Mexico Part 3: Shopping

September 12th, 2011

The third in my serious about my family’s recent visit to Mexico — see also part 1 and part 2.

Shopping in Mexico was probably the thing I was least prepared for. I probably had the biggest wins of the trip shopping, and also the biggest fails (though they weren’t all that significant).

It seems to me that shopping is all about serendipity. You almost have to be good at impulse buying. I normally try hard to resist impulse purchases, preferring to research and compare carefully before making a decision. That attitude didn’t serve me well in Mexico, and when I was able to overcome it, I got some great purchases.

Around here, some of the best places to shop are the ones that have been in business for decades. Anderson Office Supply in Newton, KS, for instance, has been around for over 100 years, and has — in stock, even — everything from a ribbon for my slightly obscure 1940s typewriter to local history books. Moler’s Camera in Wichita often meets or beats the online stores prices, and has better service.

But in Mexico the best places seemed to be packed into a large crowded shopping area, or a dusty stand along a road, or a guy selling stuff on a plaza somewhere.

Here is Guadalajara’s market (San Juan de Dios):

It’s an incredible open-air market. We spent quite some time there, even ate lunch, and yet I’m sure we saw only a small fraction of what they had. It was a cramped place, with small booths and tiny aisles, but all sorts of interesting things. Although I did appreciate walking quickly past the raw pork and fish corner. Terah bought some genuine extract of vanilla there, at a good price.

Some of the street vendors were selling what I think were butterfly toys — they had some sort of launcher that would launch them in the air, and they’d flutter and float down to the ground. We saw them mainly in Guadalajara Centro on our first day, and I (unwisely, it turns out) thought, “Hmm, a plastic toy — our boys would love it, but I don’t want to buy it on our first day. Besides, I’m sure we’ll see them all over or online.” Wrong on both counts. So there’s one of my fails.

My greatest win came on the road back from Guachimontones (an ancient pyramid site). Every so often along that country road, there would be a vendor with a table selling something or other. I saw some paintings out my window, thought “neat”, but — and here you can see how terrible an impulse buyer I am — didn’t actually put together that we should turn around and look at them until 10 minutes later after a bathroom stop for Jacob. We went back, and I picked out a beautiful painting on canvas of those pyramids at sunset. And the charge: 200 pesos (about $17 USD). Incredible and incredibly cheap, and there is a great place on my wall for it. The vendor was also the artist. I am kicking myself for only buying one. (No photo yet as it was too big to practically transport by plane.)

Another memorable purchase was this one:

This was another roadside find. We were driving through Ajijic, and I noted a rug vendor along the side of the road. I had walked past a rug vendor in the Guadalajara market, so I was keeping my eye out. I made a note to stop there on our way back out of Ajijic. So we did. This is a rug made in the Zapotec tradition, all hand-made, with natural dyes and wool. It was 550 pesos (about $46 USD), which I considered to also be a pretty good deal for what it was. I have no idea how many hours went into creating it, but I’m sure it was many.

My luck in shops wasn’t so good. We visited Tlaquepaque, which had lots of shops selling beautiful things. But the prices there were higher than I’d pay for similar things back home. Tonala’s shops were too inconveniently located to be practical with what were then tired boys, so we didn’t go in there.

I’m not used to shopping without planning, and perhaps am not very good at it. On the other hand, I really enjoyed making those two purchases, and only regret not buying another 200-peso painting! Maybe next time I’m in Mexico, I’ll even buy something on the first day there. Terah will be so proud..

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