March 2009 Issue: Costales, the Ultimate Souvenir

One task of traveling is to bring home some souvenirs as evidence of themarch09 journey. Good souvenirs are unique to the place they come from, like traditional weavings or an adopted baby from Guatemala. Even better souvenirs are edible and delicious, such as Guatemalan chocolate and coffee, or some Tortrix Twist. The ultimate souvenirs are place-specific, lightweight, compact, colorful, dirt cheap, highly practical, durable, and environmentally friendly. Too much to ask for? No way. They’re actually all over the markets here, and they’re called costales.

A costal is like the Nalgene of shopping bags. They’re built to survive extreme tests of strength. You can fill them to the brim with heavy groceries, laundry, books, bricks, chickens, children, or anything else that needs toting, and the narrow plastic straps will dig cleanly into your shoulder before the bag will break. Costales are made of woven plastic with plastic strap handles. Typical costales feature a two-tone stripe design of white and eye-catching primary colors. They’re available in a variety of sizes. Admittedly, they’re non-biodegradable, but if you don’t leave home without one, you can drastically reduce your disposable plastic bag consumption.

One disadvantage of the colorfully striped costal as a souvenir is that it does not overtly scream “Guatemala.” But before opting for a touristy t-shirt instead, stay on the lookout for the best kind of costal out there – the ones made out of recycled grain bags with prints of local labels in Spanish. They say things like “Molina San Jose”, “harina de trigo fortificado suave” and “producto Centroamericano hecho en Guatemala” and may even have rockin´ religious images on them. In Xela, they’re for sale in the indoor part of the central market on 8 Calle just below the Parque Central, and inside MercadoDemocracia.

If you’ve only budgeted about Q100 for souvenir shopping, that can buy at least 30 costales. Bring them home for yourself and anyone you know who puts things in bags. Don’t forget to bring home a few EntreMundos and XelaWho magazines to use as wrapping paper.

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