In the early 80s we were driving along a country road in Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula in a place where the houses were few and far between, through patches of scrub jungle and alongside stretches of sand and sea. We stopped for armadillos. We stopped to take pictures. We stopped even when we didn’t want to. The rental place only had cars with standard transmissions, which neither one of us knew how to drive, so we jerked along lunging full speed ahead one minute and coming to an abrupt halt the next. But we didn’t turn back. This was our first time on the open road — a back road in Mexico, that is — and we were excited to see what was around each new curve.
A few minutes into the road trip we spotted this blanket…
Local vendors had set up shop with a variety of cheap trinkets and a couple of huge cages with spider monkeys. It was a mini zoo of sorts as the monkeys were not for sale. The blanket was, however, and we bought it. Thus began a life of buying stuff off the street and beside the road.
I call these my worthless treasures because, after more than 30 years of collecting, there isn’t a single thing amongst the stash that has much monetary value. But the memories they conjure are priceless…
A young indigenous boy sold me a $5 ring in the market in Otavalo, Ecuador more than a decade ago. I still wear it — a simple band with Inca markings that I can’t decipher. I like the fact that they are a mystery. In Lago San Pablo I bought a woven duffel that was made by hand by a family of weavers. The wife worked the spinning wheel, her husband ran the loom to make the bag, and their son stitched the straps. I still take this colorful duffel on trips. Each time I start to pack it I remember that family welcoming us into their tiny home — a kitchen/bedroom combined and the two other rooms full of their handiwork. Pretty rugs and blankets and sweaters and duffel bags.
I have pottery from Costa Rica with leaping frogs that remind me of the real ones we saw on the banks of the Sarapiqui River one morning. Our son sat on the smooth, round stones by a rainforest pool in the Tirimbina forest with real, thumbnail-sized frogs jumping all around him.
Charms. Some from vendors; some from shops. Inexpensive souvenirs from Europe — Denmark’s Little Mermaid, the Eiffel Tower, cuckoo clocks and beer steins from Germany, a windmill from Holland, England’s Big Ben, a gondola from Venice…
I love island art, so I’ve picked up paintings and pottery in the Virgins and the Caymans and Cozumel. Some are of places I know and love, a street in St. Thomas or a cove on Grand Cayman or an amazing stretch of beach on St. John, and some are mystery places of white sand and blue water. The artists may not be world renown and the paintings may never accumulate great value. Still, I wouldn’t trade “Aunt Bea’s Cove” by island artist Eileen Seitz and memories of the day we bought it for any precious work of art that comes to mind.
Don’t get me wrong…I have a great appreciation for great paintings, and I enjoy spending time in galleries almost as much as I enjoy eating. Perhaps, on second thought, if I did trade Aunt Bea’s strip of sand and sea for a precious work of art, I could then sell the more valuable painting and buy another print of Aunt Bea’s place…and still have money left over to purchase a whole lot of priceless memories.
What’s sitting on YOUR shelf or standing in the corner or hanging on a wall that has little monetary value but is a repository of good memories?