipe break “fix”) and standing in the rain by the water heater trying to conjure it from the storm clouds it seemed. Surprisingly, Ezra was the hero. He remembered having shut it off at the main (which was somewhere I’d never seen!) and he turned it proudly back on.

Friday. Not even the thirteenth. Two days before Daddy’s expected return. Where is the man when we need him?!