Christmas Shopping in Merida
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!