by Hal Schade s/v Griffin
It's Wednesday morning and fresh vegetables are in the stalls in Fronteras, our little "town.Ē We need to go since the Mondayís "piranha potluck" used up everything left over from the Saturday market trip. I think I'll drown the next person who brings a can of corn as their contribution and then has the audacity to ask for a can opener!
I go to the lanche (little boat) and pump out last night's rain, then get out on the river and head what feels like miles up-river to town. The river is about a half mile wide all the way, with rich folks weekend homes and a few marinas along the shores. Watch out for the fishermen in their cayucos (canoes) putting out their lines and traps suspended from plastic bottles. Lanches of all sizes carry people and stuff up and down the river. Everyone returns a wave.
We are going early in the morning because the up-river breeze in the afternoon can make the return trip pretty choppy. The butterflies over the water are beautiful, never seen so many. A glance over your shoulder reveals the mountain reaching up and gathering the clouds that will bring tonight's rain. As town nears you see the bridge designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and built in 1980. It clears the water by 85-90 feet, depending on the water level, and links the northern panhandle part of Guatemala with the rest of the country. Buses, trucks and cars stop at the top of the arch to let their travelers enjoy the incredible view. Some have never seen anything like this and may never again. The river is about 200 yards wide under the bridge, and before it was built all traffic crossed, very slowly, by ferry.
We pull up to a small dock and tie up the boat. With woven plastic shopping bags in hand, we head for the hustle and bustle. About 100 yards from the boat is the north base of the bridge. We climb some stairs to the road level, past the bow-legged dog and over the one that thinks he owns the road. He sometimes stretches out in the middle of a lane without even a thought of moving for man or vehicle. The road stretches out ahead with vendors and tiendes (stores) along each side for about a mile and a half. As I said, this road is the main north-south route so the traffic is usually heavy, especially for 2 lanes!!!
The sounds can be overwhelming as big 18-wheelers creep along with dilapidated vans carrying up to 26 people (I'm not kidding, we were in one and counted that many!!!! of course they are small people, but still...). Assistant "drivers" on the buses hang out the doors shouting the name of their destination - Morales, Morales, Morales - in hopes of enticing travelers. Delivery trucks literally have a "shotgun" rider protecting their money and cargo. You walk alternately in the roadway to avoid congestion at stalls along the side or on the side in whatever shade you can find. Individual vendors sit with baskets of oranges, bananas, plantains, limes and pineapples. They ask for your business, but are not aggressive about it...a simple no, gracias ends the pitch.
Across the street is the first group of vendors in stalls shaded by tin roofs or those ever-present blue tarps. The colors grab your eye as you survey tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, peppers, onions and a variety of fruit and vegetables that you will be new to you. We don't buy anything yet, just checking who has what. Now past the food stands with enough fried food to clog the world's arteries...chicken and pork abound, with steamed corn-on-the-cob, fresh tortillas, fish soups, ice cream and little bags with straws for drinks, some frozen solid like a fat Popsicle. Try the food if you like, it is very tempting, but not for everyone's constitution. Now back across the street to the stalls that lead down to the fish market. More surveying as you make your way to the fish market with river fish, shrimp and crabs. Don't get these until last due to the heat...same goes for other cold items.
Ok, got a pretty good idea of what's available today, but first head on down the street to the bank to change some dollars for Quetzales, one "Q" is about 12 cents. Oh yes, a stop by the pharmacy that sells the prepaid phone cards so you can call everyone back home. Along the way you pass shoeshine and shoe repair guys busy sprucing up the work boots. On Saturday they are really busy, as the men lay down their machetes for some Saturday night family gatherings or Sunday church.
Time to buy, first to Luis for leeks, cilantro and spinach for less than 15Q. Then another stand for English peas, yum, yum, then back across the street for 2 pounds of roma tomatoes, celery and green peppers, all for less than 20 Q. On to the next vendor for carrots, cabbage and limes. Hey, those strawberries look good, how about 2 pounds? If the shrimp look good, let's get 2 pounds for all of 50Q!!! Now back to the tiende with the chicken. Itís decision time, does the yellow chicken (amarillo) or the white (blanca) look better today? The yellow has a much richer flavor, let's get that. Itís time to head back to the lanche, with a stop for some okra and some mangos. I'll never forget the first time I asked how you say okra in Spanish, and they replied okra, easy for a gringo...of course!
Don't forget Ingrid's for wine, rum or beer and some cheese. Walking out of Ingrid's we see our old dog friend still guarding his spot in the road...across the road, say hi to the bow-legged dog and then down to the dock. Throw the bounty aboard, cast off and head down-river with a light breeze cooling you after the adventure in town. An afternoon of washing veggies and you are ready to start planning all those meals. Time spent for the trip into town? About 2 hours, almost nonstop, but worth every minute. Hey, that almost sounds like a tv ad we used to see :-) :-) AND we get to do it at least twice each week. But then, what else do we have to do???? Wait and see........................