I developed the habit of stocking and hoarding travel finds from my frequent visits to Paete. For a time, woodcarvings have become an obsession. Every visit to this chisel town means coming home with numbing arms due to those weighty wooden sculptures, which I uncomplainingly hand carry.
It came to a point that our home had the look and feel of a craft store specializing in Paete Woodcarvings. Eventually, I decided to give them away. This is also the time when I began appreciating the idea that travel souvenirs become memorable when they are shared.
While I don’t usually buy souvenirs made especially for tourist trade like those that have Mabuhay! Philippines inscribed on them but sometimes I find those colorful and happy pieces of folk art irresistible, especially those that were individually hand-painted. I have a stock of Taka from Paete and miniature higantes from Angono.
One particular gift set of papier mache dolls and red horses I gave to Carina Guevara-Galang that she displays in her art gallery in Katipunan.
When in Pakil we visit artisan Ka Chit Mirabella to get our supply of Delicate Wood Shavings. In her workshop, we watch Ka Chit whittle away softwood, turning them into lacelike sculptures of flowers, butterflies, birds, peacocks, swans and fans that show intricate detail.
I give these Pakil wood shavings to girl friends, which they practically use as bookmarks or for holding up their hair bun.
As much as possible souvenirs must be hand held or at least could fit inside the backpack. But sometimes it’s difficult to resist those bulky, one of a kind vintage objects such as those Classic Kitchenware and Antique Furniture. We had good finds from antique shops in Vigan, Bulacan, Cebu, and Bohol.
I gave one of our Batibot chairs to visual artist Bernard Nillos. In return, he drew a pencil sketch of the same piece I gave him.
Honey-combed in Quiapo’s Ilalim ng Tulay are stores filled from floor to ceiling with local handicrafts that are both functional and decorative. Here we buy baskets of different shapes and sizes, wind chimes made of steel, wood, or bamboo, Christmas parol of different colors and sepak takraw balls that comes in different shades and materials. Sepak takraw balls are nice giveaways to children who visit our home.
Whenever I pass by Quiapo church, I buy one or two of those brass medallions with embossed religious symbols and Latin text. Anting-antings are believed to be magical accessories that bring good luck and protection to its wearer. But I bought them merely for my collection.
With my frequent visits to Quiapo, my collection of anting-anting has grown. One time, my drinking buddies asked me about the magical properties of each anting-anting in my collection. Interested with my stories of good luck and becoming irresistible to women, each of them took one with them.
It is in Banaue where we got hold of authentic Ifugao woodcarvings like the binabuy, bulol and ritual box called the panumahan from Noel Balinga and woodcarver Guiyang Bumocla.
Also in Banaue, we met 92-year old dealer of antique baskets and Ifugao artifacts, Ginnaymay Sarol. We bought a few pieces from her like the soot-covered ulbong, hu-op, and the hunter’s backpack called the inabnutan. We handcarried all of them them on the way home.
Travel souvenirs are excellent conversation pieces when displayed at home, especially those that speak about the place we visited and that wonderful experiences we had.
But what makes those happy, cheeky, playful, colorful, soot-covered, handmade pieces of travel finds memorable is having the thought that they are meant to be shared and given away, perhaps to lure and inspire others to have that same wonderful experience travelling around our beautiful country and meeting our most creative artisans.