June 18, 2006

Market in the Mountains
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Saturday, market day in Totonicapán. The game plan: Explore the scene and take a dip in some natural hot spring water.

Another Guatemalan highland town that rarely see's a tourist, Totonicapán (simply called Toto) is about 22km from Xela. I didn't have to work too hard to find where the action was when I departed the bus, I simply followed the steady stream of women carrying bundles on their heads into town.

Just like San Francisco el Alto the day before, Toto shuts down a bunch of city streets on market day to allow vendors to peddle their goods. The place was nearly as frantic as San Francisco, but the market had more of a food angle than house wares/clothing (although there was no lack of either). Near the parque (main plaza) there's two interesting neoclassical structures to see (a church and theatre), constructed in early 20th century.

Paperweight in my Pocket

I'm almost completely without photos from Toto. About 20 minutes after I arrived in town my camera completely crapped out on me—I think the battery finally gave out. I had climbed up onto a catwalk at the intersection of four market-filled streets—an amazing sight/photo—but the camera wouldn't cooperate. I was pretty miffed.

A few of the other images that I would have loved to of captured today include:

  • A woman effortlessly balancing a live goose inside a basket on her head, walking next to a woman with live roosters draped over her shoulders;
  • Streets lined with piles of vegetables in the most vibrant of primary colors, and weathered, aging women selling them in outfits as colorful as their produce;
  • Plucked chicken heads, sold by the pound;
  • A pile of creatively stacked sneakers;
  • Massive steel pails full of pink shrimp, and the small girls working hard to keep the files off of them;
  • Small, caged birds trained to randomly pull out a tiny piece of paper with a fortune written on it;
  • Men sifting through piles of cheap, colorful dress shirts, next to piles of cheap, antiquated electronics;
  • A sad little girl walking around, selling cotton candy;
  • A pair of young kittens lying contently inside of a shallow basket mixed together several bound ducks—opening bid for a kitten: Q$22 (about US$3);
  • The use of scales (lifted up by hand) with counterweights to measure the amount of product being sold;
  • An assortment of grains, beans, and other odd (edible?) items of which I don't know the names of (or how they're prepared/used);
  • Crabs wrapped up in banana leaves in the most interesting of ways; and
  • Men and boys carrying huge, heavy bundles on their backs (that must be at least equal to their body weight, if not more).

Rock for sale

One of the only shots I was able to squeeze out of the camera was of this type of rock that's being sold—it's the oddest thing (that I saw this over in San Francisco as well). I tried to get the story on them from a merchant, as they seem like regular enough rocks to me, but the language barrier was a little too much. My best educated guess (from the broken conversation I had) is that they're used in/with fires, allowing them to burn hotter or longer (or something). Maybe I'm way off…

Disappointment

My guidebook made mention of "Agua Caliente hot springs, a popular local bathing place 2.5km from the plaza." In all honesty, this was really the driving reason why I went up to Toto in the first place.

I asked around, but couldn't seem to get a bead on how to walk to the hot springs, so I hailed a tuk tuk taxi and described to him what I was looking for. The place isn't actually called Agua Caliente, it's called Baños del la Cruz (or something to that effect).

Off we went. Even after spending a handful of weeks in Thailand about a year and a half ago, this marked my first time ever riding in a tuk tuk—kinda fun.

Yeah, taking the taxi was the right move. The place was way out on the southeast part of town, and would have taken some time to get to. The facility turned out not to be so much of a hot spring, as a large concrete bathroom complex that uses natural hot spring water.

Unfortunately, when I got there it was closed. A notice on the wall described in detail why is was shut down (condemned?), but I didn't care to try and understand why—the result was the same: no hot spring for me. Maybe I'll try a different town…

Food Karma

I have bad food karma: I nibble on the food that the resident family cooks. A little here, a tortilla there—I can't help it. Sometimes it's late at night and I need a snack, or maybe I'm just curious about what it tastes like. In either case, family of the Casa Concordia, I'm sorry that I've been eating your food.

Spoiled

I got spoiled in Antigua. It was always easy to kill time and relax with good, free movies projected onto a wall at Café 2000 (all day), or chat with students/travelers in the park. I'm quickly running out of things to keep me entertained in Xela.

I've haggled in the markets, sauntered up and down the streets, sat in the parks, walked into plenty of bars and restaurants, hiked a hill, listened to some of the mass at the cathedral, made conversation with locals (as best I can), seen the sights, taken day trips, and so on…

What I'm lacking is some decent socialization (or at least a book to read or television to watch). I'm staying in a guesthouse unknown to most, at a time of year where few travelers come to this town—and those gringo's that are here typically run around with their peers from language school. I don't have the desire to sit in a bar and try to bust into a group, especially when two drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) cost more than my room for the night.

I'm antsy to get going into Nicaragua. Three weeks until my brother arrives in Costa Rica—I'm looking forward to that. It's a good thing he'll be there too, from what I can tell that country is much more expensive than the rest of Central America, and I doubt I would have spent much time there if he wasn't coming down.

Regarding land travel in Costa Rica: Can anyone speak to the onward ticket requirement and/or the outrageous US$26 fee you have to pay every time you cross the border (out of the country)?

In The Works

Andy and I have been talking about opening up a hostel in Peru for several months now. His hostel, my assistance, to be specific. He'd like to eventually create a string of them—a franchise of sorts—selling off each location shortly after opening. If we push ahead with the idea, it'll probably happen around October or so.

Comments:

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 20th, 2006

– PISSED –

I'm getting shafted by the Guatemalan government.

This morning I walked a couple of kilometers to the local DHL office to see why it looked like the camera was hung up in the capital (Guatemala City). It turns out that customs officials have decided to levy a ludicrous Q$631 import tax on the package!

This roughly comes out to roughly US$83 — more than I've spent sleeping, eating, and traveling around Xela in the past 10 days.

I'm not sure if they saw that it was being shipped by a corporation and decided to tax me, or if it was over a certain dollar value threshold (or even if it was simply because it was a camera). Either way, I think the cost to ship the camera, coupled with the import tax, nearly equals the value of the package. Amazing.

It should arrive tomorrow morning (Wednesday, the 21st). I'm outta here that day or on the 4:00am bus Thursday morning.

CraigStrong

June 20th, 2006

What a pisser.

-Craig

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 20th, 2006

Tell me about it… (sigh)

I going to grab this tomorrow AM and run for the border!

SoO

June 26th, 2006

HEY, !! Craig —————–

this is Soo who u met in san salvador ~~~ :) !!! i finally got back to vancouver and miss Central america milions!!

seems like u are having a great time there, so jealous ~~ wanna fly back there so bad !!

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