The ‘Paca’ is an institution in Guatemala, where field workers work for less than $5 a day and people subsist on a dollar a day. What is it? Under cover from the weather, in dilapidated sheds are piles of used and donated clothing, shoes and such, shipped from the US in hundred pound plastic bags and resold to those who can only afford second hand clothes, such as shirts for $1.50.
There is the chain known as Mega Paca where everything is priced and arranged by size and color and at the other end of the scale, the Paca in Antigua’s sprawling public market.
Inside are piles of shoes, racks of dresses, gaudy ties and mounds of unsorted clothes of all sizes,types and styles dominate the far end of the market where at least thirty vendors wait.Nothing is priced or arranged in any sort of fashion: bargaining is expected and the occasional tourist is regarded as a treat to be taken advantage of. Children cry while their mothers sort through the jumbled piles of castoff goods. Its chaotic, crowded and claustrophobic but if you’re looking for something tricky for Halloween, this is Ground Zero. In short, it’s a sprawling warren of narrow aisles, festooned with racks of mismatched clothing. Hansel and Gretel would’ve needed more than a few breadcrumbs to find their way out.
Marbel Crocker, somewhere in her 30’s and a native of Jutiapa, the more steamy side of Guatemala, loves clothes. Anything that sparkles, shimmers and has spangles gets her attention and if its also purple, even better. She’s petite, voluptuous, sometimes a cover girl and a well known face on local television shows. Today she promotes a discount booklet of tickets for local attractions such as restaurants and other services. Marvel is actually a diminutive of Marbel and aptly so. She is truly a Marvel.
Yesterday, on an unusually crowded Monday, she struck gold (and red, purple and sequined).
The atmosphere under the metal roof was unusually humid and filled with the cries of the sellers advertising their latest shipment. There might be two vendors of new shoes but everything else has been previously worn. There are outmoded suits to sort through and children’s clothing scattered here and there. What shoes have been matched dangle from their laces on overhead pipes. Given the lesser height of Guatemalans, the ceiling and clothes create a tunnel of despair for the taller gringos unless you know exactly where to go. In a far off corner, by the entrance, are cosmetics: obscure brands of perfume and strange shades of lipstick but prices are right.
So, where is this circus of clothing in Antigua? At the western end of 4th Calle and across the street they call the Alameda is the entrance to the market, lined with sellers of new merchandise, Further west, the pathway turns right and at the end of that, in about two hundred feet or so, the fruit and vegetable sellers await. Turn left and look for the cantaloupe stand: turn right, down the very narrow entrance by the pineapple vendor. It will be dark and somewhat shadowed, as there aren’t any lights under the tin roof overhead, aside from the occasional holes in the metal. Dress simply and don’t show any large bills: a handful of one, five, ten and twenty quetzal notes will suffice (20quetzals equals $2.40). Expect to bargain and then offer a third or a half of the asking price: if you’re a tourist or local ex-pat, you’ll still pay a premium/surcharge. It’s not personal, it’s just business in Antigua: you have money and they don’t.