By James Gray
Shopping in Xela is bewildering for the ex-pat. Back home in the U.S. – land of the free and home of the jumbo pack – I maneuver through life with certain blissful assumptions about where to buy stuff. How comforting it is to stroll into [insert generic big-box store] knowing I’ll get roughly the best price in town. When lazy, I know I can dash in and out of the closest [insert 7-11 clone] for the same stuff, where I’ll pay a bit more for the time saved.
Here in Xela, stretching your Quetzal requires its own, more nuanced ‘strategery’, where at least two rules apply. First, the best deal for something could literally be anywhere, not just at Hiper-Paiz. Second, if something seems super cheap, you’re probably getting ripped off.
Getting your best deal here requires homework. Don’t assume that your friendly neighborhood tiendas and mercados are always more expensive. For instance, I have several one-item tiendas – one for canned peaches, another for tea and yet another for toilet paper – where each costs incredibly less than at grocery stores. (I’d share the names if they existed!) Also, while bananas are cheaper at supermarkets, oranges are cheaper at the mercados, even though both are local. Go figure!
The “super-cheap rule” exists because Guatemalan companies have this ingenious way of making products appear cheap but cost more. My favorite examples are Xelapan and cell phones. Walk into Xelapan and be mesmerized by the super-low prices. Yet have you noticed how heaping is the pile of ‘air shecas’ you’ve tonged into your basket? Then there’s my personal budget-buster, Tigo. These guys are geniuses at luring you in with their budget frijolito phones and triple recharge deals while charging who knows what for calls. I am still searching for that elusive rate chart! And do they charge triple on triple recharge days? Nobody knows for sure. Anyway, oftentimes you can’t help but be hoodwinked by the super-cheap rule, but at least you’re aware you’re getting ripped off, right?!
The grand lesson in all this is that pounding the pavement and inquiring about prices will save you money during your stay. What a great excuse to practice your Spanish and uncover the true Xela. Along the way you’ll gain something even more valuable – making friends with Quetzaltecos, wonderful people who love to chat and are curious to hear your story.