At Spanish lesson, a trip to the market and a fall in a basket of persimmons. That about sums up my first visit to the market in Solola Guatemala.
Solola is about 15 minutes up highland from Panajachel on Lake Atitlan and well worth the trip in the El Pickup that got me there with my Spanish teacher Elena. The market is varied and bustling and very crowded, mostly with Mayan locals going about their shopping in a brisk and no-nonsense fashion. To my great joy, I was just about the only gringo cruising the narrow aisles that day and just about any other day I went there afterwards. This is an authentic market in the middle of a predominantly Mayan town.
Elena suggested we have a mobile Spanish lesson at the market so told me to meet her at a street corner in Pana where we would get our ride. Turns out the ride, El Pickup, was in fact a pick up truck with railings attached to its business end. The trucks can hold about 8 standing, well pretty comfortably, after 12 people it’s kind of pushing it since live chickens held at the “ankles” by a few passengers are usually included in the ride.
Once on the truck and gripping the rails hard, the upward climb gives a view of the lake and surrounding highlands that is worth the ride. It was a beautiful and clear Friday morning.
Arriving at the teaming market, it became apparent to me that talking (mustering my best Spanish which isn’t much, I’m ashamed to say) and walking the jammed food aisles was not easy. Especially since the locals have figured out how to do this while keeping going, examining fruit, and gossiping among one another.
Cursed with Canadian cultural niceness, I kept saying excuse me and trying not to bump into people who could care less about these milquetoast niceties ingrained in the True North psyche. More than once my teacher was leagues ahead of me and a bit mystified that I couldn’t find my way around old ladies and women with three kids. ”Sorry,” I said in my reflexive Canadian way. I’ll try to blend in and move like they do.
Mistake, for sure. I tried to have it both ways, nice a la canadienne and full-speed-ahead as the locals were doing. Result was I fell shoulder-deep into a bushel of persimmons and miraculously emerged without damaging any of them. The vendor didn’t notice since there is such a whirl of people at the Solola market at any given time.
The next time I went to the Solola market I adopted a use your shoulder first and ask questions later attitude. The people are all really nice, just not timid physically. There is actually a learned code whereby you get around people by getting them to move. It’s subtle, and it’s a little like playing a polite game of chicken to see who will blink, that is, move first. If you master this code it works and keeps you out of the fruit bins.
I highly recommend the trip to the Solola market via El Pick up. You can skip falling into a basket of fruit and still have a good time. The ride back down was just as good as the way there.
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