By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
Ordinarily we are not shoppers. We hit the stores as infrequently as possible. When we really need an item, we’re more likely to find it online and ship it to our current address. And when we travel, museums, but not museum shops, are high on our list. But there are some places in Mexico where shopping is a pleasure and a delightful pastime.
Oaxaca is a city that we visit for great dinners, music and the latest movies – but we rarely leave without buying an alebrije for our collection of these whimsical wooden animals. Occasionally, we travel out to one of the surrounding towns to buy one directly from one of the many artists who carve and paint them. But usually we find one that calls to us in MARO, the store that features creations of women artists living in the region. We’ve found several in the stalls that line plazas or the zocalo in the city center. And other acquisitions were displayed in the many gift shops that abound in the city. Over the decades we’ve been shopping for alebrijes in Oaxaca, styles and colors have changed, but the great appeal of these little critters remains high.
We all too rarely find ourselves in the little village of Tzintzuntzan on the shores of the beautiful Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán. But when we do, we can’t resist shopping for baskets – large baskets for hampers, wastepaper baskets, bread baskets, and woven trays are among some that have filled the back of our car. The weaving is exceptional, the patterns are varied, and the colors are all-natural browns, greens, and yellows of the reeds, bulrushes, and other plant fibers used to create these useful works of art.
On the road between Comitán and Tuxtla Gutiérrez in the state of Chiapas is a wonderland of pottery in the village of Amatenango del Valle. The potters are almost all women. Their shops line the main road, each containing brightly colored pots of all sizes, many in the shapes of birds including roosters, hens, ducks, and swans. This seemingly endless selection is supplemented by a co-op near the center of town that, in addition to selling a large inventory including very large pots, has recently started to cater to tourist busses, giving visitors a chance to create their own handcrafted objet d’art. Although we have no need for yet another pottery rooster or colorful planter, we simply cannot resist shopping for a gift for folks back in Huatulco or the U.S.
The epitome of shoppers’ paradise in Mexico is Tlaquepaque in the state of Jalisco. We’ve stayed in this suburb of Guadalajara principally as a lovely oasis on the long drive from the U.S. to Huatulco – a place for a good night’s sleep and a delicious meal. One year we purposefully set out to furnish and decorate our condo from many of the shops here and in nearby Tonalá. But even before we bought our condo and after we had everything we could possible want in the condo, walking from our Tlaquepaque BnB to a restaurant has always proven to be hazardous to our budget. There are so many unique items – jewelry, sculptures, paper art, and amusing garden paraphernalia – that sheer greed has resulted in buying.
Also on the way to Huatulco, we’ve been known to take the route into central Puebla rather than the faster bypass. Not only are our favorite mole restaurants located there but also a plethora of stores selling beautiful and oh so practical Talavera pottery – everything including the kitchen sink. We go from store to store stocking up on colorful coffee mugs. You may think, how many mugs does a person need? Fortunately our grandkids love them and we encourage them to make off with the ones they like the best for their homes or dorm rooms. When our supply runs low, it’s a great excuse to visit Puebla to restock.
Our most dangerous places for impulse shopping on an empty stomach are found all over Mexico – the tortillerías. The delicious smell of cooking cornmeal wafting out to the street makes it all but impossible to just pass by. In almost every state in the country, we’ve been seduced into buying a half kilo of hot tortillas, burning our fingers and lips by immediately wolfing down two or more. We’re completely ruined for our next meal – but totally satisfied by the lingering taste. We may not be shoppers in the U.S. or elsewhere, but Mexico is a world apart.