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.

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