At 1,500 meters, Lake Atitlan lies in the highlands of Guatemala, surrounded by now-extinct volcanoes. The small villages surrounding the lake have distinct products in their markets and different colors of traditional dress (actually patterns and colors imposed by the Spanish as uniforms to help identify the different indigenous tribes and languages).
Sololá is located on the northern edge of the lake. The Altiplano (highland) campus of UVG has been working closely with the people here in Sololá. There is a new business incubation program for the high school and college students and their work extends to the local people, the majority of whom are Kaqchikel Mayas farmers and craftspeople who struggle to make a living selling their goods in the local markets, both through improvements in sustainable and organic agricultural practices, and now hopefully through improved business practices as well.
The market in Sololá, unlike that in rural Thailand, serves two distinct groups of customers: tourists and other locals. As one vendor becomes successful selling a particular good, others copy it. Thus, there are 7 carts selling roasted chicken and potatoes, all next to each other. They compete on price, and talking to them (though not having tasted 8 pieces of chicken), it is difficult to discern a difference in the quality of their products or other aspects of their businesses. The price competition reduces their profits, and they now struggle to afford life’s necessities.
Maria is in a similar situation. Maria sells mangos and has been selling mangos in this market for 26 years. She learned to sell from her mother, who sold tortillas in a village on the southern coast of the lake. 22 years ago a space in this market opened, and she began to sell mangos here. She sells 300 to 400 on a good day, at 1 quetzal (USD$0.14) each. She makes enough to on a good day to get by, but never enough to save. Over the years she has seen more and more people come to this market to sell mangos, and she has noticed that she is able to sell fewer mangos.