I wore the same few pieces of clothing daily, alternating shorts every so often, changing shirts every three days and socks a couple of times a week. I would wash them when I showered and hang them to flutter dry in the back of the van as we drove. Amanda was cleaner than me and could wear the same pants for over a week before they needed a soaking. Our opinions on cleanliness had not really changed much since setting out through Mexico and Central America in our Volkswagen campervan, but since we washed all our clothing by hand we would inspect every piece thoroughly for signs of dirt before deciding we needed to make the effort. I never felt smelly, tried to find a place to shower nearly every day, sometimes every other day, and considered myself fairly respectable-looking compared to the backpackers we met along the way.
It was my shoes that were taking a beating. I wore my one pair of mid-height hiking boots everywhere we went and we walked a lot, sometimes five or six hours straight. The heels were worn through and holes were sprouting through the toes. After seven months on the road it was time for new shoes but in Guatemala the choices were limited. A good durable pair of tire-soled boots was available from the local shoemaker for about $10 but they were thick, solid leather, with no vents for breathing. This was not an option considering my sock changing routine.
In Antigua we found a mountain-climbing shop, an outfitter and tour company that led trips up into the surrounding volcanoes. The Australian guy behind the counter shook his head. “No, mate. No place in town to get good shoes.” As I turned to leave he added, “Well, unless you check the second hand stalls behind the market.”
“Huh?” I turned back.
“Yeah, in the back of the market they sell all the second-hand clothes donated by American charities. Most of it is too big for the locals.” My interest encouraged him to elaborate, “There’s a row of shoe sellers. If you have big feet you can get some really good shoes for two or three U.S.” He propped a foot on the counter to reveal an expensive hiking boot. “I bought these there.”
The next morning we dug through piles of clothing with the locals and were surprised at the high quality stuff thrown out on the blankets. I found a nearly new pair of Lowa boots, unfortunately a half-size too small, for only $2.75. Amanda could barely contain herself when she uncovered two lightweight long-sleeve GAP shirts in a pile below a sign scribbled on cardboard indicating the price, equivalent to four U.S. cents. She approached the man to pay but he was deep in concentration, drawing in a sketchpad with colored pencils, and looked up in surprise. “Disculpeme, señora.”
“Are you an artist?” Amanda asked.
He scratched his head sheepishly. “No, well, no, not really. I draw my customers sometimes.”
With a shrug he said, “We all have to make money somehow.”
Amanda assumed he was embarrassed to be selling clothing that was sent as charity but then he added, “I try to capture their appearance, the different patterns, and ask them what village they come from. I want to get it down before they disappear. Before they only wear this.” He nodded toward the piles of clothing. Thumbing through the sketchbook he showed Amanda amateurish drawings of the traditional clothing of the local people. “Not many of the men wear their village clothing anymore.” He turned to a few pages with men’s shirts and pants, “So whenever I see one I draw his clothing. But many of the women and children still do. You know, each village uses a different pattern of embroidery. It breaks my heart when I sell them something… but it is inevitable.”
As Amanda paid for her shirts the young man looked away, obviously embarrassed, then went back to his drawings. z
From the book “Wide-Eyed Wanderers, A Befuddling Journey from the Rat Race to the Roads of Latin America and Africa" by Richard & Amanda Ligatozz ISBN# 0-9761756-0-6. Click here to order from Amazon. Learn more at http://www.vwvagabonds.com
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