Sunday, March 20, 2016

The First Xela Shopping Shuttle

Finally got a group organized to book a private shuttle to Xela. For those who don't speak Spanish, Xela is pronounced SHAY-la. So Xela Shopping Shuttle is quite the alliteration! Xela is the local name for the city of  Quetzaltenango, which is the second largest city in Guatemala with a population of around 225,000.

Our group consisted of Bert and me, Amazing Iva, Texas Jan, Australian Ian, and new friends B and Lila. Our driver was Gustavo, who was awesome! He was so friendly, full of information, and accommodating of our wishes. He even stopped by the side of the road to give us a chance to take pictures. And most importantly, we was a safe and attentive driver. If you are in Pana and would like to book his services, he has a Facebook page called GR Travel & Services.

We left Panajachel at a bit after 9 am and zig-zagged up out of the valley. Bert was feeling a bit sick at first, most likely due to birthday partying the evening before, so he sat with a plastic bag -- double-checked for holes! Luckily, he didn't throw up and soon felt better once we hit the straighter and flatter roads out of the valley.
View from the back seat of our lovely clean shuttle bus. 
The trip went by very quickly, less than two hours, and we spent most of it chatting and sharing stories. Once we got into Xela, I gawked out the window at the modern stores and cars and - gasp! - a street light!!
OMG McDonald's! Thought it was cute they called the drive-thru "Auto-Mac".
Texas Jan had some errands to run, so we dropped her off near the Central Park. We got to drive right past the market and saw an astounding array of fruits and veggies, plus all the gorgeous Mayan women (and some men) in their traje -- traditional clothing. I noticed that in addition to the straight skirts we see in Pana all the time, some women were wearing very full pleated skirts. Also, many more women were wearing pretty aprons over their skirts. It was neat to see the different styles represented.

After that brief detour through the center of town, our driver took us all the way to the far side of Xela to the Pradera Mall and Walmart. We arrived there at 11:30 am and planned to meet back at 3 pm. Australian Ian thought that would be too long, but I assured him we ladies would need that much time. :)

At the Pradera Mall, no guns, no cameras (?), no dogs, no roller blades, no beggars?
First stop in the mall? The bathrooms and the Food Court! I was struck with a sudden question when using the fancy modern bathrooms in the mall -- do I flush my toilet paper? I decided to do it, which felt weird! I'm so used to using the garbage pail for my TP. It was a bit exhilarating, I must admit. :D

The group of us split up to order food and met back at shared tables to eat. Bert chose Taco Bell and I chose Burger King. We were both SUPER happy to be eating junk food! And it was actually really delicious. I'm not a big fan of BK back home but my Whopper was delicious.
One half of the Food Court -- Taco Bell, Domino's, Pollo Campero, and two more restaurants near the end I don't remember.
The other side of the Food Court -- Burger King, a Chinese place that Jan said was pretty good, and Subway.
The menu board at BK. I learned that "Tejano" means "Texan". Pretty much all the same stuff as back home, with the addition of a Fig Pie. :)
The mall made us feel like we were back home. It was so modern and normal. Slippery tiles, piped in mall music, a weird fashion show in the courtyard, kiosks for perfumes and cell phones, and a lot of normal looking people. To me, it felt like I had been at Camp in the woods for two months and had just come back into civilization!
Bert walking in the mall. We felt like hicks from the country. :D
The mall had two floors and lots of clothing and shoe stores. They had a Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Levi's store, The Gap, GNC, a cute pet store, plus stores selling brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Naturalizer shoes, and Mary Kay cosmetics. There was even a movie theater. Fancy!

We beelined to Walmart to get cheap stuff first. Bert and I both felt it was a bit of a letdown. It seemed it had the same stuff we have at the Despensa in Pana, only more of it. (Oh and they sold motorcycles. Ha!)
Their women's clothing section was super small. It was mostly shirts, and the only pants available were either jeans or stretch pants. No shorts, no cargo pants, no capris, no casual cotton pants. Who wears polyester in this heat? I guess Guatemaltecos! Not me, that's for sure. We did buy some nice little things like deodorant, a new computer mouse, and lots of snacks, plus scored a great deal on a coffeemaker. Sweet!

After Walmart, we strolled around the mall and gawked at the modern stuff. Bert said, "We don't need to go back to Canada if we're homesick. We can just come to Xela." It truly did feel like any mall back home. I pondered the fact that a lot of people, myself included, feel that Guatemala is a third world country. But walking through the Pradera Mall, we felt like it was just as first world as Canada.
Shiny clean mall. Fancy kids area with lots of rides and games.
Bert carrying our new coffeemaker. And Payless Shoes! So bizarre to see stores from back home, and signs in English.
People lined up for Pollo Campero Express. Guatemaltecos love their fried chicken!
Bert was feeling a bit off and we decided to head outside for some air. He said he was feeling light-headed and kinda hungover. I said, "Me too!" I felt like I was over-tired, a bit dizzy, and the back of my head hurt.
Then I had a realization. Xela is probably at a higher elevation than Pana!
Sure enough, when I asked my friends later, they said Xela is about 2,000 feet higher than Pana. I Googled it when I got home to find the exact numbers. Quetzaltenango's altitude: 2,330 meters or 7,640 feet. Panajachel: 1,600 meters or 5,230 feet. So yeah, we had good reason to be a bit wonky.
Of course I have to take photos of the gorgeous flowers in the gardens outside Walmart.
We decided to head around the corner to check out a second-hand store for clothes. It was super easy to get to -- just leave the mall near Walmart and turn left and left. We passed an amazing collection of chicken buses! They were parked four or five deep. Lots of honking and diesel fumes.
A flock of chicken buses. :)
The biggest paca I've ever seen. (Second-hand store)
Inside MegaPaca in Xela. A tad overwhelming!
Inside MegaPaca in Xela
The Megapaca was super impressive when I walked in but pretty quickly turned disappointing. Yes, there were tons of clothes but there was hardly the organization was not helpful for me.
Everything was separated into types, like women's pants or men's shirts, but then instead of being separated into sizes, they were separated by discount level, which was indicated by a colour sign like gris (grey) or azul (blue). There was a big sign hanging from the ceiling that indicated what level of discount the colour represented. But I wasn't sure if it meant off of the current ticket price or if the price already included the discount. It was overwhelming for me, plus it was hot inside and I was feeling woozy from altitude sickness. I did my best to go through the pants and shorts but couldn't find my size. I left empty-handed. :(

After that, we went back in the mall for more fast food. Gotta get our fix! The time had gone quickly, so we headed back to the shuttle bus in the parking lot and met up with everyone. We admired each other's purchases and I noticed Ian had A&W root beer. WHAT???? He said it was in Walmart. I almost RAN back inside to get some. :)
Heaven in a can!
All shopped out, the trip home was pretty quiet. Beautiful scenery on the drive home, though hazy from heat and humidity and altitude. We drove THROUGH the clouds at some points up in the mountains. So cool!
Scrubby and dry scenery on the way home from Xela
Even the highways have crazy sharp corners!
Both Bert and I love the pine-forested hills between Xela and Pana. So much like home!
One neat thing we spotted on the drive home were men on the side of the road selling parrots on sticks. No, not cooked parrots on sticks! They were live birds perched on sticks with the men holding them out to the cars. Our driver said they paint the birds' wings to make them appear to be expensive types of parrots!
Lila snapping photos out the window. :)
Amazing view of the valley and a volcano peeking out the top of the clouds.
It was a super successful and fun trip. I would definitely do it again in a few months when I need to appease my cravings for fast food and civilization. And next time, we're hitting up that Wendy's we passed!
Bert the day after shopping. HA!
That's the shirt I found at a paca for him. It's from Breaking Bad!

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