Many of my friends have visited the Christmas markets of Germany and Scandanavia at this time of year and come back with some wonderful and original presents. I’ve always preferred to seek the sun as the days get colder and during a trip to Ecuador in October this year I was also determined to make the most of the shopping opportunities.
Anyone visiting South America will have experienced the amazing textiles, jewellery and handicrafts that are found in street stalls and open air markets, so it seemed a great opportunity to combine my holiday with a spot of retail therapy. With the dollar so strong, the prices seemed a snip compared to the more predictable shopping spree in New York.
I started off in the Marichal Sucre, the ‘new town’ of Quito where many tourists stay and found some amazing souvenir shops. Avenue Juan Mera, although not quite Bond Street, was a well trodden route for the souvenir hunter. Leaving nothing to chance I made a long list of sisters, parents, in-laws, teenage nieces and nephews to buy for, not to mention a few treats I hoped to find for myself.
Gifts for the girls
Choosing for the women in the family proved easy with some wonderful jewellery to choose from. For my sisters and sister in law I found some amazing ethnic but wearable bead necklaces of semi-precious stones in shades of coral, turquoise and green malachite strung with antique silver. The sewing thread they were strung on proved fragile, but I soon had them re-strung at my favorite bead emporium , B-delicious in Bristol.
For my mother and mother-in-law I found some matt gold necklaces featuring Aztec symbols which were gold-plated and had a reassuringly weighty feel. I pictured them being worn and remarked on at some New Year drinks party, perhaps sparking an interesting discussion on my travels in Ecuador.
For the tweenies I found some funky bead strings made from ‘tagua’ a nut with a texture resembling ivory which is often dyed or carved and made into chunky jewellery. They were destined to decorate a school backpack or use as a key-ring. I added a handful of inexpensive jewellery from street markets made from glass or semi-precious stones to give as stocking fillers.
And for the boys
As always, finding an appropriate gift the teenage boys or the older men in the family was more tricky – I wasn’t sure that they’d appreciate a woolly poncho or anything too ethnic. But Ecuador is the main source of the mis-named ‘Panama’ hat, woven by hand from the reed-beds close to the town of Cuenca. I admired many finely woven examples, able to pass through a wedding ring and taking one person a week to make. However, as my budget didn’t stretch to several hundred dollars, I settled for a couple at the cheaper end of the spectrum for my father and father in law, adding a natty handwoven horsehair band as an alternative to the more usual ribbon.
For the boys I settled on a selection of excellent quality T-shirts. I passed on the designs with Che Guevara or the Galapagos turtles and went for what I hoped would be acceptable abstract or volcano motifs – for a fiver each I wasn’t too worried if they were consigned to wearing in bed.
And not forgetting me!
Finally I made a sweep of all those little things that I just couldn’t live without. A chunky silver ring with a dramatic red stone would do for a little ethnic bling at parties and I fell for the ingenuity of some jet beads interspersed with magnetic silver-grey haematite which could be wound round as either a bracelet or necklace.
I also like to stock up on Christmas decorations wherever I go in the world, so that our tree is covered with memories of where we’ve been as a family. There were some cute painted dough decorations of Andean ladies and colourful eggs with a minature Nativity scene inside. .
I wished afterwards that I’d bought a few more, as they made perfect small gifts for friends & neighbours. My friend Julia also bought some amazing things including this painting which she found at Otovalo market. I’ve fallen in love with it myself – but hey – it’s good to have an excuse to go back