By Georgina Cruz, Special Correspondent
8:15 AM EDT, October 9, 2013
While there are some journeys we'd just as soon forget, most of our travels we hopefully wish to remember forever. And while a bag of biscotti from Italy and a bottle of rum from the Caribbean will help us recall a journey deliciously, it is also good to allocate some of our available souvenir money for something with a bit more staying power.
Fine choices include local art and handicrafts that we can display in our homes or in some instances, also wear, to remind us of our travels for years and years to come. These souvenirs capture the culture and soul of the destination, and by purchasing them you help (often struggling) artists.
Here are some choices to consider in a half-dozen destinations -- if your travels take you elsewhere you can investigate available local arts and crafts through Tourist Boards in the region:
What: Contrary to what its name implies, the popular light-weight and stylish "Panama Hat" was first created not in Panama, but in Ecuador using "paja toquilla," fine straw from a palm native to Ecuador.
Where to buy: These fine, hand-made hats created by master weavers can be purchased in the colonial village of Montecristi, near the cruise port of Manta. Visit www.ecuador.us/montecristi.htm.
What: Want to be reminded of your trip to the Black Forest area of Germany every hour of each day? Purchase one of the most popular Bavarian souvenirs: a whimsical cuckoo clock that imitates the cry of the cuckoo.
Where to buy: Shops in villages and towns in the Black Forest area sell the cuckoo clocks. Visit www.cuckooclockworld.com/blackforest.htm.
What: "Molas," colorful, two- or three-layered applique pieces of cloth, are the handiwork of the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands Archipelago of Panama, in that country's Caribbean coast, and are prized as fine examples of primitive art. "Molas" typically take two to three weeks to create. The finished works with designs including birds, fish, and other local fauna, are suitable for framing, and often the designs are incorporated into blouses, skirts, handbags and other articles.
Where to buy: Some cruise ships stop at various San Blas Islands where local women welcome passengers and offer their "molas" for sale. Visit www.molasfrompanama.com.
What: "Santos de palo" (wood saints) or simply "santos" are wood carvings depicting figures of saints or holy persons that have been a tradition in Puerto Rico since the 16th century. These handmade figures range from simple carvings costing a few dollars to masterpieces selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The craft has been called the island’s greatest original contribution to art. Large "santos" are used to decorate churches. Puerto Ricans place the smaller "santos" in their homes in wooden boxes with folding doors. Master craftsmen or "santeros" carve the figures and adorn them sometimes with filigree or precious stones and use a mixture of wax and chalk to create the face of the figures. Popular "santos" include figures of the Magi (usually depicted on camels).
Where to buy: The art galleries and shops of "Viejo San Juan" (the Old San Juan section of Puerto Rico) carry a wide selection of "santos." Among many galleries that carry "santos" is Galeria Botello (www.botello.com) at 208 Del Cristo in Old San Juan. "Santos" can also be found in gift shops at hotels and resorts in San Juan.
What: Lladro, with headquarters in Valencia, has been fashioning fine handcrafted porcelain figurines for 60 years. Visitors may tour its City of Porcelain in Carretera Alboraya s/n, 46016 Tavernes Blanques in Valencia, watch artisans at work and tour the Lladro Museum. The creation of each piece follows a complex process that begins with research and documentation, and a sketch of the figure in clay, which is reproduced in plaster to provide the figurine's first mold. Generally, a mid-sized figurine requires 15-20 molds and some 300 are required for complex pieces. Decoration includes carving of details, painting and sometimes adding a coat of varnish. A characteristic touch of Lladro figurines is flowers -- perhaps to recall the many wonderful blossoms of Valencia in the south of Spain -- with each bloom fully made petal by petal following a delicate process. Then the completely decorated piece is placed on a kiln at 1300 degrees centigrade for 24 hours.
Where to buy: Lladro figurines can be found in art galleries, boutiques and shops including in Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and other points of Spain and in boutiques and shops around the world. Visit www.lladro.com.
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