Market Pick-Me-Up

Market Pick-Me-Up

Sweet. Juicy. Succulent. Happy. Fresh. Inviting. These are just some of the words that come to mind whenever I spy the overflowing mounds of fruit at the market. With such a flood of rainbow colors, I find the market is an excellent spot for a quick pick-me-up! But it’s not just the colors. It’s the hustle and bustle and the everyday bargaining. There are days that I just love to be caught in the middle of it all! I remember the first time I encountered the true market bartering game in Thailand. Used to the fixed prices of immense supermarkets in the U.S., I was a bit frustrated as I attempted to try and figure out what I should pay for various goods. At first, I didn’t even like the business of bartering. ‘Just give me a fair price!’ I cried out inside my own head. But now, I LOVE IT! It has become a fun game of battle-of-the-wits to see who can out-charm the other… vendor or buyer?? 😉 And still, it’s more. Market bartering offers a window of opportunity for me to better communicate with, learn about and learn from the Maya.

More photos of succulent fruit to come!

text and photo by Laura McNamara

© 2009 – 2013, Laura McNamara. All rights reserved.

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  • This has been the biggest difference for me from Costa Rica markets to Guatemala ones: fruit. For some reason costa rica has very little options!

    here i’m going nuts:)

    • @Marina, how interesting, I would think the fruit selection in Costa Rica would be as rich and varied as in Guatemala. I am glad to know you’re in La Antigua Guatemala. I will send you an email so we can meet for lunch this coming week.

      • @Marina: Yeah, I’m with Rudy. I would have thought Costa Rica would have been just as plentiful. Why, do you think, it’s more difficult to find fruit there? Too much Western (aka U.S.) influence?

  • Eric

    Laura, I just read your comments about bartering, and I’m trying to stop laughing long enough to type a response. I felt the same way on my first trip to Guatemala – bartering ? I hate it ! Why can’t you just put a little cardboard sign up with the prices listed, like the farmers’ markets in los EEUU ? Just like yourself, I grew to love it, as it became a great conversation starter between myself and several merchants, some of whom became good friends. On my trip a few months ago, a Tz’utujil lady on the shores of Atitlan had me laughing for hours … I was asking about a price for a carry-on bag (I puirchased waaay tooo much coffee to stuff into my backpack), and she told me,”Ochenta quetzales”. I repeated it, “Ochenta quetzales, eh ? Mmmmm…”, and hesitated for only a second, and she put her face closer to mine and said, “Ahora, su turno…”, as if it were all a big game to her, and it probably was ! So now, I am not the best barterer – I tend to give up more quetzales for los ninos y las ancianas – but, what a way to get to know people.
    p.s.- lovely colors in your photo. Despite the best efforts of los vendedores, los lustradores and amigos like Rudy, I forget most of the names of the fruit in the markets…but, does it matter ? They’re all delicious !

    • @Eric, “ahora su turno…” thanks for sharing this wonderful and tender anecdote.

      • @Eric: Again, I second Rudy. WONDERFUL little anecdote! People always ask me, what do I like so much about traveling. And “why” is exactly because of moments like these!

  • Andrea P

    I, too, loved your comments about bartering. I have always hated having to barter. I’m not good at confrontation & that’s how I saw it. However, I gave it my best shot when in Guatemala & one of my fondest memories of the trip was a fun & successful bartering exchange to buy a quilt for my daughter using my very broken Spanish. The ladies at the booth were even helping me along with my Spanish as we laughed together while I struggled to barter.

    • @Andrea P, I am glad you gave it a try. Haggling and the selling process is very important to the people of Guatemala. It is one important aspect of interacting and being human. I know it is difficult for many of us who have grown accustomed to zero human interaction while purchasing things online or at the supermarkets. 🙁

      • @andrea: Thanks for sharing your little anecdote too! Just as precious! Does your daughter like her quilt??

        • Andrea P

          @Rudy: Trust me, the social aspect is not the issue for me. 🙂 I’ll strike up a conversation with anyone. The problem is the culture in which I was raised where bartering feels more like arguing and is therefore confrontation. It just simply is not done anywhere except car dealerships & yard sales. Btw, I hate buying cars, too. 🙂

          @Laura: She loves it, along with all of the other things I bought for her in Guatemala. She very proudly tells people where they came from when asked. Because of her 3-year old pronunciation, many people think she’s saying, “from my grandma” instead of “Guatemala”.

  • Erick

    Although part of my childhood was spent in Guatemala, I never really learned to barter, and now that I’m all grown up and go back, I still have my mom do the bartering for me. 😉

    All I do is ask how much and let the masters go at it. I stay out of the way and enjoy the show. It’s intriguing though, that I can go into a car dealer and do fairly well at getting a pretty good bargain on a car, but I can’t do it in the markets of Guate.

    • @Erick, don’t deny yourself the haggling next time you come to Guatemala. Just think of it, the worst you can do is pay their initial asking price. 🙁

      • @Erick: If you can handle pushy car salesmen in the U.S. you should be able to handle Guate markets… 😉

  • wow, i have to remember this when i go to Guate. at the end of the month. I haven’t been there in 29 years. I don’t know how to barter. Love the pic the colors are beautiful.

    • @Sheila, you’re going to have to learn to haggle since it seems to me you’re a little rusty; 29 years away does that to you. You don’t want to make the same mistakes as Jenn’s aunt. 🙁

      • @Sheila: Buen viaje! I’m sure you’re going to love LAG as well as bartering… just remember to keep it friendly and fun!

  • Bartering is definitely an art which some people -myself included- have not yet mastered. But the most fun I’ve had was going to the market with my aunt who had been living in the US for over 40 years; she was offering more money to the vendor instead of less 😉

    • @Jenn Klee, that’s so funny, she must’ve thought it was subasta, an auction pues.

    • @Jenn Klee: hehehe… that definitely made me giggle. How did the merchant react??

      • @ Laura, she just stared back with a shocked look and didn’t have time to react before my Mom jumped in the conversation and fixed it back 🙂

  • @Laura, I am glad you brought up the bartering topic. Haggling is so important to the Maya people and it offers, as you said, a window of opportunity for me to better communicate with, learn about and learn from the Maya. To the people of Guatemala, haggling and the exchange process are as important as the final sale; an important aspect of interacting and being human. Thanks for this wonderful contribution. 🙂

    • @Rudy: Thanks Rudy! And I agree: a very important aspect of being human. I was just commenting to Nelo about how the people are “caliente” here in Guatemala and more “frio” in the U.S.

  • Hi Rudy! Looking forward to meeting you too!

  • @Eric: Again, I second Rudy. WONDERFUL little anecdote. People are always asking me what I love so much about traveling. And little moments like the one you shared is exactly what I love about exploring new cultures. Thanks for sharing Eric!!

  • Hey Laura,
    I actually asked the same thing. The answer I got:) Was that it rains a lot less in Guatemala, which is more ideal for fruit. However, in Costa Rica when it rains, wow, I don’t think it’s possible to see that much rain in such a short period of time, and it’s more ideal for vegetables.

    They have the regular tropical fruits like:
    Pineapple, papaya, watermellon, passionfruit, and mangos (only in season) but everything else is imported and super expensive so you’re lucky to find one or 2 vendors in a 1 kilometer market.

    • @Marina: Very interesting! I didn’t know that about rain as it relates to cultivating fruits and veggies.

  • emromesco

    @Laura Watch out with the connotation of “caliente” we might be “calurosos” as opposed to “frios”or cold… “caliente” is opposed to frigid 😉
    About fruits… even though I missed many Guate fruits (e.g. zapotes, jocotes, jocote maranion, etc) I found many other fruits from other parts of the world… although sometimes are just too expensive.

  • Catherine from Oregon

    I am very fascinated by this topic. I adopted the ethic a few years ago to NOT barter. I do ask the vendor for the price – then if it is a price I agree is fair, I will buy. I figured that they made a good deal, and it was what I felt it was worth – then we both went home happy. I have many treasures from my travels which I cherish – and I do not remember what I paid for them. So, am I naive? Maybe the vendors see me coming and line up….
    How do I balance my ethic of fair trade and the game of bartering?

    • Hmmm… it is a bit of a struggle. But, no savvy business person will sell something at a price where they can’t make a profit. But yeah, it’s tough to reason…

  • Leif

    You are all using the terms “barter” and “haggle” interchangeably, this is incorrect. Bartering is an exchange of goods and services not involving money. Bargaining or haggling is a type of negotiation in which the buyer and seller of a good or service dispute the price which will be paid and the exact nature of the transaction that will take place, and eventually come to an agreement.

    What you are all talking about is bargaining/haggling, NOT bartering.