Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tiendas in Panajachel

Tiendas (tee-EN-dahs) are Guatemala's version of the 7-Eleven, only with shorter hours and, sadly, no Slurpees. They are so many of these corner stores here in Pana, it's hard to walk more than 40 steps without finding one! It seems every Guatemalan wants to open a store. I have no idea how their businesses are sustainable.

But it's good news for those who have cravings or just don't feel like going all the way to the market or grocery store. I can walk just a few meters down my street to the tienda and pick up chips, chocolate bars, candies, gum, ice cream, cookies, pop (soda), beer, liquor, plus staples like eggs, sugar, flour, canned beans, oil, salt, and coffee. Most tiendas also carry toilet paper, shampoo, Aleve (weirdly prevalent here), purified water, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. Some stores have dog and cat food in bulk. Many will have fresh-baked buns hidden in a basket under a cloth, plus tomatoes, onions, and whatever fruit is in season. If you see a fridge, open it up and you'll find sausages, ham, chicken, cheese, and cream. So, yeah, basically everything you could want!

Going into a tienda can seem a bit overwhelming at first. The small room will be overflowing with items, cases stacked on the floor and items hanging from the ceiling. It's often dark. There are no prices. There may or may not be a clerk present. He might be sitting on a stool behind the counter playing on his iPhone, or she might be in the back and come out with a baby nursing on her breast and a toddler clinging to her skirt. Many times the tiendas are simply the converted front room to a family's house, so you can get a sneak peek into their lives through the curtain. 😊

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
A free-standing tienda in Jucanya. 
The most important thing I've learned from shopping in tiendas in Guatemala is if you can't see what you're looking for, just ask. The store owners know where everything is, much like I know where to find anything on my cluttered desk! 😁
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
Having brooms in a pop crate is pretty much a requirement of any good tienda.
Tiendas each get a name. The most common I've seen are "Esquina" (corner) or "Bendición" (blessing). One of my favourites is "Tienda Paraiso" (paradise) that's on the Jucanya side of the yellow bridge. Some of them use the word abarroteria, which means grocery store.

The stores are also plastered with advertisements about the products they sell. The delivery guys must dump the posters on them in bulk! Some bigger companies will even make your store a big banner with your name on it.
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
The tienda across from Despensa in Panajachel. The banner on the left is pretty worn so they got a new one from Dorada Ice beer company. Sweet!
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala abarroteria
This one doesn't have room for signs so they handpainted what they sell -- home products, sausages, dairy products, basic grains, and good cold water and beer.
I'm not sure what "concentrado para perros y gatos" is though. Concentrated WHAT for dogs and cats?
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala Intermedio Jucanya
This is Intermedio, a landmark in Jucanya. It's quite large inside and has paper products, a photocopier, and lots of housewares in addition to food, booze, snacks, and bathroom supplies.
When I lived in Jucanya, the Intermedio is where I'd go when I didn't want to walk over to the Despensa in Pana. Things are a teensy bit more expensive but it's worth it when you don't feel like going too far. They even have sliced bread! (That's rare, just so ya know.)

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
Nicely organized tienda with the most important thing -- ice cream! -- right out front.
But wait, that's not a good idea! The sun is gonna melt them. 😩
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
There are some truly talented artists in Pana. They painted the soap logo (Ariel) in amazing detail on this tienda.

tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
This one is a bit intimidating. I think they may need to get rid of some of the cases of empty bottles!
Also on the left, there is a big stack of eggs in pale green trays. Just sitting out.
(P.S. No one refrigerates eggs in Guatemala. But to have them out like that where they could get broken is a little bit odd. Usually they're behind the counter.)
tienda corner store Panajachel Guatemala
This is the front of the store that is shown in the video below.
 As I was waiting for the guy to weigh my dog food, I took the 30-second video below. It's quite dark -- cuz that's tiendas for you! I narrated it so you can understand what you're looking at.


To sum up: I love tiendas! The only downside is that unscrupulous clerks will attempt to charge you more than the item is worth. But that's kinda like any corner store. They're allowed to overcharge you for the convenience, right? I just wish they had prices listed on the stuff so I would know when I was getting ripped off. I tend to avoid any store where I think they're giving me the gringo price.
There are two tiendas close to our new house. One sells dog food for 50 centavos cheaper than anywhere else I've been, and the other has Peanut Butter M&Ms. Or at least they do for now until I buy them all! Ha!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Adventures in Hardware Stores

Are you intimidated going to the hardware store? Do you walk into a Home Depot, stare in dismay at the looming shelves, and walk right back out?

Or are you like me? A HUGE fan of Canadian Tire and Home Hardware and could spend hours strolling through aisles of nuts and bolts, screws and glues, hammers and files and drills, oh my!

This week has been crazy-busy with the new house, two tiny kittens, a three-pack of dogs trying to adjust to new surroundings, and Bert and I learning our way around home improvement.  I thought I would share some of the things we've learned so perhaps people considering moving to Panajachel or Lake Atitlan or Guatemala can get an idea of how things work and what things cost. Or maybe you just want a laugh at our misadventures! 😄
Central Ferratera. Looks big but is really only the first floor.
If you think hardware stores in Canada (or the U.S. or wherever) are hard to navigate, try doing it in Spanish! Plus, most of the hardware stores here have this weird setup. You can't just walk in, grab what you need from a shelf, pay, and leave. Nope. Here's how it goes at Ferretera Central, one of the big local stores here in Pana.

Walk in. Look at the very small selection of things on shelves and walls. Be confused. Notice people sitting at desks with a big sign saying "Vende" (Sales.) Wait for a guy to stop talking on his phone or chatting with his coworker or eating his soup at his desk. (This takes a while.)
Finally, when some poor dude makes eye contact with you, sit at his desk and try to explain what you're looking for. If it's not something you can point to on a wall, be prepared to use your best sketching and charade talents! The guy looks it up on his computer, gives you a paper, and then sends you to a counter at the back.
The counter is the front of the warehouse. The guy will bring you out what you need and show it to you to be sure it's right. You don't get to take it though. Not yet! He sends you to another window, the cashier, where you slide your money to a man whose face is literally blocked by a big sign. You just see his hands and the money and then he gives you a receipt.
Next, take the receipt back to the counter. He'll check it -- duh, I was JUST here 30 seconds ago -- and give you your stuff. You may get to go home now, or you may have to show your receipt and your stuff to a guard at the exit before leaving.
Congratulations! It took you an hour to buy 20 screws! 😆

Granted, this isn't the case in all hardware stores. It may just be Central Ferratera. I imagine they do it to prevent theft. I prefer going to the smaller hardware stores and just chatting it up with one guy who knows exactly where every tiny thing is in his giant mess of a store.

There are several hardware stores in Panajachel. The big three are Central Ferretera and Ferreteria Nueva, both on El Amate just down from the Despensa, and Mayasersa on Calle Rancho Grande. Ferreteria Nueva has quite a bit on display and the guys there actually came up and asked me if I needed help! Mayasersa has more stuff on display to browse, more like stores I'm used to, but it was kind of a run around to buy stuff with the recepts and the guards and all that.
Panajachel hardware stores ferreteria
Map of a small part of Panajachel showing some hardware stores I shop at.

The smaller ones that I usually visit are:
1. At the intersection of Real and El Amate. The older guy will speak English if you're really struggling but I think he prefers not to. I believe he told me once that he used to live in the States.
2. Up from there a little bit on the right is a green one, Ferreteria El Amigo. Nice guys. Lots of stuff.
3. Sometimes I visit the orange Truper store that's kitty-corner from there if I'm not finding what I'm looking for. No idea what it's called. Great selection of tools.
4. In the market, if you wander through the maze of stores on the main level there is a counter that sells all sorts of hardware stuff. He'll sell you two nails, if that's all you want. You have to ask for stuff cuz his store is like a Hidden Objects puzzle. I stood there for a few minutes and just marveled at how many different things were hung on hooks and tucked onto shelves and piled in bowls. I love it!

See below for some helpful Spanish vocabulary to take with you into the hardware store. Don't be shy! A smile and liberal use of por favor and gracias will get you what you need. Oh, and lots of patience. And some money. 😊

Another thing we had to do this week to get our house into a more liveable state was to buy a stove. Well, it's really more of a cooktop or something. It looks like this!

Our gas stovetop. I think they're called cocina de mesa in Spanish.
We bought the stove from Tropigas on the main street for only Q229 (about $40.21 Canadian or $31.25 US). We opened the box and all it contained was the stove. No connectors or clamps or hoses. Nothing. Hmm. Okay...

The helpful folks on Facebook -- including my buddy NJP -- gave us some tips on how to go about getting a tank of propane and the accessories. I ended up at Gas Express on Avenida Los Arboles, near to Gringos Locos. There was no one in the store, but a friendly and helpful Mayan woman walked over from a clothing store across the street and gave me all the info I needed. (Guatemala, I love you.) She got on her phone to confirm a delivery time with her husband or brother or father or whoever actually owned the store.

TIP: if you're just planning on staying in Guate for a short time, get a house or apartment that comes with a stove already. See why below.

So how much to power up the stove? Q530!! (About $93 Can or $72 US.)
The breakdown: Q350 "deposit" on the tank (which I'll probably never get back), Q105 to fill it (25-pound tank), and Q75 for a 2-meter hose, a double-clip regulator, and two hose clamps.
Ouchies!
I could have gotten things a bit cheaper perhaps if I'd shopped around at the hardware stores or other gas shops. But why? It would have wasted so much of my time. The nice lady explained everything to me slowly, added it up on a calculator for me, and arranged delivery. I was okay with paying a bit more to have it all done. And now we can cook!
(For the curious, the first things we cooked on our new stove were grilled cheese sandwiches. Ha!)

Little by little, poco a poco, our house is getting to a more comfortable state. Bert and I are hard at work fixing, cleaning, building, and organizing. Although we're only renting, it still feels like it's "ours" and we are excited to put our own touch on things. More pics to come, for sure!

BONUS! SPANISH VOCABULARY 😀
mi casa = my house
la calle = the street
el callejón = the little street (alley)
Nos mudamos a una casa nueva. = We moved to a new house.
Me mudé a una casa nueva. = I moved to a new house.
(I've heard Guatemalans use the verb trasladarse instead, so perhaps someone can comment which is better.)

una estufa = a stove
un espejo = a mirror
un tornillo = a screw
un clavo = a nail
un martillo = a hammer
la pared = the wall
el techo = the roof
un cilindro de gas = a cylinder of gas (sometimes called un tumbo)
veinticinco libras = twenty-five pounds (size of a small cylinder of propane)
más grande = bigger
más pequeño = smaller
Eso es demasiado grande. = That's too big.

Thanks for reading about our mad lives here in Guatemala. Here's some "kitten tax" to make your day brighter!
Queso and Noodles snuggling after a hard day of being adorable.


Friday, June 30, 2017

A New House!

We moved this past weekend! For those who are counting, this is our fifth residence in the two years and three months we've been here. Why? Just tryin' to find our groove! 😊

I loved the little apartment I was living in but it was very small and my abundance of animals was bothering the neighbours. So when I saw a poster in Despensa (the grocery store) for a wee casita to rent for only Q1800 a month, I went for it! (Q1800 is about $320 Canadian or $245 U.S. at today's exchange rates.)
I don't have that much stuff, so we decided to just move everything ourselves with the help of some tuk-tuk rides and a dolly we borrowed from friends. The mini-fridge was the biggest thing, plus the awkwardness of carrying boxes of potted plants and other knick-knacks. It was a loooong day but we had good luck as it didn't rain all day. That's a rare thing in rainy season!
Yep, it's PINK! I call this architectural style Guatemal-Greco. 😋
(Seriously, I'm considering decorating with Greek accents... mosaics and dolphins and fountains!)
We are the end of a dead-end street, only a block from the grocery store.
Bert was my hero on moving day. He worked so hard! 
I took the photos above and below as we were trudging back to the apartment on our upteenth trip. At this point we were moaning, "Why didn't we rent a truck and some guys??"
Do you like Bert's shirt??
I always say that on moving day someone gets hurt and something gets broken. This is the broken thing: our garbage pail lid! Bert also skinned his knuckles pretty badly but he wouldn't let me take a picture.
A weird tradition I have when moving homes: I blow up a balloon to celebrate!
Plus I hung some art to try to dampen the echoes. The house is kinda empty.
The house is pretty much unfurnished. It came with a double bed, a table (now my desk), a small folding table (being refinished by Bert), a pila, and big potted plant. That's it! I have a mini-fridge, a toaster oven, and a coffee brewer. We don't even have a stove yet! We've been enjoying (quote/unquote) ham sandwiches for every meal.
A three-burner propane countertop stove costs Q289. Not bad. But we have to get a propane tank for it, which costs about Q100 or a bit more, and we'll have to put a deposit down on the tank, which costs who-knows-what. That'll probably happen next week. Until then, more sandwiches!
There are two bedrooms. Bert's door has this on it. I figured it was appropriate. I think Bert kinda looks like Sid! HA HA!
Lovely big windows in the first room right next to the side door. Unfortunately, they look out onto the street. Like DIRECTLY onto the street. They get nice morning sun though. (This is a nighttime photo)
See the bricks in the photo above? Not bricks! It's a cement wall with brick tiles. Clever!
Weird feature. The bathroom sink is not in the bathroom! It's in the foyer.
Willow doesn't care. She loves to drink from the tap.
Our pila in the front enclosed porch area.
Calvin on his blankie in the front porch. The decorative bricks to the left are open to the street so he can smell stuff. Neat floor tiles too, eh? The same ones are in the shower.
My bedroom also has big windows... that look out to the enclosed porch? Huh?
Guatemalan house plans are a mystery.
(Plus, Rui settling in. Look how big he's gotten!)
suicide shower electric
No Guatemalan casita would be complete without a suicide shower.
Bonus: the electrical breaker is IN the shower. For safety??
Double bonus: Star of David window bricks! Yes, they go right outside. No screen. No glass.
Our side door, the one we use most. Notice the large gap at the top? Ha!
That kinda stuff wouldn't cut it in Canada! Here, it's always nice weather outside so it's not a big deal.
There isn't a garden at the new house but there is a full flat roof with nice views of the hills.

The view the other way. The volcanoes are to the right of this picture, but they're blocked by taller buildings.
This is another pic of the roof. The stairs come up there under that little shelter thing.
(This is gonna be the "before" picture. Wait a few months and hopefully I can put up an awesome "after" picture of our improvements.)
Although there is no garden, Bert and I have grand plans for the rooftop. We want to turn it into an oasis of plants! We're going to build more roof onto the little tin shelter that's already up there, plus make an arbor with ivy and stuff climbing on it, and have a fire pit, and space for the dogs to chill out.
Speaking of dogs... both Gus and Calvin jumped off the roof! It's quite high! Gus jumped down cuz he saw Bert walking down the street and didn't want to be left behind. Calvin jumped down when we were out shopping. He was chained up but slipped free of his collar and decided to go for a runabout. Bert went looking for him for HOURS with no success. He turned up in the afternoon all by himself with a big goofy grin and a belly full of garbage. (Calvin, not Bert! HA!) 
Gus on the roof!
I'm glad neither of the dogs were hurt by their courage/stupidity. Gus limped for a bit, and Calvin has a scrape on his chin. Whatta bunch of dorks! 
Rui and the new kitten, Noodles, on my bed.
The new house is taking some getting used to. It's pretty loud as it's right on the street and there have been a surprising number of people going by, especially just around suppertime. It sounds like they're right in my bedroom! I'm gonna see what I can do about soundproofing a bit more. I miss the crickets and peeperfrogs of the apartment but I don't miss the loud barking dogs and crazy kids next door.

Awesome things about the new casita: The floors are all nice tile, very easy to sweep. We're super close to town and the stores and restaurants and friends. I love that Bert and I can have separate rooms to do our own thing in. It's great having the house to ourselves with no neighbours or landlords. We're excited to start furnishing it and decorating it cuz it's kinda like a blank slate. I love the rooftop and the potential for an awesome outdoor space. And Bert is eager to get up on the roof and do some mosaics and other projects.

So that's our news for this week. I have a bunch of blog posts half-finished that I'm hoping to get done and posted soon. Fascinating topics like tuk-tuks, Internet service, safety and security, and the joy of tiendas. Never a boring day here in Guatemala. 😏