This live animal market is a highlight of a trip through Guatemala .
The town of San Francisco El Alto hosts a market each Friday. The market takes up much of the town however it is said that it used to be much bigger - and some say it’s the biggest in Central America . Venders and customers come here from all over the country. This is a market for the locals. It is not a tourist market like you’ll find in Antigua.
The town has a hill in the middle with a flat open area on top. This is where the animal market is. If you go down the hill a bit is the town plaza and church where the market is mostly textiles. There are various sections further down the hill for produce, furniture, and possibly others. But, the main draw for non local folks is the animal market.
This place is wild. Farmers start arriving here around dawn and keep coming all morning. They bring their sheep, pigs, goats, cows, ducks, chickens, parrots and who knows what else to sell to other farmers. These are live animals on rope leashes. It’s not uncommon to see a family member holding leashes for 10 or 20 piglets while another family member roams around looking for buyers.
In this market you can just roam around the open area and take in all the chaos around you. Here are some of the sights you may see....
From time to time, one farmers livestock may take a romantic interest in another farmers livestock. The scene consisted of four husky men, two from each of two farms, doing all they could to (how to properly word this), dissuade a bull from having his way with the other farmers cow. That bull was not all that interested in being kept away from the apparent love of his life as he more or less dragged the two farmers along behind him. Meanwhile the cow’s owners where trying to lead her away in the other direction. Quite amusing for the bystanders, however not so much from the owners.
The pigs are fascinating. Not only do you have large litters (is that the right word?) of piglets of all ages running around and getting their leads thoroughly tangled up, but you also have full grown pigs and as well.
It seems that health status of pigs is an important factor when buying or sling. Interspersed in the crowd are freelance pig health inspectors. These are not government officials but just individuals who have built up a business assessing the health of pigs. The process is one to behold. First he’ll flip the pig over on it’s back and get the farmer to hold it down. Then with one hand, wrapped in a rag, he’ll shove a stick crosswise in the pigs mouth to keep it from biting him while he pulls the pigs tongue out with his other hand to take a look. Apparently you can tell the health of a pig by looking at it’s tongue. This whole process takes under a minute but during that minute the pig is quite vocal about objecting to the whole affair.
That’s just a couple of examples. You’ll also see crates with just the head of a goose sticking out, sometimes horses, ducks and chickens – all being led in, bought and sold with some quite animated bargaining in the process, then led away or crammed into the back of pick up trucks.
At one edge of the animila market they set up a stands to sell a wide variety of other goods ranging from shoes to electronics. This forms an odd juxtaposition with viewed in the context of the animimal market
This Animal market is really a sight to see, especially if you’ve never lived on or near a farm and have not witnessed such a market.
Not much to say much about the way more crowded textiles section a bit down the hill other than to say watch your wallet. The walkways are extremely crowded with lots of pushing and shoving. No such thing as waiting for someone coming the other way to go by before plowing ahead into a narrow passageway only wide enough for half a person. Prepare to get stuck in such a traffic jams and hang onto your wallet, even if it's in a zippered front pants pocket where they slit the fabric and extract the wallet - first hand experience with this. If you must bring a wallet didn’t have much money in it, or drivers license and health insurance cardst. But, the animal market, while hectic, is not so crowded that you need to rub against others.