Machetes, Not Malls

coconuts in Costa Rica
You’re thirsty. Pick a coconut. Slash it with your machete. Drink it. Grind the coconut meat and rub the oil onto your sunburned skin and dry hair. Wear jewelry made of shells, beans, or bark.

Or is your machete a swiss army knife?

Living close to nature, in a rainforest or in the subtropics, it’s not unusual to walk around with a machete.

Most of us enjoy being close to nature. It usually provides a sense of calm and appreciation for life.

There are many travelers that get a rush out to shopping malls and boutiques and outlets. They fill their luggage up with souvenirs that they may never use, but hopefully, they’ll remember the trip when they see their stashed purchases.

While there are some really unique flea markets in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Mexico that provide one with a slice of life, the mall is the last place I want to go when I’m on a vacation. I once had a business trip to Los Angeles with two young colleagues. After a long day on the job, I offered to drive them anywhere in Los Angeles. It was the first trip for both.  They looked through the hotel travel guide and gave me the name of a mall. It wasn’t Rodeo Drive. This was a cookie-cutter shopping center with the same stores and same merchandise that are pretty much everywhere in America.

Whether at home or away, I get a sense of fulfillment when I buy something that is made by an artisan. I’m not into outlet malls or designer shops. I’d like to know that the money I spend is going directly to the hands of laborers or small business people rather than the huge chains and sweatshops.

On my last trip to Costa Rica, I tried to be a selective buyer. I bought almost everything at two places where I felt good about spending my money.  I selected coffee beans from local coffee plantations, with proceeds benefitting a non-profit.

The rest of my purchases were from a mother and her two daughters that displayed everything on the side of an unpaved road. I bought several earrings made from coconuts and shells, and three-inch brightly colored ranas that echoed frog-like rib-it sounds when tapped with a stick that sat in their mouths.

For my last purchase, I was drawn in by a handwritten small sign on a dusty road that said “aceite de coco.” I followed the arrows and went into a small opening between houses. A man was grinding coconuts in a machine.  Like at a Starbucks, his wife asked me what size I wanted. Then, she went into her kitchen to come out with two bottles of coconut oil packaged in used Coca-Cola and wine bottles. The eco-friendly packaging was the kicker for me, and seeing their cottage industry in action was an image I will not forget. Now that’s a souvenir.

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