I’m on vacation these days and, fortunately for me, I get to spend it in my hometown Medellín, Colombia. From my experience as a proud ‘paisa’ living in the U.S., I figured it might be useful if I pointed out some of the things I cannot leave without doing every single year I visit, or some of the new things to do that I find.
Fruit made out of fique, the natural fiber of the fique plant, from Santander, Colombia.
I love the United States, don’t get me wrong, but there is something about this beautiful, chaotic valley called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ that I just can’t live without, and every time I visit I try to soak up as much of it as I can.
When you walk into my home in the U.S., it’s hard to deny where I’m from. I display my nationality proudly and love getting compliments on some artifact I may have brought back from Colombia, usually from a store called Caballo de Troya (Trojan Horse), located on a winding road called Las Palmas that’s filled with little restaurants and places to stop on your way to and from Eastern Antioquia.
This Parcheesi board was made by the inmates of the maximum security prison in Itagui, Antioquia.
When it comes to Colombian craftsmanship, you seriously don’t need to look any further than this store and let me just say up front that they didn’t ask me to write this piece. I did get a discount for paying cash, but everyone does. I approached them for this article because I truly believe they have the best selection, and price-wise they’re comparable to anyone else.
This business started out 24 years ago when Bernarda Restrepo and her daughters Miriam, Doris and Marta would come into the city to sell skins; they eventually included planters and baskets among their products. Slowly they expanded and started a little store, just a mile or so from where they’re located now, and sold carefully selected items brought in from all parts of Colombia. Today it’s easily 3,500 sq ft of pottery, ceramics, sculptures, precolombian artifacts and skins and hammocks of course, which started it all and represent the majority of their sales.
I usually speak to Nelson Marulanda (pictured left), who knows me as the nostalgic Colombian who lives in the United States and misses her hometown so much that each year she needs to pack her suitcases full of as many artifacts as she can manage to get past customs. He’s been working for the ladies for 19 years and knows where everything’s from and how it’s made. In all fairness, the other employees there are perfectly nice as well, I’m just used to dealing with him.
How else would I know that this container (pictured right) from Chocó, in the Colombian Pacific, is handmade with the fiber of guérregue palm and you can actually fill it with water and it won’t leak?
Or that this elephant (below right) isn’t wood? It’s ceramic, not kidding, and finished so beautifully that it actually looks like solid wood.
A ‘mola’ is a true work of art and something really worth taking a minute to look at, since it’s not likely any of us will ever master it, or try it for that matter. It depicts either a geometric pattern (below) or some kind of country scene. They are handmade and use a reverse appliqué technique in which several layers are sewn together and parts of each layer are cut out to form the design; the edges are then sewn down.
The one Nelson is holding (left)is extremely elaborate and probably the size of a standard shower curtain, it costs 850.000 pesos, roughly US$425.00, which truly doesn’t seem like a fair price for such intricate work.
If you buy something breakable tell them you’re traveling and they’ll wrap it. Nothing I have ever purchased from them has ever arrived broken, even after the delicate touch of a baggage handler…
Don’t even attempt to pull out a Discover Card though, they don’t take it nor does any other merchant in Colombia as far as I know. Maybe if enough of us users ask them they’ll take it down here, meanwhile just leave it at home, it’s useless here.
A 'carriel' is a handbag used by men in the Antioquia region since Colonial times; these are made in Jericó, Antioquia and nowadays are a fashion statement for women as well.
Masks made in Vaupés, in the Colombian Southeast bordering Brazil
The items sold in Caballo de Troya aren’t simply home décor, nor are they just souvenirs for tourists; they represent an entire culture and its talent. It’s a beautiful and legal way for millions of Colombian artisans to make a living.
The more we appreciate these arts, the more likely they are to be passed down through generations and continue to spread the image of Colombia in a beautiful, positive way.
I never leave my country without taking a piece of it with me from Caballo de Troya. No item can ever replace actually being here, but somehow having it around helps.