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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Cobán - portrait of a town from a park bench

So I didn´t leave Coban like I thought, and once again I´ve been stationary for longer than I thought... I am definitely a slow traveller, but I love this pace... apart from the nagging thought at the back ofg my mind that I´ll ache when I make a move again.

One of the things I love about Central America is the vibrancy of the Central Square ´Parque Central´ that every town is built around. Since being in Coban and passing the time with J making jewellry in the street have had hours to observe the cycles of life in Coban. The variety of street vendors is something I have found fascinating in every country, I suppose its one of the biggest differences between home and here, perhaps because we have such strict rules on liscnecing whereas here anyone with a product can sell. Some vendors are around throughout the day and others, such as the food stalls on the corner nearest the hostel, rotate: my daily mosh (sweet milky porridge drink) friend´s stall is there in the morning selling tamales as well as coffee, atol (corn drink) and rice milk; changing at lunch to another group of women selling tortilla wraps, tamales and chuchitis (another maiz based, meat and sauce filled packet cooked in a leaf) and the range of hot milky drinks, my favorite is ´ponche de leche´ , hot milk punch which is pretty much custard with a sprinkling of cinammon, delicious; and changing again in the evening to a third group of women with tacos and bean spread bread along with the milky drinks and tamales, selling from 9.30 pm onwards in front of the arches where folk waiting for the early morning buses to Gute city sleep covered in blankets.

Some of the other vendors are:
Phone call sellers - mainly women though there is one young lad who sits at the bus stop opposite the hostel too - they have wireless phones (not mobiles, sets that look like house phones) set on their knees and folk pay to make a call.
Tigo, Claro top up sellers - lads who sell mobile phone credit, carrying small placards with the name of the mobile company and any offer, they generally have one spot that they pace
Diario de Hoy and Prensa Libre sellers - the daily newspapers are sold on street corners shaded by an umbrella, or by lads on bikes, or on foot, often witrh a bundle balanced on their head to protect against the sun. They tend to be full of scary or depressing news of deaths and murders - one evening J, Sasha a tourist from the US were a block away from the shop we´d just bought drinks in when we heard gunshots, two days later we saw in the paper that two men had been killed in fron of the same shop... a reminder of Guatemalan´s violent side.
Fruit sellers - ladies and girls sit with their baskets on the street corners as well as in the bustling daily market a block away from the main square where I´ve been enjoying the different types of bannanas, ranging from the tinniest fat finger bunches to chunky pink deliciositites! The streets are lined with ladies and young girls in traditional dress selling tortillas and tayuha or ´Maya Burgers´ - cheap bean filled tortillas, drier than the Salvodorenan papusa, but filling - from baskets draped in colourful woven cloth. Having J´s perspective on prices makes me more aware of the hike in prices for being a gringa, but often speaking in Spanish gets a surprised reaction and a more local price, though relativley it is so cheap anyway.

Bike food sellers - a whole range of foods are sold by young lads on bikes with two wheels and a glass cabinet upfront, shaded by an umbrella or cloth roof. Fruit salad served in preprepared bowls that the lad puours syrup on, oranges sliced down the middle with chilli and salt added, fried chicken (haven´t tried that one), mazapan (? can never remember the word for this deep fried vegetable, but it sounds like marzipan and has a similar texture and taste to chunky chips, but is served in bigger chunks, coated in salt..mmm... healthy!)
Ice-cream sellers - older men or youngish lads who push freezers in front of themselves, dinging a little bell. They sell pre-packaged lollies, and have a bag of pink cones hung from the side of the cart for the soft mix neapolitan they sell for 2q (lass than 10p).
Coffee and milk drink sellers - a pair of women with four large flasks dart around the sqaure in the morning on foot pouring your your drink of choice at your bench. There is also a young man in red who comes around every afternoon and sells milk coffee and cake from his bicycle
Photo seller -Juan Antonio is one of the men who sell photos in the park, either pre-printed Gutemalan highlights or he´ll photograph you and print it up on the spot
shoe shiners - from sunrise to sunset young lads through to old men call ´lustre´from their various spots around the park, some are there all day, others only at peak times. It is the Custom for Guatemalans to dress smartly for work adn for many the shoe shine is a daily or twice daily part of their routine.
Watches, toys, ballon sellers - brightly coloured carts with all sorts of bric a brac dpt the streets, shoes line the wall outside the supermarket,
Traditional artesans - on weekends and the whole of this last week for the feria the arches alongside the park are filled with tables laden witrh Guatemalan weavings and souvenirs
Along with all this bright and colourful life there are also the sadder cases of the beggars, mainly gathered round the entrance to the supermarket on the far corner of the square, and the random drunks asleep strewn on the pavement or grassy banks, oir in one more extreme case this weekend, rolling around in the middle of the road.
Dr. Simi - one of the highlights of park life is the big costumed Dr Simi who emerges from the pharmacy on the corner many an afternoon to dance in the street to music blaring from the shop´s loudspeakers and chase women and kids, trying to entince them into dancing with him! Sasha and I both got caught out the one afternoon and each had a turn with the Doc! He is a hit with the kids who roam the park daily, because their Mum´s are selling there. There are two groups of brothers and sisters who were curious in my drawing one of the first days of me being in Coban and they often pop up from nowhere to chatter for a bit. ONe day they topok turns runnning in and out of the scene I was drawing, never sitting sill long enough for me to capture them on paper lkike they wanted!

Another side to life in Coban are the weekend processions. Since I´ve been here I´ve seen the following processions;
uniformed school children and their mothers dressed in the day to day traditional clothing
85 women dressed in traditional clothes representing the different regions of Guatemala, an intoxiocationg display of colour and design
groups of school children in all sorts of outfits, many with an emphasis on either environmental issues, or on cultural diversity
horses and cowboys displaying dressage, with some of the riders as young as two, strpped into the saddles
There have also been a varity of displays in the park, music, dancing and more costumes, especially in the last week as the feris arrived last Sunday.

The feria, (fair or festival) had been talked about for a week or so, as everyone with any type of business however small were looking forward to it as a source of fresh custom, with the folk it would attract from out of town. Although as it turns out it hasn´t been as busy for sales as hoped for. It is a busy collection of clothes, jewellry, food, big wheels, table football, bars, and numerous walking vendors, one lovely tall man who looks like a foreigner too gave mne a delicious spot of chocolate fudge to try for free. There are endless games, shooting stalls, darts, knock-out games, and there are even folk selling you your weight, with rows of weiging scales lined up. Fascinating!

J and I have been going along to the feria each day in the late afternoons, and when we´ve not been dodging the sudden downpours have made a few sales...alongside J´s artesanes I´ve been selling henna tattoes (got hold of some decent ink) and I´ve even sold my first two bracelets from the weaving techniques I´ve been learning since being in Coban. A few days I´ve more than made my expenses, not too hard with living costs so low here, especially since I moved across the road into Hospedaje Famailiar, which is slightly dirtier anbd dingier than Casablanca, but I have a private room rather than a dorm bunk, and the life is far more intreresting, reminding me somehow of the apartment block from the film Delicatessen. There are some long term residents, such as mother and daughter Sonia and Alejandra, who´s also been keen to learn some of the braclet making knots. There are also a lot of folk staying at the moment who are working in the fair, and there was a lovely young Mum Ingrid and her son Andy who had the most unusual purr of a cry in the room next to me for a week.

In one of the earlier weeks here I met J´s mate Onan, a Guatemalan artesan and his Japanese wife Mitzi, who cooked a delicious vegetarian meal for us one evening after a day spent on the land they own out of town where they are building a permaculture house. I got my first lesson in machete weilding up there, and at the cost of a couple of potent blisters managed to clear a good wide area of weeeds and grass. Felt a bit like a trampling conqustador when I´d see all the insects fleeing from the blade, felt sorry for the little chuckadees!

So today is the final day of the feria - am have got my eye on a few of the rides there, as well as the ole classic bumper cars that I´ll have to have a go on befre the end of the night - and then i really will have to pack up Peggy and move on, have the pressure of my 90 days expiring on my Guatemalan visa in about a month and a lot more I want to see of the country!

Peace and big love from Coban!