It’s been some years since I wrote about how I pack mezcal bottles, pottery and other fragile artisan crafts to take back to the USA after my stay in Oaxaca. For the most part, I can claim 99.5% success that all will arrive undamaged. Only once, did a plate arrive broken! Basically, what I do is consider my largest piece of luggage to be a shipping container. You CANNOT carry-on mezcal bottles. They have to be transported in checked bags!
Over the years, I have carried three to four bottles of mezcal back to the US with each return visit. I declare three bottles. Each customs officer will be different and may or may not ask you if you are bringing any liquor with you. I always offer that I’m bringing back three bottles, even if they don’t ask specifically. My packing success has included Uriarte Talavera dinnerware from Puebla, ceramic face planters by Don Jose Garcia Antonio from Ocotlan, black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec, carved wood and painted figures (alebrijes) from Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Of course, I don’t worry about textiles or palm baskets.
How To SAFELY Pack Mezcal and Pottery, and other Fragile Crafts:
- Bring or find bubble wrap and packing tape. Bubble wrap is called burbuja de plastico or plastic bubbles! You can buy this at any DHL, FedEx or UPS shop in downtown Oaxaca. Office Depot, Walmart, and Soriana also stock this. There is a comprehensive shipping supplies store at the corner of Independencia and Pino Suarez.
- Buy at least TWO reed-woven, rigid waste baskets from any mercado. I prefer those with straight sides. These are carrizo (river reed) woven when green in the village of San Juan Guelavia. You can easily find these at the Sunday Tlacolula market, and in and around the Benito Juarez market, or the Sanchez Pascuas or La Merced markets in downtown Oaxaca. Next, find a woven flat tray that fits the opening diameter of the wastebasket. This will serve as your cover. I can fit three mezcal bottles in one of these wastebaskets. The other, I pack with pottery.
- Of course, each bottle and fragile item must be encased in bubble wrap! When an item has arms, legs, necks, tails, remove what you can and wrap separately. Be sure to fill in any gaps/open spaces with crumbled newspaper or tissue. For the mezcal bottle necks, I wrap this several times to be certain it is the same thickness as the bottle body.
- Using a permanent market, write what’s inside on the packing tape in case you forget!
- Fit your bottles into the basket. If there are any gaps, stuff them with socks, underwear, clothing. Put the top on. Tape the top to the basket, wrapping the tape around several times so it is secure. Nothing inside the basket can move. The fit has to be tight! I also keep on hand, empty water bottles and paper boxes. I crush the bottles and cut the boxes, put them inside the basket to ensure a tight fit.
- Position the basket(s) inside your luggage and surround it with clothes, shoes, chocolate, coffee, and other unbreakables. Everything must be a tight fit. Nothing can move or you risk breakage.
- Don’t be in a hurry to unwrap the packages after you get home. Fragile is as fragile does.
Note: It’s cheaper to pay for an extra piece of luggage to go on the airplane than it is to send a package via DHL, FedEx or UPS. NEVER use Estafeta, Castores, or other Mexican shippers. Boxes are inspected (more like, dismantled) at the border for customs purposes resulting in loss and broken pieces. Mostly because they unwrap everything to inspect and don’t repack well. I’ve had this experience and won’t repeat it.
There you have it.
I’m returning to the USA from Oaxaca in a few days. Before I get to Taos, I’m traveling first to Nashville to visit my goddaughter Kathryn, who just moved there from Durham to take a job at Vanderbilt. I’m excited to see her. Then, in early April, back to Albuquerque to visit with hijo and nuera for a few days before returning to Northern New Mexico. Along the way, I won’t touch what is inside the shipping container aka large piece of luggage. Everything I need to get to will be in the second, smaller bag.
Happy to answer any questions you have! Write me here.
When you get home and unload, these baskets are useful for containing yarn, thread, knitting, weaving, and sewing supplies; pantry storage for potatoes and onions; wastebaskets; holding hand weights; linen closet storage for wash cloths, sundries and toiletries. Plus, they are made from natural materials, so can be completely recycled.