The Traveling Tigress is extremely smug this morning, having spent two hours laboriously working through two phrasebooks and my book on Mayan culture (which is, helpfully, written in both English and Spanish and can be used, admittedly with great effort, as a weaving phrasebook) to produce three sentences in Spanish identifying myself as a weaver interested in local textiles and asking for an English-speaking guide who can help. I figure I´ll call this Carlos Molina, and if I´m lucky he´ll speak enough English to answer me. If he doesn´t, I´ll ask the folks at Adrenalina Tours (the expensive travel agency) if they can help translate the conversation for me.
I´m also extremely smug at having successfully ordered breakfast in Spanish this morning, albeit with liberal help from a phrasebook and pointing at things. It appears I won´t starve after all. (Don´t laugh, I was seriously worried.)
I think this trip will actually be good for me…I have a deep distaste for expressing myself in any language except English, and this has handicapped me a lot in my attempts at learning other languages. Having no other option but to speak Spanish will help me get over that, and maybe in other countries it´ll make me more willing to attempt the local language. Besides, after I get over my stark raving terror of looking like a complete idiot (which is ludicrous since you look like a total idiot if you can´t communicate, anyway), I think I´ll be fine with it. I´m rather looking forward to my crash course in Spanish.
So: the Saljaca market.
My guide turned up at 8:30am, as agreed, and we set off for the market by chicken bus. (I have no idea why they´re called chicken buses–unlike Vietnam and Thailand, there don´t appear to be any chickens on the bus. And the drivers are definitely NOT chickens.)
Have you ever wondered what happens to old school buses when they die? Well, wonder no more: they get shipped to Guatemala, repainted in bright colors, and used as chicken buses. Lurching, old, rusty, spouting black smoke into the smoggy air, they nonetheless get around surprisingly well. Our chicken bus came to us courtesy of the Geneva Unified School District, Geneva, Illinois, and rechristened (on the top of the windshield only) “Esperanza”. I´m not sure if “Hope” was a prayer that the bus would keep going, but that would have been entirely appropriate, IMO. We lurched forward, over the worn cobblestone streets, and we were off.
The Saljaca market turned out not to be all that big, maybe 4 or 5 blocks worth of streets crowded with little stalls and people selling out in the open air. The place was paved in textile shops, all with an astonishing display of beautiful huipils (women´s blouses) and cortes (skirts). The first place I went to explained that all the textiles were “factory made”, and I was very disappointed and asked if handmade were available. My guide said no, never. Aargh.
But then the owner said come back, I´ll show you my factory (he owns a factory? in the back of his shop??). I was expecting to see an old automated commercial loom, but what did I see but a four-harness, two-treadle loom?? I was astonished. He sat down at it and demoed weaving, showed us his ikat-dyed warp, his warping reel, and so on–all of which were perfectly recognizable to me.
Eventually I worked out that “factory”, in Guatemala, refers to anything made on a treadle loom (which was introduced by the Spaniards circa 1500), as opposed to something woven on a backstrap loom. I wound up buying several cortes (skirts) and one huipil, and my guide was very good about identifying where each came from. (Every Mayan village has its own distinctive style–this is a throwback to the days when the Spaniards kept the Mayans as peons/slaves and insisted that all the Maya in a given estate should have a distinctivey style of dress, so their owner could be identified at a glance.)
I am amused, by the way. A pickpocket got my watch while I was wandering through the market. I´m impressed–these people *are* damn good, if they managed to take the watch right off my wrist without my noticing. I salute their professional competence, and wish them the best with my battered old Timex with a scratched crystal and the plastic housing partially torn off. I´m also highly entertained by the fact that they managed to take the watch right off my wrist, yet missed the $300 digital camera in the pocket right below. Admittedly, I had very sensibly put it into a zippered-shut pocket and secured it there with a safety pin and carabiner, so it would have been considerably harder to make off with. (All my pants have zippered pockets–it won´t stop a pickpocket, especially one who´s expecting a zipper, but it will at least slow them down.) Nonetheless, I´m glad they took off with the watch and not with anything else. I bought a new digital watch in the market for 120 quetzales (about $15), and that settled it. Hey, I got a new watch out of the deal. A quality one, too, a genuine Casio. 🙂
Anyway, I now have a big pile of textiles, which will have to be mailed home at the earliest opportunity, a guide who speaks at least a little English, and LUXURY!!! a hotel room with hot water that actually gets HOT!!, towel service (unheard of!), and even little soaps in the rooms! If I´m not careful, I´m going to start thinking I´m back home. 🙂