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Mexican handcraft exposition and trade fair

Karen Blue

Yesterday, for the second time in three years, I attended ENART at The Central Culturo El Refugio in Tlaquepaque. What a treat. Over one hundred and thirty exhibits by Mexican artisans from around the country from furniture to frames, clothes to candles, and pottery to jewelry. You could entirely furnish and decorate a home in one stop, as long as it was late Saturday afternoon, at the end of the show and when the vendors would prefer not to pack everything up and take it home.

I imagine, although I've never been to one, that the expo was similar to the home and gift trade shows in the US and Canada. The purpose was to bring together manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Prices were wholesale and predicated on volume purchases.

Tlaquepaque is a forty-minute drive from Ajijic. My two women friends and I knew finding a place to park during the expo would be somewhere between impossible and a miracle. Here's what happened:

We weren't sure where the expo was, so after driving around one-way streets for awhile, I saw a classy woman on the sidewalk. "She'll know where it is," I said to my friend. "Roll down the window and ask." She knew. In fact, she was picking up her sister and they were heading there themselves to 'man' their own exhibit.

The woman said, "Follow me to the corner. My sister lives there. We can ride with you and show you."

Her husband came to the door and looked suspiciously at us, but must have decided we were safe. As we pulled past the expo, a toothless old Mexican woman waved at us to park in front of her driveway. I think she was choosing her customer and liked that we were all women, both gringa and Mexican.

Unless you were a professional buyer at the expo, entrance during the first few days required a business card, indicating a business type consistent with the resale of products, such as export, home furnishings, gifts, etc. Business cards are easy to print up on home computers. Anyone could attend on Saturday for $30 pesos (equivalent to $3.00 US).

The 182-page full-color glossy guide was worth the 30 pesos admission. Color photographs, addresses, phone numbers and sometimes web sites are listed for each exhibitor, so this guide will reside in my glove compartment, calling out to me for shopping opportunities wherever I travel. At these times, it's nice not to have to worry about a husband and whether he'd approve of my purchases.

Fortunately, many of the artisans are from the State of Jalisco, affording me many fine shopping expeditions throughout the coming year. One of my favorite finds was a 6-foot high wardrobe, hand made of pounded metal and allowed to rust before being varnished. Two full-length front doors open, allowing placement of an entertainment system, storage of clothes or whatever else might be better out of sight. I couldn't take the one they had there, but they assured me there were many to choose from at their factory in Tonala. I've decided to design exactly what I want and have them custom make it.

I'm sure this piece would cost two to three thousand dollars in the States, but here it is only $230. And that's before bargaining! And yes, they'll deliver it to Ajijic. Now, it might take six weeks to get one custom made, but I've learned to live happily in 'manana-land.'

Several booths offered weary shoppers an opportunity to stop for a shot of tequila or a soft drink and the buffet restaurant was scheduled to open at 1 p.m. It was closer to 2 p.m., but that afforded us time to rest our weary feet and have a beer while munching on crisp jicama strips, doused with lime, salt and chili powder. Jicama is a large white root vegetable similar in texture to beets, but not as spicy.

While we were gone, the Mexican woman's grandson had washed the car for us and grandma assured us she had watched and protected the car from marauders. I paid the grandson, tucked ten pesos into the grandmother's hand and we were off amid smiles and shouts of "gracias" and " adios amigas."

Next year, I'll let you know in advance when the show is, or you can check the schedule yourself at the National Chamber of Commerce Site for Tlaquepaque and Tonala, two of the greatest shopping villages in all of Mexico:

Published or Updated on: March 1, 1999 by Karen Blue © 1999
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