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Our Alebrije Addiction – Arrazola, Mexico | We're Not There Yet

When you think of Mexico, you automatically think of a pink and green polka dotted goat, right? Well, you should. The small town of Arrazola is home to a very unique style of woodcarvings that are called alebrijes. It’s a relatively new craft- first made popular in the 1930s, but evocative of the colors, patterns, and imagery of traditional Mexican culture.

The streets of Arrazola

You can find alebrijes all over Oaxaca and even in surrounding areas that are trying to capitalize on the popularity of the carvings (you can’t blame them, cause they’re so darn cute!), but the best, most detailed, most imaginative pieces come from Arrazola. Alebrijes are fantastical animal figures hand-carved in every conceivable pose and size. They are then passed on to the painter, who does them up in outrageously colorful designs with precision that would make a surgeon envious. Some artists even use paint-filled syringes for the more delicate jobs, but all are done by hand and reflect the personal style of the painter.

We knew that Arrazola was the place to go to pick up these amazing carvings, but we just so happened to arrive on the day of an artisan’s festival. Normally, visitors walk through the small, friendly town, popping into shops that line the roads (and are often attached to or plainly inside of the artist’s home), but our taxi dropped us right off in the middle of a tented area lined with table after table of artists. The nice thing about this is that we could easily compare the pieces that we liked from each table. It also seemed like all of the participating artists brought out their best pieces and offered them at competitive prices. We took our sweet time choosing the ones we liked, bargaining for the best prices, and even stayed put during a pretty intense thunderstorm to make sure we got the ones we wanted. Afterwards, we decided to take a stroll through the town to check out the shops themselves. The variation in quality was striking, and, for the most part, we found that we were happier with the pieces that we saw at the fair- and the prices too.

Our proclivity for going to markets and picking out the most beautiful things we can find (and afford) for our home is what separates us from many other backpackers we meet. There is a kind of pride in not spending money and not being suckered into buying tourist junk like a normal vacationer- but we think that’s kind of stupid. Not that we’re not into saving money and avoiding picking up junk everywhere we go, but we do appreciate unique and beautiful things that remind us of where we’ve been and we’d rather fill our home with these than with generic modern art reprints or ‘funky’ objects from IKEA. That’s why we were thrilled that our alebrije-mania was contagious for a fellow traveler, Shaun (you’ll hear more about him later), who went to Arrazola the very next day and found some pretty impressive figures that he sent home as mementos of his incredibly cool trip.

For ourselves, we know that this is a once in a lifetime trip and we had budgeted a little bit of money to be able to bring home beautiful things. It is a pretty unforgettable experience to be able to visit a traditional town where these crafts are made and actually watch the artists make them. And the quesadillas at the local comedor weren’t too bad either.

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