Santiago’s artisan village at Los Dominicos + an act of kindness

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The art market is quiet on a weekday

We’re supposed to rest and catch up on blog posts during our two days in Santiago, but it’s hard to work in a city when you haven’t seen any part of it. There are so many things we could be doing, seeing, being. So on our second day, we take the metro over to Los Dominicos, an old church that now serves as a site for an artisan craft village.

It’s a weekday, so the village is mostly quiet. When we walk in the front, we’re greeted by a flurry of wings and bird calls. This area of the village houses pet sellers and seems to specialize in birds of all kinds, from chickens to parakeets to peacocks.

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Ducklings for sale at the market

Further in, craftwork stores appear and dominate the landscape. There are more than a dozen jewelry stores, sporting works of silver and selling Chile’s primary semiprecious stone, lapis lazuli. Though many of the pieces are mass-produced, several stores also sell unique handmade works. These stores always have a work area behind the display case or in the back of the shop, where the shopkeeper spends most of their day creating new pieces, looking up only when someone steps into their shop.

Beyond the prolific jewelry stores, there are stores dedicated to leather crafts, hand-knitted clothing and art, musical instruments, and the standard souvenirs. We pass a few shops selling toy llamas in all sizes. Stoytcho manages to buy a leather bracelet at one shop, adding to his increasing bracelet collection from South America. At the music shop, we find something we’ll have to come back for: a beautiful handmade charango. With ten strings in five pairs, it sings with the resonance of a mandolin at the register of a ukulele. But with its size and $250 price tag, we can’t afford to get it now.

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Stuffed lamas for sale, ranging from keychain size to teddy-bear size

  Realistically, there isn’t much we can afford at Los Dominicos as backpackers. Santiago has costs very similar to a U.S. city, and it’s expensive for us to just sleep and eat here, leaving little to spend on local crafts. We’ll have to come back when we’ve got more money, when we’re not traveling on to the (expensive) countries of New Zealand and Australia.

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Handwoven art at one of the stores. Much of the unique work at the artisan market is expensive for people on a backpacker budget, but worth seeing all the same.

But there is one thing we really do need: some kind of perfume. Repeated hand-washing never really gets all of the smell of sweat and skin and stains from our clothing, and after traveling for three months we’re acutely aware of how we must reek in comparison to your everyday person that has a stable place to live, to wash and dry clothes, and to change into more than two pairs of pants.

We travel through several stores looking for something that will act as perfume, but most sell only scented oil that would leave stains on our clothing. After a few hours, we finally come across a body care and soap shop, Regalos de Campo, and blissfully, they sell water based perfumes. They even have small bottles available! At least, the testers are small bottles. While we browse scents, we talk with the woman running the shop and explain why we need the perfume. We’ve got nine months left of travel around the, and we’re already stinky. It’s not getting any better, so we’re hoping to hide the funk with some lovely floral scents.

After perusing the perfumes, we pick out a couple that we like and ask the woman how much they’ll cost. To our surprise, she shakes her head–they don’t sell anything in the size of a tester! They only have large bottles, the kind we can’t take on flights and will be hard to carry in our packs. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll have to stay stinky.

As we turn to leave, the woman stops us. She gathers some of the testers from the shelf and hands them to us. “How much?” we ask her again, but she smiles and tells us not to worry about it. They’re gifts: regalos.

We were elated, and couldn’t thank her enough. It was such a random act of kindness, but it means that our future travels will be much more pleasant, for both ourselves and everyone around us.

P.S. We were so excited about this, I realize that now we forgot to take a picture of the perfumes. They’re still with us though (three continents later), so I’ll update this post when I get a photo.

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