San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

Shopping is an addiction for some people. In San Felipe, these are the doomed ones for there is a kaleidoscope of pottery, jewelry, statues, blankets, leatherwear, T-shirts, shells, masks, huaraches, glassware, whirligigs, trinkets and nic-nacs that parade past you on the sidewalks and storm your vision the instant you step inside a curio shop. The siren songs of colors, textures, sounds, smells and the voices of the vendors who promise the price will be "Muy barato." (cheap) can weaken the strongest wills.

A Shopping Corridor
A shopping corridor.

In San Felipe there is a street that has muscled itself up for tourism. Mar de Cortez Norte is a corridor of commerce, a gauntlet through which, on a good day (during Spring Break, for example), a passage is rarely achieved without the casualties of at least a few pesos. There are just too many eye-catching baubles, wherever you turn.

Shopping in San Felipe is best done on foot. It's a small town and the tourist industry thrives at its heart. The north end of Mar de Cortez offers most of the shops. But if you walk the length of the road, you will find some interesting things at the south end as well.

Some shops don't mind if you want to haggle over the price of something. Others stick to their prices. Sidewalk vendores and itinerant jewelry salesmen expect you to barter a bit. There's usually a large markup and you'll make their day if you surrender to the first price they name. Prices are often based on how you look or behave. Many shops now have price tags on their wares, but some still do not. It's a good idea to shop around for the item you want. Prices can vary quite a bit within a fifty foot distance.

There are many "Segundos" or 2nd hand stores. Often they are just piles of merchandise strewn on the sidewalk or street side. Haggling at these places is a duty, just like at any garage sale. The secret is to pretend you don't care if you own the object or not. Offers and counteroffers are exchanged with cool heads. It helps if you occasionally throw up your arms and begin to walk away. Chances are good the vendor will call you back and give you a lower price. If you walk away again, he may ask you what you want to pay. Tell him a price about half of what he wants. He'll make a face like a lemonade salesman and complain he'll lose money at that price. And then he'll name another price. Again with the arms and the slow retreat.

Baubles, balloons and bric-a-brac.
Baubles, balloons and bric-a-brac.

The goal should be to pay a little above half the original asking price. Usually the halfway mark is the vendor's lowest limit. Getting a little bit more keeps him happy and makes you satisfied you've driven a good bargain. Of course everything depends on the vendor's disposition. This may work one day for you and fail miserably the next.

If you buy something highly breakable (a blown-glass replica of the Bounty, for example) don't expect it to be packaged according to its fragility status. You'll have to do some planning ahead and bring along the necessary protection for that hard-to-keep-in-one-piece heirloom you are keen on purchasing. Of course, buying a half dozen T-shirts from the shop next door may safeguard the wrapping process in an emergency.

So when you come down here, don't forget to run the Mar de Cortez gauntlet. At the very least, you'll wind up the happy owner of a little dashboard turtle with a bobbing head.