Surviving (and succeeding) in El Terminal
by Diana Pastor
Many a’tourist have found The Terminal to be an inaccessible labyrinth devoid of logic & order. While I won’t deny the latter part, it is definitely not inaccessible! This article will give you a few tips to succeed in the Terminal, & buy your groceries & other items with the cool calm of a local.
Upon entry to the Terminal, start keeping track of exits & the (somewhat) clear paths around you. Like being on an airplane, “please look for your closest fire exit, & remember that it could be behind you.” After the recent firestorm in the Guatemala City Terminal, you want to have some kind of a safety plan in mind, as it’s not impossible for a fire to break out. While in the market, you’ll see vendors using open fire to cook right next to the vendor who sells dried leaves (read: kindling for a market fire). Making a mental escape route is one way you can keep your safety in mind.
Another safety concern is regarding your ca$h. I recommend you go to the Terminal with small bills—leave those hundos at home—& keep them in a secure, easily accessible (for you) spot, such as a front pocket or small purse. Don’t bring those ridiculous wallet necklaces or hip-belts; you’ll make yourself even more of a target.
Buying produce in the market is all about noticing what’s in season. Currently we’re at the tail end of mango season, & so you’ll see an inordinate quantity of mangos available in the market. It’s always banana season in Guatemala, but note that it is possible to buy bananas from the Chiquita banana plantation. Depending on your political beliefs & understanding of Guatemalan history, you may want to steer clear of those bananas & select others. You can also sometimes find rare fruits & vegetables like mangosteen or even Brussels sprouts.
When you’re selecting produce, you’ll quickly realize that not every vendor’s quality is the same. When you’re ready to buy, ask for the price, wait for a response, & then respond with “¿y lo menos?” It’s possible the price will lower to a round number (e.g. from Q3.25 to Q3), which will at least keep your pockets free of pesky change. It’s also possible the price won’t go down & you’ll have to cough up those extra centavos. But there’s no harm in asking. You can also purchase dried & canned goods, pantry items like pasta, flowers, & other home essentials there. You can do the same negotiation with those, too.
When you get home, briefly wash everything without an inedible peel in tap water to get off any residual pesticides or dirt. Then fill a pot with water & drop in four or five drops of bleach or veggie disinfectant. Let your produce sit in the water for a few minutes, & then dry off. Ready to eat!
Shopping in the Terminal isn’t for everyone. There’s definitely something easier about Paiz or the Despensa, where you don’t have to bargain or keep a mental escape plan. But if you’d like cheap, local produce & the chance to shop like a chapin, El Terminal is the way to go.