Head north of La Antigua Guatemala and, after a few minutes, you’ll eventually get to Pastores. Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot to do in this sleepy town, yet it still draws hundreds of locals and tourists alike because of its handmade leather products. Its main street is lined up with stores and workshops with boots of all sizes, shapes and colours. Some of them advertise other products such as belts or hats, but everyone knows that footwear is the town’s main attraction.
The town of Pastores wasn’t always known for its leather products. According to historian Carlos Berduo, the people of Pastores originally worked grazing livestock in the area-fittingly enough, “Pastores” means “Herders”-since its founding in the XVI century. The local line of work began shifting around the XIX century with the introduction of coffee plantations. The town eventually moved on to the production of footwear during the XX century. It is worth noting that, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, there was a growing trend in using the skins of exotic animals as leather for footwear. However, this stopped with the introduction of environmental regulations.
The boot-making tradition of the town is passed on from a young age. For instance, Francisco Morales, a local shoemaker, began learning his craft when he was just seven years old. As it happens with the average young boy on this side of the world, Francisco happened to really be into Football. So, as soon as he was able to, he joined a Sub-13 team. Having shown promise as a player, he was quickly drafted into La Antigua Guatemala’s football club. After a short period of time, Francisco was then transferred to “Los Chivos”, a team from Quetzaltenango. During his time with Los Chivos, he continued to study shoemaking by going to his friend’s father’s shoe factory to practice his art every night. There, he learned all about the use of industrial machinery, and refined his own shoemaking process. At the age of 28, his sports career came to a close, and he moved back to Pastores to open up a shop with money he had saved up. Fast forward 35 years later, and he’s still crafting and selling beautiful boots.
Most of the footwear found on sale around Pastores is made by hand. The leather has to be cut, smashed, and glued. The soles of the shoes or boots have to be carved, and added on. And, once the whole thing is shaped and stitched together, it needs to receive a nice polish. According to Eduardo Baragón, another shoemaker, the entire process takes about 12 hours. Shoemaking doesn’t normally take place in the stores where the product is sold; most craftsmen prepare their pieces at home.
A pair of simple leather boots normally costs around Q.350 (46.66USD). However, the price is sure to increase if the details or add-ons to the pair you requested are more intricate. Visiting Pastores is one of those things that you just HAVE to do. So, you might as well go, and get yourself some Guatemalan leather.