Supporting Local Artisans While Traveling

What does it mean to be an active adult? I believe it’s more than taking care of our bodies and staying physically healthy. We want active minds as well, don’t we? One important factor, then, in maintaining one’s overall well being is to be a lifelong learner. 

Several years ago I was invited to participate in a private Spanish class. I had studied Spanish in high school and had taken two Spanish literature classes in college. But I’m 36 years past graduation, and all of that previous instruction is in a murky mess! So I jumped at the chance.

Well, fast forward to the summer of 2019. My adult Spanish class was going on a field trip! Now this is my kind of field trip. We were headed towards southern Mexico, to the Chiapas region along the Guatemalan-Mexican border. Both class participants and their family and friends were invited to join the trip.

So not only were we learning Spanish, we now had the opportunity to learn about other cultures first hand. These kinds of field trips are invaluable.

I’m certain I will blog more about this trip in the future, but one aspect I wanted to write about today is the importance of supporting local artisans and entrepreneurs when you travel. One of the most interesting places we visited on this trip was the small community of Zinacantán.

Zinacantán is home to indigenous artisan weavers. One of the artisans we met was a woman named Mari. This elderly woman’s workshop was part of a textile cooperative for women in Chiapas. The type of weaving done in this region is called backstrap weaving and has its origins in their Mayan heritage.

The experience was wonderful. Our host, Mari, made the weaving process look so easy and fluid. Then she had some members from our group try several steps of the process. We quickly gained an appreciation of the skill and art involved in her craft.

Mari was quiet and hospitable. She and her family provided us with coffee or the local liquor, Posh, to drink as well as tortillas filled with salsa and beans.  

Through our visit, we found that some of her projects had won awards. In fact, one such project was a special set of Matrimonial Wear. A couple in our group happened to be celebrating their anniversary, so they were allowed the special privilege of trying on the woven matrimonial clothes and were photographed in their outfits.  

We have definitely been in the phase of life for several years of cutting back – cutting back on eating, cutting back on buying, just cutting back. That being said, I do feel it is important that when you travel you make an investment in the lives of the people you meet.

For us that meant buying artisan quality scarves from Mari’s workshop. I bought several. One for myself, and two others as gifts. 

We took this trip out of our abundance. For us, it’s important to support the communities we visit, versus buying something mass produced in an airport shop.  

What Mari does to help the economy of her family is invaluable. She also shares the knowledge of her craft with her younger family members so the art form will not be lost. 

The hospitality, the slice of life, the quality of workmanship all were a part of the experience we had on our visit to Mari’s workshop in Zinacantán, Chiapas, Mexico.

Have you had similar cultural-enriching experiences? Do you travel for more than just sightseeing and fun? What have you learned from other cultures on your journey? We'd love to hear your stories.


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