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Christmas Shopping in Merida

Christmas Shopping in Merida

19 December 2006 Daily Life 21

When we first came to the Yucatan, everything we saw was new. We bought ourselves and our families untold numbers of woven belts and cotton blouses from Chiapas, guayabera shirts from Merida and hammocks from all over the Yucatan. Now that we've been here awhile, we have not only learned to distinguish between good and great handmade items, but we've also come to appreciate stores that try to provide quality products. After awhile it seems that every store is selling the same tourist items. Not that it isn't nice to buy a huipile or to send someone a miniature replica of the Castillo at Chichen Itza... but enough is enough. Sometimes you just want algo diferente (something different).

Never is this more important to us than at Christmas time. This is the time when we hasten to gather a few interesting things together that people cannot find back home and either take them back to the States for a visit or ship them to our loved ones. They already have the belts and blouses and woven henequen placemats... so we are challenged to search harder.

Of course, it seems like every year the local artesanias step up production and have more outlets for their wares, so with some effort, you can often find something really good among the usual offerings. Besides the shopping opportunities at Noche Mexicana (Saturday nights at the southern end of the Paseo de Montejo), Merida en Domingo (Sunday mornings and afternoons at the Zocalo and at Parque Santa Lucia) and the Lucas de Galvez mercado (the main market), there is usually a three-day tianguis (trade fair) at Parque Santa Ana. It happened this last weekend and seemed to be well-attended by local artesanias from around the peninsula. A quick visit by Working Gringa (our team's designated shopper) turned up woven purses from both Oaxaca and local villages, as well as a few oversized wooden spoons, handmade paper notecards and some beautiful stone pieces made out of local white limestone and polished to a shiny finish. There was also an assortment of candies made from honey as well as soaps and lotions made from local plants by Mayans who have been using those plants for their healing properties for centuries.

In our experience, the best place to find these kind of locally-produced products any time of year is the state-run Casa de Las Artesanias on Calle 63 between Calle 64 and 66 on the North side of the street. Don't be fooled by the three or four other stores similarly named (Casa de Los Artesanias, Casa de Artesanias, etc.). This store is quite large and offers the best and most varied merchandise. The merchandising is not consistent, but two out three visits will usually result in a find or two, especially if you space them a few months apart.

Another great place to shop this year is the retro store called Vintage on Calle 60 between 47 and 49. This store is one-of-a-kind in Merida and is chock full of clothes, accessories, furniture and... things! Some things are genuinely old, like Mexican beer and soft drink trays or old radios, children's toys and milk bottles. And some things are new but from old designs, including notecards, journals, signs, and some clothes. The store is creatively decorated and would be a pleasure to find in any city, but especially in Merida.

Looking for Mexican folk art from around Mexico? Our favorite place is the store called Miniaturas located on Calle 59 between Calle 60 and Calle 62 on the north side of the street. When the store is closed, it's easy to miss because the shop is hidden behind sliding metal doors like a roll-top desk. But when it's open, behind the glass windows you'll see shelves and shelves of hand-crafted items from around Mexico: arboles de vida (trees of life), tiny sculptures of tin or pottery, copies of old Mexican movie posters, various types of calaveras (skeletons), masks, greeting cards, and a whole lot more. And yes, the store specializes in miniatures, a skill perfected by many craftspeople in this country. Most of the popular art in this store is charming and not unreasonably priced either. The added bonus is that much of it is small and easy to pack or send. Another place to find Mexican art is the small gift shop at Hotel Mediomundo. Even though you cannot see it from the street, it is open to the public. Ring the doorbell and they'll let you in and you just might find the perfect Guatemalan pillow case or woven bracelet. A store called 100% Mexican just opened in the new San Angel Hotel at the south end of Paseo de Montejo and it too has quality examples from artesanias around Mexico.

The best place to buy a hammock has always been the store called Aguacate, located on Calle 58 #604 at Calle 73. We've recently discovered a new store on Paseo Montejo right next to the Kimbila Car Rental office near Calle 41 called Mayan Hands. This store has just opened and has equally good quality hammocks at competitive prices.

And we never tire of shopping in the pasillo (passageway) next to the Jose Peon Contreras Theatre, sometimes called Parque Hidalgo. Every night, twenty to thirty vendors set up their wares on the street. The mujeres (women) from Chiapas are the same since we moved here. We have watched them have babies and watched the children grow as we have bought embroidered blouses ($100 pesos) and cross-stitched pillow covers (also usually $100 pesos). If you ever need a hand-woven wrap for a cool Merida evening, this is a great place to pick one up. Various jewelry vendors have come and gone over the years, and at times you can find real quality handmade silver jewelry. Like at the Casa de Las Artesanias, visiting every so often will soon get you acquainted with the usual offerings so that you can spot the special goodies when they come along.

As we write this, there are only six more days 'til Christmas... maybe these tips will give you a head start on getting your shopping done in time. And of course, if you are reading this and you have a favorite place to shop, let us know about it! Buena suerte!

Comments

  • Cerita 4 years ago

    You guys are amazing, and provide so much wonderful information for this city, thanks so much! Sadly, we are leaving on Sunday, going back to cold, snowy (and boring) Toronto. I will check out the areas you mention, on Saturday. I am sure we have passed them many times (we are staying on Calle 62), but I have never been into any of the shops. I was so disappointed with the mercado, that I haven't really shopped. Thanks again, I really appreciate it.

    Just wanted to add, we had the most amazing lunch in Tizimin today. We went there on our way to Ek Balam because someone mentioned there was a fair going on there. There was, but it was really the final day of a 9 day novena (lots of scapulars for sale). We stayed for lunch and ate at Los Delfinos on Calle 50; food was just fantastic!

    I am going to miss this city so much. I am Indian, born and raised, and Merida reminds me of my home city of Calcutta. Everything is very, very similar. I am so at home here, and for a few days I had forgotten where I really live LOL! I am also going to miss Casa Sacnicte, where we are staying. Just a fabulous B&B on Calle 62 run by owners Wilbert and Lupita... lovely, lovely people. They used to live in LA, but came back home to Merida. This house is just GORGEOUS!!!!!

  • Working Gringos 4 years ago

    Cerita, we never bargain either when we are buying something handmade :-) We are just happy to be supporting someone doing that work. The ladies from Chiapas have stores on Calle 62 between Calles 59 and 61 that are open daily (and usually til about 9 pm). They have some nice things, scattered in amongst the things from China and India. We often find some lovely tablecloths, pillow cases and other things there. Do shop a few of the stores before you buy anything. Some of them are quite overpriced... spend a little time there and you'll be able to figure out where the bargains are. Good luck!

  • Cerita 4 years ago

    I just came across this article, and wish I had found it this morning before going out shopping to the San Benito mercado. It was disappointed to see the poor quality on offer. I am a weaver, sewer and knitter and I know my fabrics and weaving, I know good work when I see it. I didn't see this today. Saturday is the next shopping day before we leave, so I will be visiting some of the places mentioned above. The Sunday market in the Plaza Grande produced better results. I got a lovely hand-woven scarf!! I didn't bargain as the weaver in the me just couldn't do it, as I know how much work goes into weaving.

  • Working Gringos 7 years ago

    Bill, we suggest you get in touch with the people at Yucatan Expatriate Services (www.yucatanexpatriateservices.com) and ask them to put you in touch with someone.

  • bill green 7 years ago

    I'm looking for wholesale, well made, reasonably priced, authentic guayaberas for my shop in the US. Do you know of a manufacturer, or (even better) a local cooperative who I could buy these items from? I'm also looking for artisanal handicrafts, art, jewelry, etc. I'd be very interested. Thanx.

  • Violet Cotton 8 years ago

    My husband and I visited Merida in October and just love the place. We are thinking of returning soon to look at real estate and also to look at purchasing a quantity of quality giftware wholesale to sell in Australia. We bought souvineers when we were there - a couple of Chiapas masks made out of semi-precious stones and tapestries and they are greatly admired here. Can anyone help with the name of wholesalers whom we can contact?

  • Harald Jezek 8 years ago

    And don't forget the achiote paste. That's the stuff which is a MUST if you want to cook anything pibil style.
    As a matter of fact, most local recipies use achiote.

    By the way, my mother in law lives in a small village about 30 minutes from Merida and she still prepares her own recado negro y achiote paste as well as chocolate (to make hot chocolate).
    She also sells it to whoever is interested. So if anybody wants some typical mayan homemade goodies let me know and I get them for you. (harald@nuada.com.mx T: 285-5458)

  • alison 8 years ago

    Thank you for all this wonderful information. We are coming from the UK in a week and will be staying over Christmas. I can't wait to sample all the local culture.
    Where are the best restaurants in Merida that will be open on Christmas Day? What kind of foods should we be sure to try - we are travelling with a vegetarian too!
    thanks!

  • Working Gringos 9 years ago

    Ginny,
    The dish you are speaking about is Pavo en Relleno Negro, and it is turkey in a sauce made from burnt chiles. You can buy the paste in the mercado (the paste is black also) and make the dish that way, which is probably a better idea as the chili-burning has to happen outside or it could damage your lungs.
    You can see more about the dish here:
    http://www.yucatanliving.com/culture/pavo-en-relleno-negro-and-handmade-tortillas.htm
    and a recipe for Pavo en Relleno Negro can be found in Lyman Morton's GREAT book about living and cooking in these parts:
    http://www.redcrane.com/cookbooks/yucatan.htm#anchor994042
    I think Lyman's book can also be purchased at the Merida English Library (www.meridaenglishlibrary.com)

  • Ginny 9 years ago

    My husband and I are going to visit Merida over Christmas break and we can't wait to visit all the shops and mercados. Thanks for all the information.

    I would love to know where to find some packets of mayan spices that I can bring back with me to sell at my store. Many years ago I had a meal in a restaurant in Merida. It was made out of turkey and served in a bowl and was covered with a wonderful dark gravy. I would go anywhere to find out how to make this dish!

  • CasiYucateco 9 years ago

    Oh my gosh! An answer to that question! Thank you Katherine. I knew there were big warehouse-type buildings there, but never thought someone was making sisal carpets. I'll have to go check them out. Yeah, maybe they won't be the best thing to select, but it's a part of the history. Might be nice to try one out anyway.

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