Antigua Guatemala’s Mercado: Color Everywhere!

Antigua Guatemala in Color - Mercado

Antigua Guatemala’s Mercado is a feast for the senses, especially if you, like me, have spent the majority of life shopping in air-conditioned, elevator-music playing supermarkets. The sounds, sights, and smells are overwhelming for first-time visitors and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any sort of plastic interfering between you and fresh produce.

It will actually take you a few visits to get your bearings, as it’s easy to get lost in the narrow corridors and crowded stalls. It’s impossible to form an attack plan unless you know the layout, so it’s more likely than not that you’ll walk about aimlessly, picking up stuff along the way.

Since I’ve been here for a while, I rarely go to the Mercado now unless I have a specific purpose for visiting. It’s easier to swing by La Bodegona, the local supermarket when doing quick errands. But for most fresh items, such as meats, veggies, and fruits, the market is unbeatable, not only in price but in quality.

Yesterday, I decided to stroll through the Mercado. Not as a shopper, but as a photographer. I wanted to capture those sights that seem so normal to me now, but that made quite the impression when I first arrived here. If you stop to observe what’s going on around you, you’ll find a lot of interesting items worth checking out. Some may even surprise you.

I hope you enjoy the pics below as much as I had fun doing this photo session for you.

(Click favorite pic to start gallery and see captions)

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See more tips about living in Antigua here: https://www.okantigua.com/guatemala-expat/

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Wuto Antigua Guatemala: Learn to Knit the Easy Way

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

*** Wuto is now closed ***

Did you know that knitting is not really a well-practiced art in Guatemala? I learned this surprising fact while visiting Wuto, a premium wool shop in Antigua Guatemala. But wait, there’s more.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

While the weaving of textiles has long been a Maya tradition, that is not the case with the art of knitting. In fact, it’s hard to find good, quality natural wool from Guatemala – if at all, and fans of knitting are left to practice their craft using acrylic wool instead. I also learned a bit about business ownership in Antigua Guatemala, so keep reading.

I learned all this from Maria Jose, Wuto’s gracious owner, during my visit there earlier this week. By the way, “Wuto” means “wool” in the traditional language of the Mapuche communities of Chile.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Maria Jose and her husband are architects by profession. Upon visiting Guatemala – stop me if you’ve heard this before – they fell in love with Antigua (told you – happens all the time) and decided to move there from Chile, their native land. The couple has been here for almost two years and I’ll share her interesting entrepreneurial story.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

 

After the initial projects they were working on in Antigua came to an end, Maria Jose wasn’t sure what to do next. After a few months of thinking things through, she decided to put one of her many talents to use and opened a store that’s unique in Antigua – a wool and accessories shop that doubles as a learning workshop.

The retail space is creatively decorated and very inviting, as you’ll see in the pictures below.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

In Chile, knitting is incredibly popular and wool – especially whose made from alpacas – is abundant. The culture in Chile is that women tend to learn to knit from an early age. This was the case with Maria Jose, for whom knitting is a craft that has been passed down through generations in her family.

In Chile, there’s a great appreciation for fine wool and clothing made from such. Wuto carries Chilean premium wool as well as Guatemala-produced acrylic wool.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

In addition to wool and knitting accessories, you’ll also find many beautiful handmade items, all knitted by Maria Jose. In fact, every piece of finished fabric in the store was likely created by her – even the lamp I showed you earlier.

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto Antigua Guatemala

Wuto also offers “Learn to Knit” workshops, which run Q245 for four classes, one-on-one or in groups. At the end of the workshop, you get to take home your very own handmade wool item. Maria Jose speaks perfect English as well as Spanish.

The Wuto shop is located a block away from Parque Central, at 4a Calle Oriente #10, inside El Jaulon building (where Circus Bar is located). You can contact them via their Facebook page at Facebook.com/WutoAntigua.

Opening a Business in Antigua Guatemala

After checking out the store, I touched on the topic of business ownership. I was surprised to learn from Maria Jose that opening a business in Antigua is a fairly easy process. She was up and running, paperwork in order, in about a month.

Keep in mind that this is because she opened a retail business. Many people who come to Antigua are not that creative and choose to open a restaurant or bar instead, which is a much more significant challenge. Not only is there massive competition, noise ordinances and assorted legal roadblocks will prove challenging as well. Maria Jose advises that catering to foreigners here makes for better business prospects.

Another interesting tidbit I want to pass along is that when you first open a business here, set yourself up with the Guatemalan version of the IRS, SAT, as a “small contributor” (making less than Q150,000 a year). Much less paperwork and once you have enough business to call for it, you can make the switch and register with the “Regimen General”, a more convoluted way to do business here.

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Click here if you’re interested in living in Antigua Guatemala.

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Antigua Guatemala in Color: Doors of Antigua

Antigua Guatemala in Color

How much attention do you pay to doors when you’re around town? I didn’t, at least until I moved to Antigua.

You see, in Antigua, because the style of construction is Spanish Colonial, it’s rare – if at all – to find big, landscaped lawns in front of houses. Gardens, luscious courtyards, and refreshing fountains are always located inside the premises of a home, surrounded by walls, to be enjoyed by the family occupying the house and guests.

This stands in marked contrasts to the practice in the US of maintaining big lawns which are bragging contests to see who has the greenest, best well-kept lawn.  Often, the lawn acts as a buffer zone, separating the main entrance from the sidewalk.

As I mentioned, in Antigua proper there is no such thing as front-facing lawns. All entrance doors are right up on the sidewalk (unless you live in a residential development) and it’s often hard to tell what kind of home lies exactly beyond a threshold. It’s a favorite sport of people walking the streets to catch a glance inside a home when a resident of said home cracks the door open for a few seconds on their way out. And what you see is almost never what you expect.

Doors in Antigua come in different shapes and sizes, but don’t let the physical state of the door fool you. A somewhat weather-beaten door can be the gateway to magnificent home, just as the freshly painted door, next door amounts to window dressing to hide the dilapidated interior.

Another feature is “people doors.” These are smaller, easier to open doors that don’t require the opening of heavy doors to make a quick exit.

It’s always quite fun to wonder what lies beneath a door, just on looks alone. What do you think lies beneath each door? (Click for slide show).

Antigua Guatemala in Color: Walls of Antigua

Antigua Guatemala in Color

I’m excited to share a brand new project I’ve been working on for a few weeks now. As you know, a couple of months ago I finished my first book “Living in Antigua Guatemala” and part of the creative process was to capture as many photographs as an I could about Antigua and its outlying communities.

This project was my first creative endeavor (outside of writing) that I’ve ever released publicly and I’m proud to say the book has been well-received, not just because of the information it contained, but for the artistic merits of the photographs. This surprised me and was quite humbling, as my hope was just to share at least a bit of the beauty of the city and its people.

As part of the book creation process, I found myself having to leave out a lot of pictures that I was quite fond of simply because they didn’t really fit with the information I was trying to convey. It struck me that I could still share beautiful pictures of Antigua just on their own merit, even if they didn’t actually fit with a particular narrative. Beauty often doesn’t need a story or a box that it has to fit into. We can admire beautiful things and let us inspire thoughts ideas that are unique as the person that gazes upon them.

I love walking the streets of Antigua with no sense of purpose or real destination, just taking pictures of things I notice as I walk along. I once heard someone say that to walk about in Antigua is to experience a new city every day. I tend to agree, as not a day goes by that I notice something new if just slow down enough to be in the moment with my surroundings.

I hope you enjoy this new series of photos, which will eventually I plan on turning into a beautiful photo-book recording my visual experience in Antigua. If you enjoy any of the pictures, please let me know in the comments below. I love the encouragement I get from readers.

There are captions on each photo which you can get access to by clicking on the link, as well as leave your opinion on your favorite pictures or if you recognize the place in the picture.

Click on any picture below to scroll through the gallery and see more information.

 

 

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Surfing In Guatemala: Visiting El Paredon Surf Camp

El Paredon guatemala beach

I took my first surfing lessons a few years ago in the pleasant, beginner-surfer friendly beaches of Hawaii. It did not go well. I flopped around like a fish out of water – except I was surrounded by water – and had a miserable time overall. Not only did I never manage to stand up on the surfboard, but I paid about $60USD for the pleasure.

Fast forward three years later. I’m now 40+ pounds lighter and in better shape than when I first attempted to surf. By the way, who knew laying off burgers and newborn-sized burritos and going out regularly for walks would do wonders for my health? And not a single magic weight-loss pill involved. Anyway, back to the story.

Guatemala doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a surfing destination. In fact, surfing Guatemala is akin to saying you’ll be bobsledding in Jamaica. I was pleasantly surprised to learn on my last visit to Guatemala’s Pacific Coast that there’s a small-but-growing surfing community here. The waves are not exactly world-class, but you can certainly have fun. In fact, you’ll pretty much have the entire beach to yourself when you do head out there, as the pics below will bear out.

The main beaches for surfing in Guatemala are El Paredon (where I went), Sipacate (a few miles north of El Paredon), and Champerico, further up north than the other two. Iztapa to the south rounds out the group. Since I was familiar with El Paredon and figured I wanted to give surfing another try, I decided to slow travel my way down there, wife and daughter in tow. Surfing lessons here are only Q120 ($15USD), which factored into the decision to try again.

Slow Traveling to El Paredon Beach

I’ll tell you up front that while it was an interesting experience to travel down to El Paredon Beach via chicken bus, it’s not for everyone. The quickest way to get from Antigua to El Paredon Beach is to take the shuttle that departs from the Toku Baru restaurant in Antigua, which drops you off roughly 2 1/2 hours later in front of El Paredon Surf House. This bus leaves every day at about 1:30 p.m.

Taking the chicken bus down, while much cheaper, takes a heck of a lot longer. Our first trip took about 5 hours, the return trip about 5 1/2 hours. To do this, you have to take two buses, a tuk-tuk, and a boat. Yes, a boat. Like I said, interesting trip, just time-consuming.

On the chicken bus to El Paredon

On the chicken bus to El Paredon

First, we took the bus down to Escuintla (Q6 per passenger, no charge for children under 9). This trip was about 50 minutes. In Escuintla, we took the bus to Sipacate (Q20 per person). This bus takes about three hours because of a few lengthy stops it makes along the way to wait for passengers. It stopped anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes in the towns of Siquinala and La Gomera. At La Gomera, you’ll have a chance to stretch your legs (never leave packages unattended on the bus) and buy fruit, drinks, or head to the restroom in the Mercado next to the bus stop. Eventually, the bus will reach Sipacate.

At Sipacate (you’ll see road signs), get off the bus at the gas station right at the entrance of town. Head towards the row of tuk-tuks and ask the driver to take you to El Escondite, a small pier about three miles away. The set rate for the trip is Q20, regardless of the number of passengers. Curiously, the rate is Q5 per passenger on the return journey.

Tuk tuk stand at Sipacate

Tuk-tuk stand at Sipacate

The road is paved and light on traffic.

Road to El Escondite, Guatemala

Road to El Escondite

El Escondite (The Hiding Place)

After about five minutes, we arrived at El Escondite pier. According to local people we asked, it’s safe to leave cars parked here overnight for free, as there are people there at all hours. Don’t know how much I’d trust that, but there were cars parked there when we arrived.

El Escondite pier

El Escondite pier

The boat ride (Q5 per person – no charge for children) was enjoyable. It meandered through mangroves, and we were able to spot some of the local wildlife.

Boad ride through mangroves at Sipacate

Boad ride through mangroves at Sipacate

After 10 minutes, we arrived at the other site, to the hamlet of El Paredon. According to a local, I talked to, about 2,000 people lived here full-time, and most live off fishing.

Arriving at El Paredon Village

Arriving at El Paredon Village

It is a very laid-back beach town where everybody knows everybody.

Rustic beach shacks

Rustic beach shacks

Something I noticed was the abundance of Evangelical churches. I counted four, and a big one was being built on the main sandy road. Curiously, I never did see a Catholic church.

Main dock at El Paredon

Main dock at El Paredon

We arrived just in time for sunset, which was delightful.

Sunset at El Paredon Beach

Sunset at El Paredon Beach

Most of the streets are covered in black sand. Every house I discreetly peered into seemed to be simple structures with no interior walls. Beds, kitchen, table, chairs… everything was in plain sight directly from the street.

Path to the beach

Path to the beach

Paredon Surf Camp vs. Paredon Surf House

We arrived at Paredon Surf Camp, our chosen lodging spot. We stayed here because they allowed camping and use of facilities for a modest fee (Q30 per person – no charge for children). It’s less than a quarter-mile from the fancier Paredon Surf House and definitely had a more down-to-earth vibe than Paredon Surf House. This is not to disparage either. We chose Surf Camp because it allowed the use of our tent (for Q10 per person daily they’ll offer one). You could pitch a tent at Surf Camp and spend the day at Surf House (Q25 per person for use of Surf House’s pool and facilities) if you wanted to do both. The Surf Camp also happens to be closer to the village.

We were starving when we arrived, so we set out to look for a place to eat other than at Surf Camp. This proved difficult, as the options were slim. We found a local who advised that the best food we were likely to find was from a little street shack where we could buy some ticucas, a dish local to El Paredon.

We found the spot without any trouble. We tentatively ordered some ticucas – fried corn dough stuffed with cheese and chicken – and sat on sun-baked plastic chairs, hoping for the best.

Street food at El Paredon

Street food at El Paredon

The ticucas did not look bad at all. The vendor put a helping of cabbage and tomato salsa on top and we were ready to dive in.

Ticucas are very similar to pupusas

Ticucas are very similar to pupusas

I’m glad to report they were great. They were pretty much identical to Salvadoran pupusas, albeit a bit thinner and smaller overall. At Q3 each, we didn’t hesitate to order a second round.

Next, we headed to the local tienda – convenience store – for some snacks. Thanks to a poster on the wall I discovered I’d just missed the busiest time of the year for this remote village. Turns out they have a lot going on September 15th, Guatemala’s Independence Day. Apparently, they have scheduled horse races, boat races, a torch run – an independence day tradition here – and a greasy pole competition. I’m seriously thinking of heading back just to see the spectacle.

Sign up for the horse race

Sign up for the horse race (Q10), launch race (Q5), or to climb a greasy pole (Q5)

Because of the sparse population, there’s very little light pollution here. The stars were splendid and I had the night to stare in amazement at the Milky Way, which I don’t recall ever seeing in person before in my life.

The Milky Way, El Paredon Beach

The Milky Way

We also walked around the beach looking for sea turtles, which come to this beach to lay their eggs. We had no luck finding one, just a lot of startled crabs.

I don’t know if I broke any camping rules by pitching the tent under a palm tree, but it was great nonetheless.

Camping under a palm tree

Camping under a palm tree

I set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. to catch the sunset. I was not disappointed. We spent the dawn hours walking along the beach, never seeing more than three people in the hour and a half or so we were out there.

Sunrise at El Paredon Beach

Sunrise at El Paredon Beach

Scooping up black sand

Scooping up black sand

Crab walking on black sand beach

Crab walking on black sand beach

Black sand beach made from volcanic rocks

Black sand beach made from volcanic rocks

Paredon Surf Camp Facilities

While Paredon Surf Camp appears a bit basic compared to Paredon Surf House, the place grew on me. It helped that we were the only guests there, apart from two friendly surfers from Wales.

Paredon Surf Camp beachside hut

Paredon Surf Camp beachside hut

Dining room at Paredon Surf Camp

Dining room at Paredon Surf Camp

Garden at Paredon Surf Camp

Garden at Paredon Surf Camp

Decorative touches, Paredon Surf Camp

Decorative touches

Outdoor showers

Outdoor showers

Surfboards for rent in Guatemala

Surfboards for rent

Path from hotel to the beach

Path from hotel to the beach

beach fence

Fence

Main bungalow at Surf Camp

Main bungalow at Surf Camp

Surfing Guatemala: Learning the Ropes

For those not familiar with black sand beaches, they get incredibly hot from the sun from about 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The instructor widely decided we should practice proper surfing technique under the shade.

Standing up on dry land is a heck of a lot easier, I was about to find out.

Standup technique

It’s much easier on land…

The resident pooch had seen her share of newbies come and go and I could tell she was not impressed by my form.

Surfing lesson at Surf Camp Guatemala

Practicing my technique

After about 10 minutes of instruction, it was time to hit the water.

I’d always heard that Guatemalan beaches on the Pacific side were dangerous, so I was a bit apprehensive going in. Fortunately, the waves were relatively calm and I really had nothing to worry about.

Surfing lesson on the Pacific Coast, Guatemala

Ready for my lesson

Not only did I manage to stand up on the board and ride a wave all the way to the shore, but actually did it twice. Not bad for my first time and enough to get me hooked and come back to learn some more.

Learning to surf in Guatemala

Managed to stand up a couple times

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and taking pictures.

Taking a break from surfing

Taking a break from surfing

Seagulls in Guatemala

Seagulls

Guatemalan beach

We returned the next day, mosquito-bitten, but glad to have made the trip. And I also picked up a new hobby along the way. Not bad for a weekend trip.

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