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When we arrived at our B&B in Oaxaca at around midnight it was lightly raining. After a quick check-in with our friend Juan, I was pulling our largest red suitcase across the courtyard and up a step to the dining room when the handle separated from the suitcase leaving me with a black rectangle of metal in one hand and a suitcase x-handle lying on the ground. It was obvious after a quick inspection that the suitcase was damaged beyond repair. Thankfully this did not happen at the airport. I muscled the suitcase up the stairs to our room sans handle and after unpacking we disposed of said suitcase the next morning. Rufina was more than happy to take it off our hands. She probably repaired it and sold it to another unlucky traveler. But, WE are Americans and WE don’t deal with broken suitcases.
For three weeks this was not a matter of concern although in the back of our heads there was this nagging awareness that something would have to be done before it was time to leave assuming we wanted to take everything back that we brought and hoped to buy.
The first crisis arose when we acquired a beautifully sculptured Catrina at one of our favorite shops. The Catrina (skeleton lady) was originally created by Jose Guadalupe Posada and later named and dressed up by Diego Rivera in one of his murals.
The Catrina we purchased measured about 39 inches tall. Our only remaining suitcase was a mere 30 inches. It was an apparent crisis. We can buy a new suitcase, I thought. We will need one anyway. No problem. As it turns out, finding a 39 inch suitcase in Oaxaca was not possible unless we wanted to journey to one of the large box stores like Sears which we definitely did not want to do, and even there is was unlikely. The cost of the taxi and the time spent would set us back too much relative to the cost of our prized Catrina. So, ln to plan two.
We walked the streets of the colonial district looking for a duffle bag or something similar. We thought about a soccer ball bag and visited several sports stores but without success. We used a soccer bag once in Zihuatanejo to bring back a wooden giraffe that we named Silveria after our cab driver. We thought about a golf bag but again we came up short. Finally we hoofed it over to Mercado Benito Juarez below the Zocalo and found a stall selling the kind of bags we had in mind. Unfortunately, the largest they had was 30 inches.
The lady selling the bags was one of the kindest and most patient souls on the face of the earth. After listening to me try to describe our problem in my broken and embarrassing Spanish, this lovely lady smiled and told us she could get such a bag in a few days, by Saturday, Monday, or certainly by Tuesday. That was a week away. We still had more than a week left in Oaxaca, so all was good.
Our kind lady kept her word. In fact, we went back one day early just to be sure things were moving along and she already had our bag. In fact, she had three sets of three bags—the longest nearly 50 inches, the middle size 39 inches, and the smaller the usual 30 inches. We chose the green middle size bag (could have had black or brown) and paid a mere 300 pesos. We left happy as clams. Catrina problem solved. [Not quite, we still needed to find cardboard to reinforce the bag and other packing materials but that is another story with a successful ending I can assure you. Just look at the finished product at the top of this blog.]
We still needed a regular suitcase to replace the broken one. Searching for a suitcase led us to a wonderfully complicated and thoroughly stocked department store near the Zocalo: Botique Plaza Antequera, 819 Hidalgo street, Centro, Oaxaca.
We walked through rooms of men’s shoes and shirts and ties and suits and cologne, professional outfits for women, backpacks, and eventually in the rear of the store, suitcases. There, like in the Pete Seeger song, we found “maletas” of all colors, a black one, a red one, a blue one, a purple one and after spending an inordinate amount of time choosing with our very patient and attentive and helpful salesgirl, an orange one, the one we bought for 1600 pesos, about $100. That cut into my chicharrones budget but it was worth it.
Throughout the entire time the salesgirl’s manager was lurking in the distance and pushing this suitcase and that out from the dark corners and indicating with a tweak of his mustache to “show them this one” or “that one” or “this great set on promotion.”
The next step was to navigate the byzantine checkout system of the Boutique Plaza Antequera which, we discovered, was set up to provide maximum employment. Once our salesgirl confirmed that we were ready to purchase, she rang up the sale and produced a sales slip. I already knew the price and had the money in my hand which I tried to give her but she gave me the flat hand to the chest approach, “No, not to me senor.” And, she walked us all the way back to the front of the store where I was placed in front of a glass stall with a young man inside who prepared the final billing in triplicate, stapled two copies together, filed the third, and took my money which he gave to a slightly older woman to his right who counted it twice and verified that there would be no change with which I concurred both of us smiling like Chessy cats.
The woman put my money into the register and turned the suitcase over to a packer or in our case an unpacker who removed all extraneous materials from inside and outside the suitcase before handing it over with a smile and exuberant “Listo!” That means “ready.” I learned that years ago from the waiters in the restaurants who ask you “listo?” when the come to take your order.
And there we were, out on the street with our orange suitcase walking along like the two crazy gringos we were with horns honking and people sidestepping and everyone smiling as if to say “Ha! Suckers. You should have gone to Sears.”