Turn right by the watermelon and pineapple displays and duck into the narrow passageway that leads you in to the clothing section. The shoe displays are first, followed by rows and racks of recycled clothing: some of it is on hangers, and neatly arranged. The newest shipments are haphazardly piled up two and three feet high, with the early bird shoppers sorting, sifting and digging.
Where are we? Behind the main outdoor market in Antigua, Guatemala, between the fruit stands and the dusty parking lot where the multi-colored recycled school buses growl and honk their horns is the covered warren of small shops selling recycled clothing or close-outs, fresh from the US of A. Known as the ‘Paca’ or otherwise translated as ‘bale of goods, package’, this is a sprawling operation and a source for inexpensive shoes, shirts and dresses for many socio-economically challenged Guatemalans and a few gringos.
Antigua has one men’s apparel specialty shop, one Levi’s outlet and a few racks of underwear and socks at the main grocery store. It’s a tourist town primarily and if a t-shirt or a bathing suit is required, odds are that you’ll find it. For anything else the choices are limited to the dress shirt in a box or going twenty five miles and an hour one way into the dreaded city they call Guatemala, braving the traffic, the parking and the crowds to find something in your size. Which is another small(literally)problem: the standard size Guatemalan is a Size Small and if you happen to be an Extra Large kinda guy, the odds of finding anything in your size is definitely Small.
Recently I ripped a sleeve on one of my favorite shirts: another shirt, earlier this week, had shown signs of being terminally worn out, as in not worth having repaired. As recounted above, the options had narrowed to the ‘dress shirt in a box’, scheduling a foray into the BIG/BAD CITY or taking a chance of finding anything remotely suitable in the ‘paca.
Never having been in ‘there’ although having been told of the occasional ‘find’, it was time to test the aisles. There were racks of neckties in atrocious colors and patterns. There were racks of old fashioned men’s suits and then way in back, I found Rosa’s little store: the size was perhaps twelve by twenty feet long, with a rack of men’s shirts here, another there and two or three in my size. I picked out the dark blue Tattersall checked button down long sleeved shirt just before another gentleman saw it. X-Large? 17/17 and a half by 36/37? Close enough: a 34/35 is the usual preferred size but for 20 quetzals or $2.40, I grabbed it. Next, I considered the garishly colored Hawaiian shirt, a genuine Norm Thompson out of Portland, Oregon. Also priced at $2.40, later I told a friend about it instead: he likes that sort of thing, whereas I’m just a button-down, extra-large kinda guy. The “paca”? I’m going back, maybe tomorrow. If I just could find some all-white Keds or something similar in a size ten and a half.