Mercado Mercado Mercado

Ron found this restaurant listed in our guide that is supposed to have exceptional breakfasts.We needed the fortification for a day of exploring Mercado after Mercado after Mercado. We honestly checked and there are no museums here in Antigua. Without a museum to learn about culture, the next best thing is to shop. As we were heading to the restaurant, we confirmed our shuttle ticket reservations for Christmas Day when we will move on to the next city. Don’t ask me what it is. Ron does all of the planning, so I am surprised when we leave one place and wind up in another.
The restaurant did have an excellent breakfast at a reasonable price, so much so, we booked reservations for dinner. They have some sort of dance performance. Until dinner time, we had to work up our appetites. As we were meandering toward the first Mercado, the old cathedral was open for exploration. It is not much more than a shell now, but it had some great architecture in its time, some still in evidence. Apparently, it was destroyed in earthquakes. They charge 3 Quetzals for entry, well worth it to explore what is still standing.
Our first Mercado was right in the center of town. We had passed the door a number of times, but did not realize what it was. Once you enter a long hallway, there are over a hundred stalls with goods that range from t-shirts to blankets, sculptures scarves. It is like a war zone. As one passes each stall, you are assaulted with the vendor’s offer to give you a special price on whatever they have to sell. Of course this price is only in effect for today, so you must hurry. 
It is like a mine field trying to get past each one without having to stop and look at merchandise you have no interest in. If they should have something that catches your attention, you are doomed. Once you stop to look at something, even for a second, it is as if you have been trapped into a game of negotiation. I could kick myself each time I stop to check out something that has caught my eye, but on closer inspection is of no interested at all. A powerless comes over you. You know you need to make a quick get-away, but you are torn between courtesy and fear.

We made it down one whole row of about 45 stalls, but at the very end, Ron was attracted to painting and stopped. I have to admit, it was interesting. It was from the perspective of the ground up, while other paintings were from a bird’s eye view. There was a special deal for us for today because we were special people, but it was way too high. We left with the salesboy, not yet a man, begging us for forgiveness. Our hearts of steel carried us forward.

Mercado number 2 was a distance away, causing us to traipse through dusty streets frequented by a number of chicken buses and trucks. My first inclination was to skip over this part of the adventure and move on, but Ron persevered. Thankfully, he did. This was a cultural experience bar none. The Mercado is covers 4 square blocks and is filled with booths that sell everything and anything. It reminded me of the Chinese Market in Budapest, but items here were better quality. Still, you see the same merchandise at least 27 times throughout the Mercado. How can anyone compete? This is not a tourist area, as we were in the minority. Most of the shoppers had a better coffee color than we did and many dressed in cultural clothing that tourists generally don’t wear.  It is a maze that one could get lost in if you dare leave the straight path cutting through. I was tempted to look at other merchandise a few spaces to the left, but was afraid I would not be found again until New Years. We did look for the paintings we saw in the other Mercado, but it just doesn’t exist outside of that one booth.

Our last Mercado of the day was another one in town. It is a giant cooperative where you can find many of the same things as everywhere else, but there were some differences. As the t-shirts in Cambodia say “Same-Same, but Different”. We found a great set of 4 posters, modern, a touch of indigenous, but inviting colors that we will have framed when we return.

Of course, we could not escape Clara, our wandering saleslady in the park. She decided we needed a set of table mats, which did trigger the notion that it would be good to have for the new apartment. Of course, we should buy the table first, but what the heck. After telling her that none of her colors met our needs, she promised to have a better selection tomorrow. She did sell us another table runner while she had us in her web.

We had to torture ourselves by visiting that one painting one more time in the first Mercado to see if we could reach a realistic agreement. Because it is located in the very back of the market, I told Ron we would have to make a mad dash, running past all of the other hawkers. We set a new record, but there was still no agreement on negotiations.

With great anticipation, we headed back to the restaurant where we had reservations. For the dinner show, you are seated in a different dining room than the uninitiated who haven’t been privy to live entertainment. There is no charge for the show other than your meal costs. Feeling special, we decided to order cocktails; they were listed on the drink menu and quite honestly, I have been thirsty for a Manhattan for some time now. The last time we splurged on cocktails was in Ljubljana where they tasted okay, but lacked liquor. I ordered a Manhattan and Ron ordered a martini, both specifically without ice. I would have said we wanted them “UP”, but I thought that would be lost in translation.

The drinks arrived. Ron’s martini had little ice floes floating around where miniature polar bears could have lounged or hung over the sides to catch fish. My drink was a dead give-away that there was more wrong than a polar experience. The glass was not a Manhattan glass, but one that you would use to serve a daiquiri or any of those sissy drinks that contain mini-umbrellas. Good grief, it also had a slice of orange on the side. The final clincher was that it was cloudy, not clear. I had to taste it in the waiter’s presence before sending it back. It tasted like Kool-Aid mixed with a scoop of sugar, but as far away from a Manhattan as Beijing is.

The head waiter wanted to know what was wrong. I explained how a Manhattan should be prepared. After a thousand apologies, they took it back and returned with a new drink. It looked identical with the exception that this one was adorned with an orange slice and a cherry. The cherry was all of the progress they made. The drink was identical.

Our dinner choices lost something in translation also. I ordered enchiladas, which I have been hungry for for some time, so was thrilled to see them listed. Ron ordered Chile rellenos. While we anticipated our gastronomic delights, a group of 6 xylophonists played in tandem. Six men playing in unison is a great feat and they performed superbly.

Hot plates were set in front of us. My enchiladas, note the plural, turned out to be a singular tostada. My culinary hopes vanished into thin vapors of steam coming off of my platter. Ron’s Chile rellenos was even more perplexing as it was sans the Chile. They must have stuffed the pepper, cooked it and then peeled the pepper off and tossed it.

Distracting us from disappointment were the dancers. Dressed in Mayan costumes complete with masks, they danced for fifteen minutes, the last 5 with audience participation. Once the show was over, we mourned our dinner another minute before paying the bill.

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