Latin America is stuffed to the brim with hand made crafts – whether it be painted, woven, sewn or baked, you’ll find whatever floats your boat. However, between the cheap and tacky tourist stalls, the re sale tiendas where everything has just arrived on the latest ship from China, and the overpriced boutiques, sometimes it’s hard to know what is really authentic and worth bringing home. So, I’m here to advise you on what to definitely not forget to pick up on your way London-bound.
Mochilas de Wayuu – La Guajira, Colombia
Mochilas (long, cross body bags) are big in Colombia. There are many different styles, including the Arhuaca, which are all named after the indigenous communities who make them, but notably the most famous and (in my opinion) most beautiful and eye-catching, are those made by the Wayuu community, who come from La Guajira, Colombia. These mochilas are hand woven – a process that takes weeks of very hard work and acquired skill – with bright and vibrant colours. They are known for their ability to hold water due to how tightly and precisely they are woven. They aren’t cheap, but they are guaranteed to last you a lifetime and get you endless compliments.
Chompa de Alpaca – Perú
Alpacas are llama-like animals, originating from the camel family. They are native to Peru, which currently has around 80% of the total world’s population of these animals. They are famous for their fur, known as fibres, which is said to be softer and better quality than sheep’s fur and is used extensively in Peruvian textiles. No doubt during your trip to Peru you will see endless vendors of Alpaca chompas (jumpers), as well as scarfs, coats, shawl, ponchos, socks, slippers…you name it. The fact is – Alpaca fur is very good quality and super warm and cosy, something that is quite useful for typical English weather!
Una botella de Carmenere – Chile
Chile is famous for its wine for a reason – it’s delicious. Not just that, but the vineyards and wineries are stunning and cannot be missed. Tours and tastings can easily be arranged and is a fantastic way to keep yourself entertained by learning about wine production, taking leisurely strolls among the grape vines and trying a few too many of those wonderful tasters. At the end you’ll get the chance to visit their shops and get the best prices on their award winning bottles. Carmenere is the cepa (grape variety) that is unique to Chile and is definitely worth taking back with you, as it’s not always easy to find that same bottle in the England.
Un maté de maté – Argentina
As I’m sure you’ll notice in Buenos Aires, the porteños live for maté – a very strong, flavoursome, yet bitter tea that is drunk out of a hand-made pot that is usually made out of some kind of fruit peel, for example a coconut or orange, and is sucked out of a wooden straw. Whereas it may be a bit too strong for the average English breakfast tea drinker, it’s definitely worth a try and if you like it, you can pick up a maté pot at the Feria de San Telmo every Sunday. Please note that both the tealeaves and the pot it is brewed in and drunk from are called “mate”, however confusing that may be!
Enjoy sifting through all of the crafts and practicing your Spanish whilst you ask for descuentos and learn a bit about the art. Knowing a bit of Spanish will put you well ahead of the game, so make sure you fit in some quick, to-the-point Spanish tuition before your trip to make it worth it!
Evie Oswald, Language Co-ordinator