Nothing says “you matter to me” like a toenail clipper decorated with the Falkland Island penguins, in my opinion. I would start evaluating my importance to loved ones based on the souvenirs they bring me from their vacations if only I didn’t understand how much of a headache it is to select trinkets.
The endless considerations of souvenirs
- Will I have enough room in my luggage? Once I had to last-minute buy and pack an extra carry-on because I’d bought too many Korean chips, only to return to the States and see the same brands in my local H-Mart.
- Who do I give a souvenir to?
- Am I rich?
- What do I give to different people?
- How do I trade off thoughtfulness and practicality? As a failed minimalist, I’ve mostly given up on the latter. It’s just in my nature to accumulate trinkets and carry things like tape on my person (which Mom has kindly informed me is dumb.) If I’m destined to embrace my innate sentimentality, that might as well manifest in cute crafts I can stick to my fridge instead of a towel embossed with “I ❤ NY.”
The past month, I was in South America with limited Internet—hence no posts—and on one of the days, our ship docked at Puerto Varas, a Chilean port. The tour Mom had been discussing didn’t get back to her, which meant time to search for last-minute souvenirs. I saw some lamb magnets at a craft market, but we hadn’t yet exchanged money and wanted to look around some more, so we moved on.
Because I revel in others telling me what to enjoy, a lazy search of travel review sites brought us to a nearby promontory. By the gravelly slope there was a steep staircase to the top. Huffing from the exertion of light exercise, I scaled the steps, imagining what tourist trap souvenir stations awaited.
The view of the Chilean horizon was grand, of course, but more importantly, Mom found some alpaca wool scarves cheaper than ones in some stores. For some reason, the lamb magnets there looked uglier. We snapped pictures and headed back down.
I started toward the stairs, but Mom motioned to the slope side.
Mom: It looks easier to walk this side.
Me: It looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
Me: *starts walking down slope*
The slope didn’t seem easier to descend, but it did seem easier than defending my opinion.
A minute later, near the bottom of the slope, my foot slipped out from beneath me—year-old Adidas Neos have no traction—and I found myself flat on the gravel, my right palm and left knee taking the brunt of the fall. Dust coated the backside of my jeans. I rolled up my jeans to find the skin on my knee lightly grated. On my palm was a deep, bleeding scrape, spotted with gravel.
Instructing Mom to pour water over the wound. I sanitized my hands with the three-quarters-empty mini hand sanitizer I’ve been carrying around for years and not using, and I carefully picked out two of the larger pieces from my palm. The rest, about five small dots, were embedded.
Nearby truck driver: Would you like me to drop you both off at your ship?
Me: I’m good, no thank you! I’m fine.
I was. And although I would have enjoyed not having to walk all the way back to the ship, I really prefer to be alive (for all my complaining) most of the time. Remembering my leap off a Lime scooter last year, this was nothing.
I kept my jeans rolled up on one knee and tried to pull off that look as we walked to a nearby supermarket for first aid materials. We disinfected my wounds outside in the parking lot, which I suppose is the authentic, gritty experience tourists can only dream of. I couldn’t remove the five pieces of gravel because I was too squeamish to tear up the skin they’d wedged their way under.
Me: Medical treatment on the ship is expensive, but forlornly looking at my palm and hoping nothing bad will happen is free.
Mom started wrapping my wound.
Me: You know what would be handy right now?
I triumphantly pulled out the roll of tape she’s made fun of me for carrying everywhere. Karma bites back, baby. Though maybe I wouldn’t have minded a different situation to prove my point.
We returned to the craft market to buy the lamb magnets because Mom felt guilty and I had my priorities straight. At the stall, I found the lamb I wanted, put it down in search of more for my friends, and immediately someone else picked up “my” lamb and bought it. So we left failures.
Shopping around further, we couldn’t find the same kind of lamb magnets, though I did find a llama magnet that unfortunately cost $4, and I struggled not to be disappointed. So maybe I’m a product of a consumerist culture in which you buy things as one of the few ways you can wrest control in the random, meaningless chaos that is life. Or maybe I just enjoy cute, terrified-looking little bug-eyed llama magnets.
Mom realized she’d actually gotten an email from the tour guide who’d ghosted us. The company had apparently put us on the list though we hadn’t yet paid or been told where to meet, and informed us that they had been waiting for us in the morning.
I figured all this had been for nothing until I boarded the ship and realized that unwittingly, I had gotten souvenirs from Chile. Specifically, five permanent souvenirs in my hand, wherever I go. Perhaps this type of souvenir even merits future consideration. Good thing I’ve got a lot of skin.
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