Sorry, but this post is not about relationships with indigenous peoples. It’s about shopping. Or one shop in particular, actually.
One of the good things (as well as the bad!) of living in a small town, is that everybody knows you. Shopping, for example, is a totally different experience here than in the big city. No need to, completely embarrassed, having to put an item back in the super market just because you’re a few cents short of cash. Heck no, in Copán Ruinas I can probably go by a whole month without paying anywhere! I rather pay cash, but funnily enough, shop owners are all to keen to write up a tab. Up to a certain point. There is this one clothing store that each January puts up a huge list in the window with all the names (including surnames and nicknames) of the people who owe. With the amount of the debt, of course. One of Copán’s main sources of entertainment for the local population.
Shopping is a social event that goes well beyond the purchase of a product. More than money it’s gossip that goes over the counter and stores are a great place to run into people. That’s one of the reason I boycott the new supermarket in town. That and the fact that at Doña Berta’s I can just grab whatever I need and tell her I’ll pay tomorrow, without even the need to write it down!
One store I’ve had a long personal relationship with is Maya Connections. It is owned by my friend Sandra and opened, if I remember correctly, in 1997, as a small internet café in one of the rooms of her mother’s hotel, Los Gemelos. This was durin the years that I was lucky enough to have a huge and heavy laptop (with a black and white screen!), but of course no modem or wifi. Not even a printer for that matter. So I used to write my emails at home or work, save it on something called a floppy disk (holding up to 1,4MB of information!!!) and bring that along to send off my emails at Maya Connections where four computers each had their own dial-up modem. No way of answering emails directly on line, that was way to expensive for 2,50 ($0,13) Lempiras per minute!
Of course the connection was interrupted frequently, so I spend a lot of time at that store, munching on chocolates (imported from the big city and nowhere else available in Copán) or drinking a soda. Sometimes beer even, if connecting to the universe took too long. It was also the place in town for photocopies, office supplies, laminating and binding. Maya Connections even had a paper guillotine, one I used very often, although there was hardly a surface available to put the thing down.
The already limited space of Maya Connections became even more cramped when Sandra decided to start selling souvenirs too. It was a little uncomfortable to sort hundreds of photocopies between bracelets, coffee mugs, teaspoons and car stickers, but business is business, and business was blooming. Even so that Sandra commissioned me and fellow painter Edgar Zelaya to paint a mural on the outside wall, one of the best we ever did in my opinion, but unfortunately painted over my Sandra’s mom when she moved out to a bigger venue. Because with a laundry service, the sale of shuttle tickets to Guatemala and a growing demand for computers, a much bigger space was required.
So Maya Connections moved to a corner building a block south of the Central Park. Sandra asked me to do the interior design and gave me the free hand to “go nuts”, which I did. What a great time was that!
A couple of years later, in 2010, Maya Connections had grown out of its seams yet again and besides, the property it was housed in was falling apart. So when the newly restored colonial building across the street became available, Maya Connections hopped over. Again I was asked to do the interior design, and this time we decided on a different look, sort of “recycled chic” with old pallets, wooden crates from the market and huge cable spools. There was an internet café of course, but since more and more locals now had internet at home and travellers carried iPhones or smartphones, the main space was filled with souvenirs. And business was still booming.
|Design Sketch Maya Connections|
Booming so much that Sandra decided to expand in 2011 by renting the space behind the store as well, and turn it into an art gallery. Yet again it was my pleasure to decorate the place, this time using a Mexican folklore theme. We painted the outside of the building too, in the same colours as Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán. Providing internet was by no longer a profitable business (the price had even lowered to 30 Lempiras an hour, making it five times cheaper than in 1997!), so the focus was now on art and souvenirs.
Alas, not every story has a happy ending, and this is one of them. This month, sixteen years after opening its doors, Maya Connections closed down. Business is too low, tourism has dropped substantially, competition has grown, so there is just no more space for Maya Connections. It’s a pity because, at least for me, Maya Connections has been part of Copán’s history.
But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised of Maya Connections submerges again somewhere in the future…