When we hear the word Melchor, there are a thousand things that persons can associate with the word- Rice and Beans is simply not one of them. Nonetheless Belize's most accessible Guatemalan municipality gets treated to rice and beans on a yearly basis during, perhaps the least expected occasion.
Melchor is arguably the most favorite stop for Belize City residents to visit to do their shopping for clothes in preparation for the school year. After all everything is available in Melchor. There are socks, undergarments, shoes, t-shirts, flashdrives, school uniforms for almost any school and even knock-off tennis shoes for the young ones to don in the coming days of classes.
I will admit that for me, Melchor is a favorite shopping Mecca to visit as well, the allure of a weekend outing and the incomparably cheaper prices (than Belize City) is of course the call that cannot be easily dismissed. But my visits to Melchor have always been in the 'off season' that point in time just after school has closed, when the press and crush and mad rush to get school children ready for classes is the least bit of concern in anyone's head. Yes, that is my Melchor time. I've always done so and will continue to do so I guess. But this past weekend I made a decision to find out exactly what it is like in the shopping Mecca during the press and crush of school shopping. Boy was it an experience.
Egged on by some close friends, who take the yearly pilgrimage via excursion to Melchor, I decided to visit. A 22 dollar roundtrip price was simply irresistible, that, added with the good time enjoyed with friends was enough.
Promptly at 6:00a.m. I boarded a BBDOC bus destined for the border town. From the minute I boarded the bus, I knew it would be a good experience, the friendly faces and smiles made my morning just right. Quick chatter during the two hour journey made time fly and soon enough we were at the border. The exchange rate is at 3.40 Quetzalez to 1 Belizean dollar, of course someone offered at 3.42, so why not. Trying to keep ahead of the crowd (our bus was first at the border) I moved quickly to clear both borders and it was off to the center of town via taxi, 5 Quetzalez did the trick.
Because I did not go to do any shopping, I briskly walked though the long corridor of vendors and made my way to the far end of the narrow alleyway of clothes, shoes and other wares. Everyone was preparing themselves, they knew something that I was unaware of. Melchor seemed strange, there were price tags on everything, not an item could be found without a price tag. That is unusual for this place!
Accompanied by friends who had also come along on the trip with their wives, (of course shopping was on the minds of no one in this party,) we found a cool corner and refreshments were ordered (needless to say the type).
Soon enough a taxi approached from a street next to where we were seated and we saw as 5 young creole men quickly jumped out and black pots filled with rice and beans, potato salad containers, and stewed chicken pots were taken out from the trunk of the car. The unmistakable aroma of rice and beans permeated the air. We knew it was Sunday, but it was no ordinary Sunday in Melchor. Belize City had invaded the shopping town. Quick work by the young men saw them enter the establishment where we were seated and with great familiarity, they made their way to the back and would soon emerge with tables, yes, a rice and beans stall was being installed before our very eyes. The young men were familiar with myself and my company, we knew each other, they were all from Belize City and while I will admit I do not know their names, I did recognize most of them.
Soon enough the stall was up and the spread was ready, one of the young men asked me for a call, the salad cream had not been brought and a quick call ensured that the group coming behind would take care of that. Shortly thereafter, with almost military precision 5 young ladies appeared and installed themselves behind the stall. Rice and Beans for sale 6 dollars a plate.
Speaking to them, as I purchased my plate, I learnt that they were all from the PIV area of Belize City. The journey to Melchor is made every year on the last weekends before schools open. They say they take advantage of the Belizean shoppers who come knowing that they simply cannot miss their 1,2,3,- Rice and Beans, Chicken and Salad. But it also serves as a dual role for them as well, they say, since they too do their school shopping in Melchor.
There must have been at least 500 Belizeans doing their back to school shopping in Melchor on Sunday past. I counted at least 8 buses, all excursions, parked at the border. I never ventured back into the shopping corridor until I was ready to leave. I do understand the pricing on the items now. And from reports that others who were on the excursion that I was on brought, it was quite a time in the tiny alleyway of wares. There was constant haggling compounded by a language barrier where the sellers only spoke Spanish and the buyers only spoke English.
By the time it was time to leave, the border was overcrowded, immigration and customs officers tried their best to speed up the processing of Belizeans back into Belize and while mostly it was smooth going, there were points of contention where customs was concerned as there were some who tried to bring over prohibited items (beers and soft drinks).
All in all though it was a learning experience and an eye opener where it is proven that we are still very much dependent on at least one municipality of a country that has a lingering claim over our territory. On Sunday last however that did not matter, commerce trumped it all and courtesies of the seller to the buyer was extended as it always is.