Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cost of Living in Guatemala -- and Other Places!

Some of you may recall that when I first moved here in 2015, I kept track of all the prices of things and put it on this snazzy page here. Prices haven't changed much in two years -- plus I'm lazy -- so I haven't updated it.
But today a friend shared this great website with me! It looks awesome for getting an in-depth look at the little things that might help you with budgeting decisions for becoming an expat. I'm going to add info for Panajachel to it when I get a minute or five.

CLICK! → Cost of Living in Guatemala.

I need to put a picture here for the preview page so ... hmmm ... let's pick one.
fluffy orange kitten sleeping in a bone-shaped dog bowl
Totally unrelated photo of my kitten, Queso, napping in a bone-shaped dog bowl. :) 
EDIT: I added info to the page. I'm disappointed there aren't more categories, and also that some categories are not applicable. It's an interesting site but I would love to be able to add my own selections, like cost of second-hand clothes (great deals here in Pana!), cost of pet food, cost for breakfast, cost for laundry service.

EDIT 2: In case you're wondering...
Second-hand clothes: I can get tshirts for Q10 to Q20, depending on quality. Bert gets clothes for even less, Q5 tshirts, Q30 pants.
Pet food: Dog food is as low as Q5 a pound, cat food is Q10/lb and up, kitten food is Q20/lb.
Breakfast: Q20 to Q25, sometimes includes coffee, sometimes not, higher price if you want gringo stuff like bacon. :D
Laundry: Q3 a pound? I've never done this but I've heard it's super cheap and the ladies are amazing at getting stuff clean!

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.
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!

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.