This is a story about a place called Pastores. On first glance it looks like your average small Guatemalan pueblo. Quiet streets, not a lot of people out and about, plenty of stray dogs, and shops covered with security bars.
But Pastores is different. Like me, it's obsessed with cowboy boots. Look closer and you'll realize every building, every shop, every doorway is painted with a huge sign proudly exclaiming "Se Vende Botas!" (We sell boots!)
Some businesses take their painting the extreme. Wild west scenes, exotic reptile skinned boots, cacti and cowboys... My kinda place.
There are probably a hundred small boot shops in the town. Each packed with rows and rows of cowboy boots. Mens, womens, childrens; black, white, brown, blue, pink, purple; tall, short; pointy toe, square toe, rounded toe; high heel, low heel, 5-inch spiked heel. You name it, they got it.
Don't believe me? Check out the next four photos...
Why, you may ask, is this place really that interesting? Sure, there are plenty of places in Dallas that resemble these types of shops. They have bigger selections, higher prices and fancier displays. I'm sure of it, I bought my first pair of shit-kickers in Dallas.
But every shop in Pastores is run by a shoemaker. Not a merchant or a trader, not a middle man or a distributor. A bona fide boot artist. Every store has an owner, and every owner is a zapatero. Every single boot here is made by hand. And, made to order.
Let me repeat that: Made. To. Order.
Soles are cut by hand from huge swaths of leather. Need a size 42, no problem!
The other pieces are cut from dyed leathers. Not by huge metal pressed dies, but by hand with decades old patterns and xacto knives. Most reptile skins are illegal to sell in Guatemala, so patterned faux prints replace the fancy iguana, crocodile and snake skins you'd find in Mexico.
Intricate patterns are sewn into uppers using singer sewing machines that are likely older than I am.
One boot maker explained to us that it usually takes an entire day to make one complete pair of boots. But the stitching of the uppers takes less than 20 minutes. What kind of mad sewing machine skills do you have to have to stitch a perfect pattern through two or more pieces of thick leather in less than 20 minutes? I'm not sure, but even the 13-year-olds seem to have these skills in Pastores.
So, with a hundred boot shops, infinite combinations of heels, uppers, colors, stitching, and toes, how on earth are you supposed to choose one pair of boots?
Time, lots and lots of time, that's how.
The winner, as shown on a previous blog post is pictured below. A 5-day wait, and $50 later, I have quite possibly the best fitting pair of boots a girl could own.
Why only one pair of boots? Well, you see, a few weeks back in Oaxaca Mexico, we happened to stop by another boot shop. I'd been looking at boots all up and down Mexico for 6 weeks. And one morning on our way out of town, here there they were in all their shiny glory. Women's python skin boots.
Yes, that is genuine, illegal in the state of California, python skin boots. I know you are jealous.
Unfortunately, boots are bulky in our already packed car. And although Kobus would be more than willing to buy me another five pairs, let's be realistic. We still have another ten countries to visit, and there will be plenty more opportunities to pick up another pair before we get to Argentina. And with any luck I'll find another place just as amazing as Pastores!