I am conscious that my blog slips into a rather repetitive “I ran from here to here” and “I covered so many KMs.” When that is what I am doing day in, day out, hopefully it’s understandable but is certainly not excusable. The exciting part of this expedition is not the running but where I am running. Now I am not a travel journalist and my lack of descriptive words has been brought to my attention… So here goes… a brief description of what is outside my hotel…
I am staying in Hotel Moce. From the outside it’s not much, a small doorway in an otherwise hectic mess of shops and vendors. A long corridor runs up a slope passing numbered rooms towards a reception. The walls are green and the light is dim and there is not attention to design but when you’re inside its clean and safe and that’s all I really look for especially when I’ve just been running.
We are in the centre of Mazatenango. As you stand at the top of my street there is an interjection where four streets meet, this is the centre of town. The road I came in on is part of the main street with shops on the left and the fringes of a bustling market on the right. The road bends 90 degrees to the left and climbs a hill towards a McDonalds, a pharmacy, a petrol station and larger industrial shops. Straight on is a thin one-way street with three wheeled motor taxis’ lining up to speed out into the centre of town. Both sides of this street is lined with shops with products piled up and on display trying to entice a passing customer.
My street slopes down to my right. As you begin your descent the market is immediately on your right. There is no grand entrance or anything like that, just a loading bay with a small opening and a passageway disappearing into the darkness. As you enter you are immediately confronted with small stalls lining both sides of the walkway selling all matter of products that are piled high with a shopkeeper or child at the ready to sell you something. As you meander around the maze of commerce slowly making your way to the heart of the market the shops seem to morph into different categories in some sort of organised mayhem. Mobile phone accessories merge with fruit stalls and then spices are piled high in large canvas bags and suddenly chairs and tables are on sale. The dried fish stalls are near the edge (and luckily the ventilation) with little old ladies swapping flies off their fresh fish, crabs and prawns.There is no conformity here. The passageways are tight and the only illumination only come from the natural light that managed to break through the cracks in the building.
If you have avoided the intrigue of exploring the market and continue down my street the first thing you need to learn is where to stand as this street is chaotic with cars, pickups, red moto taxis with a garish flashing lights and minibuses all darting around each other without any regard for each other or least of all the wondering tourist. Nowhere but the pavement is safe and pavement space is scarce. Both sides of the street are lined with shops – pastry shops, mobile phone shops, textile shops, bike mechanics and fried chicken restaurants. Large signs poke out everywhere trying to advertise whatever product is buried in the hustle and bustle. In front of the shops is the next line of vendors, this time its small tables covered in lollypops and sweets or make shift cobblers and shoe cleaners. Each street corner has ladies dressed in colourful traditional dresses selling fresh mango, pineapple and other exotic fruits, all sliced up in little plastic bags and ready to go. No one tries to force you to buy anything. There is no harassment or bullying tactics that you might experience in other countries. There is one price and that price is for all. They don’t want to rip you off or make you buy something you don’t want to. They just want to sell their goods.
The streets that branch off my street are equally as hectic and the large shops have the customary security guard leaning against the entrance. Here the weapon of choice is a pump-action shot gun. At first the appearance of the armed guards can be alarming but it is amazing how quickly you get used to seeing them being wielded around without the respect you would hope for and expect. The side street that lines the market is also home to more fruit vendors. Pickups line the street with melons and bananas sheltered under make shift awnings. Little old ladies dressed in colourful dresses dart around the shoppers with baskets impossibly balancing on their heads.
A majority of the buildings appear run down and most have lost the impact of the bright colours that have long faded. A perfect example is the building that now hosts the market but advertises itself as the home of culture and arts. As you look up the sky is crisscrossed with a web of telephone cables that stretch in every direction across the street. The tops of buildings are more often than not unfinished or deserted, giving a hint of a more prosperous past. If you look down the cracks in the pavement and the sides of the street are lined with rubbish from the day that’s passed. Stray dogs scavenge around looking for chicken bones or other edible titbits. Water trickles down where people have attempted to wash their shop front.
It’s now 8pm and the activity is already dying down. The huge array of products that have been on display are carefully packed away for another night and the shop fronts are being covered by metal gratings. As the street becomes calm all that is left is the warm air and the pungent smell of the busy day gone by.
While it may not sound enticing there is a charm to the madness, an energy that we can’t experience back at home where rules, laws and health and safety stifle such a vibrant atmosphere.