If you were wondering where you can get black pottery, hand-woven hammocks, world class cigars, and any other souvenir that you can think of, then Masaya is the place to go. Masaya is Nicaragua’s capital of shopping. Masaya is located about 55 miles from Granada as well as Managua making this an excellent day trip from either city. Located in the center of the city is the Mercado Viejo or the Old Market. Nicaraguans refer to it as the Mercado Nacional de Artesania.
The market occupies one city block within Masaya and it is easily identifiable by the Gothic looking structure. The building looks more like a fortress than anything. It was originally built in 1891 and after it was destroyed in the revolution it was restored in 1997. The market literally contains hundreds of vendors who try to sell their handiwork. Within the walls of this sprawling market, you will find cafés, ATMs, and the tourist office.
Our trip to the Old Market wasn’t a pleasurable experience as we had expected it to be. As we approached the Old Market, I started looking for a place to park. Since there isn’t a parking lot, you must find a spot on the side of the street surrounding the market or adjacent to it. I noticed people wearing light blue polo shirts walking around the outside of the building. As I started to park my vehicle, I noticed one of those subjects running up to me in my rearview mirror. I pulled off and started circling the block. As I drove off, I still noticed him running after my vehicle and then he stopped as he realized that he couldn’t catch me. I circled the block and parked on the other side. Once again, I was met by someone wearing those light blue polo shirts. Looking closely at his shirt, they worked for the Nicaraguan Tourism Department or what I liked to refer to them as, Men in Blue.
I was immediately greeted by two of them as we exited our vehicle, basically crowding me as I tried to get my child out of the backseat. I was also greeted by someone who obviously did not work for the tourism department. He wanted to wash my vehicle and watch it while we shopped. Once again, everybody wants money for doing something. I sternly but politely said no and we went inside to shop. Those two individuals with the blue shirts followed us around the entire time. They tried to point out items that they thought we would like to purchase. I started to get a little irritated, because there is nothing I hate more than shopping and having someone looking over my shoulder. At first, I thought they were supposed to follow you around. But as we went from store to store, I noticed other people browsing without having someone following them. Seeing how they were with us for about twenty minutes, I didn’t bother to tell them to leave. I just tried to ignore them.
After about an hour of browsing, we stepped into the café for a quick beer and a chance to escape the Men in Blue. Once we were done, we went to those stores where we wanted to buy our souvenirs, hurrying to get out of there and get back to Granada. I noticed that my vehicle’s windshield wipers were flipped up and the vehicle had been wiped down clean. That individual came running over to me expecting a tip, of course. The Men in Blue wanted one too. I handed the car wash guy a 100 Cordoba bill or one US dollar. They didn’t appear too happy and it sounded as if they were each expecting $5. I refuse to pay for a car wash that I didn’t want nor to two individuals that wouldn’t let me shop in peace.
The market is a great place to get everything Nicaraguan; however, the shopping experience would have been better without the Nicaraguan tourism board following us around.