Artisan Markets and More
As Christmas comes nearer, I’m reminded of my travels last winter. Being thousands of miles from home around the holidays renewed my interest in holiday shopping. I browsed markets willingly and often with friends and family in mind. I limited most of my purchases to items that could be easily transported for weeks or months; thus, anything made of fabric was a good option, including a table runner and many small bags and coin purses. But I also shipped a box of presents home which allowed for larger and bulkier purchases. In addition to the items that I came across repeatedly and that seemed available no matter where I went, below are a few items that weren’t as typical, and that I was not sure I would see again.
Wool Products from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico
One of my favorite spots for browsing handmade goods in all of my travels, the artisan market in San Cristobal has items that I didn’t find anywhere else on my trip. Woven and embroidered items are two of the region’s specialties, and everything from socks and ponchos to tiny handcrafted wool stuffed animals are found in the market stalls. The tiniest of animals are pretty much a must-buy if you have younger siblings or nieces and nephews back home. To get an idea of what the different varieties are, you can check out the products available at www.sweetbirds.com. For others on your list, hats and slippers and socks are great options for those returning to colder climates.
Spanish Language Cookbook from Lake Atitlan
It is hard to say how long copies of this book will be available. In late 2013 a few locations in San Pedro, on Lake Atitlan sold the book. Today if you ask around at the bookstore or museum in town, you may still find copies on the shelves. Celebrating the culinary traditions of the communities surrounding Lake Atitlan, this cookbook includes descriptions of eight municipalities surrounding the lake, as well as traditional recipes, each with a brief history of their origins, to go along with each locale. It is only available in Spanish, but for a cook who speaks the language, it’s an awesome gift to find.
The book title is “La Ruta del Sabor: gastronomia del Lago Atitlan”
Farm Fresh Goodies from Caoba Farms in Antigua, Guatemala
While fresh produce isn’t something I’d recommend trying to ship home for the holidays, this organic farm located walking distance from downtown Antigua also offers an impressive collection of value-added products that are perfect gifts for those who appreciate where their food comes from. Organic coffee, chia seeds, and coconut oil are a few of the newer products that Caoba has added since my visit in late 2013. A number of small goodies like bags of candied ginger and herbal products are also available. The farm, which you can read about here, is a model for sustainable agriculture in the region and beyond. Learn more at www.caobafarms.com
Tailored skirts, pants, headbands and more in San Marcos, Guatemala
If you’ve fallen in love with the patterns on indigenous clothing around Lake Atitlan, there is a tiny shop in San Marcos that I think you should visit. While you can find clothing in several of the markets around the lake, one has to appreciate this particular man’s entrepreneurial efforts when it comes to selling clothing to tourists. Everything is hand-made, and you can custom order whatever your heart desires. A friend had two headbands made. Myself, feeling particularly practical that day, wanted to do something about the fact that I repeatedly would buy or refill a bottle of water and then leave it somewhere a few minutes later. I had a bag made that fit a water bottle perfectly and could be worn over the shoulder. (Also perfect for a bottle of wine, I would later discover.) If you want a gift that is truly unique and tailored to someone special, this is it.
Following the main walking path from the dock, this unassuming shop sits inside a cement building on your left. During my visit, there were shirts and pants and a beautiful hand-made guitar bag hanging on the outside of the building, and a pile of coconuts just on the other side of the walking path. Inside sits a tailor with a sewing machine and piles of fabric pieces.
Prison Hammocks near Valladolid, Mexico
I think this item is deserving of a separate post. But for now, if you are staying in Valladolid, Mexico and planning on visiting Chichen Itza, there is a prison between the two locations where I was informed that the sturdiest and best-made hammocks in the region were found. Judging by the hammock I had purchased a few years before on a beach in Nicaragua, the hammocks at the prison were absolutely of better quality. They are available in two sizes: single and double. The single looked big enough for two, however, and the double for an entire family, though we didn’t put this to the test. The came in all colors as well. Be warned that if you have a lot of traveling left to do, these will add a fair amount of bulk and weight to your pack. But for that person deserving of the best, these are the way to go.
Need more info? Have a favorite gift from your travels, or a shopping story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org