The art of purchasing, Chichicastenango Martket

30/08/2013

We can do Chichicastenango as an excursion but that is very touristic.  A shuttle bus brings you there around 10 in the morning, you have 4 hours to see the biggest handcraft market in Central America, according some travel guides, and the same shuttle takes you back at 2pm. That is 4 hours tourist rush as all shuttles from different cities and villages have the same time table.  70Q a person is a good price for those with less time and a nice opportunity to buy some souvenirs from Guatemala.  We decide to stay here a night so we can see the market with and without the tourists and compare both, and also have some time to visit a bit of the town itself.  After leaving our bags into a 100Q cheap hostel (Mini Hotel Chichicasteca) near to the Arco Gucumatz at the very center of the town, we enter the streets full of small market stalls.

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Our first stop is the indoor fruit and vegetable market, loaded with indigenous Guatemalan people selling their garden green.  The two posts with ring are the only indication that this is actually a basketball court.  The freshest and cheapest vegetables are to be found here, just a pity that we don’t have a kitchen in the hostel. Because such an offer gives the mind inspiration to cook a decent meal.

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A bit later we pass the Santo Tomás church which has its stairs covered with flowers, some are for sale others are for oblation and it’s difficult to tell which is which.  In the middle of the stairs just in front of the entrance there is a small fire glowing, used for incense.  A familiar smell is entering our nose and reminds us to the church of San Juan de Chamula.  (See post San Christóbal, Mexico) San Thomas has the same native cult under its roof as Chamula but today is definitely not a busy day for the Gods as there are just some few praying for a good day of selling and most of the offerings and donations are done on the stairs just outside.   We even have time to pass by a well know viewpoint and take some pictures of the cemetery which is surprisingly colorful.  The graveyard view is just a view but an unexpected one, as it looks like a multicolored dwarf village with their small joyful polychromatic dwarf houses so definitely worth the walk.

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Four hours of watching tourists coming and going with plastic bags full of handcrafts just acquired pass by fast for us and even more for the salesman who are constantly shouting prices.  Then suddenly no more tourist, no more white people waving with holy dollars, no more easy sales at very high prices. The clock shows us 14:00 hours.  After a late lunch, about 3pm we notice that most people left walking, comparing prices and looking at the fine goods are from Guatemala or neighbor countries.  The price shouting still goes on but prices are slightly changed.  We get some strange looks as sellers suddenly notice us while shouting their new reduced prices.  We keep on waiting to do our buying as we are convinced that the price tags will get lower as the night comes closer.  So later at the afternoon, with the first drops of rain falling we give it a try.  Purchasing here at a good price is quite an art.  We ask the price for two trousers… “600Q is a fair, honest price for this nice trousers made by hand”, is the answer outpointing the ‘features’ of the clothes. “It has a gummy and a rope to adjust them to your size.  And the side has a special part, particularly from here in the area” The advantage of having more time is, for example, that we had seen before a shop selling woven material on big spools, typical from the area at big scale and very cheap.  We say it is quite expensive and an uncomfortable silence fills the emptiness between bargain hunter and merchant.   I, as making a joke tell Giorgia that we have had bad luck, that with all the choice between all the different market stalls, we had picked out the most expensive.  We thank the ladies, make one step and there is immediately this wicked question flying through the air straight in our ears: ”How much you want to pay for them?”  A question without any possible correct answer.  We can’t price to high and neither can we answer “nothing.”   The psychological pressure of the first 600Q offer is undeniable and everything we want to say seems too low.  This is one of these moments you decide if you step into the trap or you make the trap yours.  “ Ufff, dangerous question to ask me! ” I reply, “If I can choose the price you won’t earn too much.  But I will give you 50Q for both.”  The lady looks at me and says that 300Q is a better price.  300Q is the half of the first 600Q and seems good but the simple fact that 50Q did not shock her, did not even surprise her a bit, it rings the alarm bell.  There is no sign of disillusionment of the underappreciating, the underestimating of the work in her eyes.  If this pair of clothes costs about 300Q and I tell her to pay just 50Q I should have seen a sign of indignation but nothing… So probably our 50Q is closer to the end price as her 300Q.  Suddenly I consider I even might find these pants cheaper in Europe … so I ask her in a funny way and with a laughing tone, for not breaking the ‘auction’ down, if she tries to steal from us with those high prices.  No, she would never steal from us, 300Q is the real price for those two trousers.  “Well just before you said 600Q was a fair honest price and now 300Q is… that’s already a steal from 300Q!” I reply amused.  No answer is coming after this. “So I will pay you 60Q for both clothes.” 2oo she follows, 70 I offered, 100 she goes… to find finally a middle point not quite in the middle at 80 Quetzals for the both pieces.

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Five o’clock has transformed in half past five as half an hour passes by and 600Q has transformed into 80Q and a few drops has transformed into a proper rain drench.  We still buy a small bag and some oven gloves all made by locals in the typical multicolored woven material so recognizable and characteristic for Guatemala.  Back in the hotel we take a hot shower to warm up again.  We eat delicious tacos in a nearby restaurant for 54Q.  Next day we take the bus to Antigua happy with our buying and happy that we stayed longer than just the 4 hours of tourist rush, to see the real Chichicastenango, the real market and its real price.

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