“How did you get here?”, asks a friendly woman in a white blood-stained apron in Spanish, while feeding her granddaughter, as we are sipping a coffee in the comedor (the food area) in the heart of the bi-weekly market in the rural Guatemalan village of Totonicapán. “By chicken bus“, we answer, onto which the women looks surprised and slightly concerned realizing we came alone.
Indeed, we seem to be the only non-indigenous people walking the narrow and low alleyways created by markets stalls on several blocks around the main square.
Fruits like oranges, papayas, bananas, berries, and pineapples are offered in every street, and we discover many vegetables we have never seen before. Spices are displayed nicely, as are the many avocado’s which are cut open to show their quality.
Impressive pieces of beef hang from hooks in the butchers’ stalls paved with white ceramics in the market hall. Next to them, the very popular and cheaper chickens are definitely the best sellers, and can also be bought alive in the street.
Toys, socks, shoes, clothes, electronics, batteries and beauty products are showcased side by side. As we are close to New Year’s, countless amounts of stalls sell a wide variety of fireworks that children eagerly buy, when they are not trying to sell chewing gums, chocolates and colourful cotton candies, squeezing themselves through the crowds, screaming what they have for sale.
We pass by women proudly displaying the most colourful handmade fabrics that will be turned into beautiful traditional dresses, worn by every woman on the market, or practical pieces of equipment. A simple rectangular cloth creatively becomes a baby-strap, a handy bag by knotting its four corners, or a pillow by folding it. Indeed, most women cushion the heavy loads they graciously carry on their heads: baskets with poultry, big coolers, plastic containers filled with tortilla dough, the fruits and vegetables they have just bought, 5-gallon water jars…
Momostenango is even more remote. Indigenous from far villages make the long trip to buy food to prepare the New Year’s dinner. Dozens of tables with landlines are set up all around the square and manned by children selling call time: not everyone can enjoy the luxury of a phone. A bit further, photographers eagerly wait for families to pause in front of far-away landscapes or famous buildings badly copied on big plastic screens to immortalize the moment.
A mixed scent of firewood, fried chicken, spices, grilled corn and fried plantains fills the air as we pass by women clapping their hands together to shape the tortillas they are making. It is the early afternoon and it is almost lunch time after countless negotiations and errands: the comedores will soon be full with hard-workers. Seated on a bench in Solola, we enjoy hearty vegetable-and-beef soup accompanied by tamales and blue tortillas, with delicious licuados (water or milk-based fruit smoothies) of bananas, papaya, sapote or other exotic fruits.
While the market of Chichicastenango is very famous and visited by herds of tourists, rural Guatemalan markets offer fireworks of loud music, bright colours and tempting smells launched by indigenous people in traditional clothes.
Getting off the beaten path by following the local crowds on busy market days has shown us the heart of Guatemala and its friendly people who would be proud to show you their products.
Claire & Marcella