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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- I saw two travelers sitting on a bench in San Cristobal wearing rope sandals while industriously working on making a couple more pairs. They had on display a couple completed pairs of their shoes sitting out on the sidewalk before them for passerbys to purchase or simply oogle over. It was clear that these travelers funded their journey by selling their handmade sandals in the streets, and I stopped by to inquire about their profession.
I shook hands with one of the travelers, who was an older — perhaps 35 year old — traveler from Argentina, and he introduced himself as Verdu. He said that he had been traveling for ten years, we talked about the northern frontiers of India. He had just traveled up through the Americas from Argentina, selling sandals and playing music. His girlfriend sat next to him quietly weaving a sandals. I then quickly stooped down to check out their wares, as the craftsmen continued working above me.
Verdu showed me that the soles of his sandals were made from weaving a tweed like cord around a few nails that were sticking up out of a board. He would weave the cord around the nails into the shape of a shoe bottom and then attach the woven upper materials to it. It was a very simple, basic, and timeless design — his shoes were reminiscent of those that the old time mendicant monks would wear in China and Japan.
“I use whatever materials I can find,” Verdu explained, “When you are traveling you can’t carry a lot of things, so I use all local materials.”
He then told me that he cannot get the tweed cord that he was using to construct the soles of the sandals he was currently making everywhere in his travels, so he needs to be open to using alternate materials. “You can make these shoes out of anything,” he added.
I looked down at his hand made sandals that he had completed and had sitting out for sale. They were made of thick, yarn like, woven strips attached to the tweed cord soles.
“Now it is cold, so I make them warm,” Verdu explained the reason why he chose the materials he was currently using.
They looked warm.
Verdu then went on to explain that when he can’t find cord that he wove the soles for his sandals out of he would use strips of rubber from old car tires.
“You can get them everywhere,” he said, and then added that he often gets the old tires that he cuts up for sandals for free.
I have seen this style of shoe many places in the world, they usually consist of a tread made from the bottom of a car tire with the strips attaching it to the foot made from strips of rubber on the tire’s sides. This is an efficient way of reusing a material that is ordinarily tossed into massive discard piles or burned. These car tire shoes have become a world industry.
I observed that all of Verdu’s materials for his independent travel business were simple and cheap. He had an old plank of board with a few nails sticking up out of it as a weaving loom, and the tweed cord and cotton strips that he was using for materials could be purchased incredibly cheaply in local markets. The rest of his tools seemed minimal, perhaps being a couple pairs of scissors, a pair of pliers or some other things that could be found second hand for a nominal price.
“Do you make all of your money to travel from selling these shoes?”
Verdu replied that he makes most of his money playing music in the streets, but did confirm that selling these sandals did bring in a portion of his travel funds. A fact that was reconfirmed after I asked him how many of these slippers he would sell in a day:
“Some days I sell ten or twenty pairs, other days I sell nothing,” Verdu admitted with a laugh.
He sold his sandals at 100 pesos a pair, eight USD, so selling ten or twenty in a day would take care of more than month’s rent in the south of Mexico. In addition to the money that he makes playing music and selling sandals in the streets, Verdu lives in a house with friends — which probably does not come with a very large price tag.
Selling hand made goods in the streets is an ancient strategy for travelers to make up the resources to travel. If a traveler is willing to constantly adapt their methods to meet their environment as well as make use of locally available materials they could easily travel just about everywhere in the world and stay in business. The south of Mexico is a center of the traveling artisan’s universe, and many travelers come through here, sitting in the streets, selling their wares. This is truly one travel strategy that can be practiced in all corners of the world, though it is also one where a day’s work will often only get you through to the next day of travel. But this is all a traveler needs to do.