Last month, we wrote about some unique souvenirs that we brought back from our travels. Today is Part 2 of that post.
African masks, Egypt
In our collection, we have eight African masks, which is a lot, considering that we have not really visited Africa yet. The only nominal African country we’ve ever been to is Egypt; however, most of the country feels rather Middle Eastern than African. It is only when we got to the south and visited Aswan and nearby Nubian villages, as well as the impressive temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel near the Sudanese border, it finally felt like we were stepping into the door to Africa.
Aswan, a midsize town on the Nile River, was our best bet to buy African masks. Its market had several places selling African art of different quality and price tags. The most impressive piece we held in our hands was a century-old copper mask with a hefty price of $21,000. Before going to the market, however, we agreed to have a ceiling of $100 per mask and ended up buying three masks (two from Kenya and one from Cameroon) for a total price of $200. But African masks are like tattoos. Once you have some, you will probably get more. Although we have not been to Africa since 2011, in the last ten years, we bought five additional masks from a man who has collected masks in the past, but now had to sell them due to his children being afraid of such wall decorations. A pair of wedding masks from the Baule tribe of the Ivory Coast is probably my favorite. To be honest, I am somewhat concerned about us visiting Africa in the future, as I imagine that our eight-mask collection can easily double in size once we get there, finally pushing us out of the apartment.
Blackwood Buddha statue, Thailand
After visiting Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, two former capitals of Siam, I knew exactly what I wanted to buy in Thailand as a souvenir. The Buddha statues in both places, and especially in Sukhothai, were the highlight of our trip. The serenity and calmness that these enormous statues projected captivated us for hours. Back in Bangkok, I went on a hunt to find a small statue resembling what we saw in the temples up north. While Julia was busy getting a massage at the backpackers’ hell street, Khao San Road, I was perusing shelves of antique and souvenir shops trying to find something. Finally, I saw it, a solid blackwood statue of a sitting Buddha. The asking price was $200. I felt it was a good price but did not dare to buy it without letting Julia haggle over the price first. Bargaining at the markets in Asia is part of the experience after all. Relaxed and rested after the massage, Julia met me outside of the gift shop, where I quietly pointed through the window to the Buddha I found. I do not like to bargain. So, I stayed outside, trying not to interfere with a professional. Julia casually strolled in and 15 minutes later walked out of the shop with the Buddha under her arm. She managed to beat the asking price down to $80 and felt very cocky about her bargaining skills. If you read the prior souvenir post, you probably know that several years later, the Cambodian market sellers brought her back down to earth, completely refusing to negotiate and making us pay the full price.
Mayan painting, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. This giant caldera (volcanic) lake is tranquil and breathtaking and warrants a couple of days of visit. While there, we took a boat trip on the lake, sampled coffee at the nearby coffee farm, and explored the indigenous villages flanking the lake. One village, San Juan La Laguna, in addition to the beautiful views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes, was also a great place to buy local art. The village is almost exclusively comprised of Tz’utujil, one of the 21 Maya ethnic groups that live in Guatemala. After a coffee tour, we stopped by a gallery run by a local Tz’utujil family, selling naif paintings of local Mayan artists. The paintings depicted traditional market scenes, Mayan gods, and rural life around Lake Atitlan. We ended up buying a vibrant painting depicting three indigenous women carrying produce on their heads with the images of Lake Atitlan appearing in the background. The painting was signed with “Coche” in the lower left corner, referring to either Antonio Coche Mendoza, a local artist, whose gallery we visited, or one of his family members painting in the same style. The bright-color painting now decorates the kitchen in our apartment and constantly reminds us about one of the most beautiful corners of this world.
Ganesha statue, India
While traveling through Rajasthan, we visited Sas Bahu temple outside Udaipur, decorated with carvings of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. In Hinduism, Lakshmi is the wife of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and good fortune. Several days later, in the blue city of Jodhpur, we stopped by a gallery, where elegant statues of Lakshmi were for sale. They were not cheap (a couple of hundred dollars) but so beautiful and exquisite. Because this was still early in the trip, I decided that we could find similar statues later. And this was a big mistake. For the next two weeks as we were crisscrossing India, moving from one state to another, we could not find anything even remotely looking like what we saw in Jodhpur. Going home empty-handed was not an option, so we settled on bringing home a statue of Ganesha, another Hindu god, whose image was ubiquitous no matter where we went in India. I love the statue of Ganesha we bought, and it fits beautifully on the shelf next to Thailand Buddha and Cambodian Naga statues. But that image of Lakshmi still haunts me, and I wish I could go back to Jodhpur and purchase it. If anything, this is yet another good reason to visit India again.
In truth, every single item we bring back is not just a reminder of the trip, but a reminder to visit again, a calling card for each country encouraging us to make our way back.