Cheap trinkets made in China and embroidered sombreros that scream “Mexico – Uno cerveza por favor!” are not my idea of a nice souvenir (even though I really like cervezas). I’m also not a very patient shopper, so as a result I usually get pretty frustrated when I’m trying to find something to take home with me from a trip abroad. Good thing my girlfriend and I stumbled across an authentic hand-painted tile shop on one of our last days in Mexico that was full of interesting stuff and inspiration…
We were nearing the end of our month long escape from the Yukon winter when we spied this shop in La Paz. The moment I walked in, the wheels in brain started turning about how I could turn something from this shop into a keepsake from our trip. It was quickly apparent that we would be unable to carry enough tiles home to redo our bathroom, but I managed to form a plan about how I could turn some of these beautiful tiles into something cool once I got back to Whitehorse.
Now just to back-step a bit and provide some context – my day job involves a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen grinding out spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel. I’m not very good at staring at computers, I can get pretty restless and stir-crazy by 5 o’clock. As a result I’m drawn to hands-on projects in my free time.
Back to the Mexican tile shop where a plan started forming… I remembered building an end table with a glass inlay eons ago during a high school woodworking class. I decided that I could do the same thing this time around, except I would use some of these cool Mexican tiles instead of glass! This was also a perfect excuse to check out the woodshop at YuKonstruct, something I had been meaning to do since the start of winter.
So, my girlfriend and I compared different tiles and picked our favourite design. We don’t always have similar tastes, but this time we did so the decision was easy to make together. We ended up buying nine tiles for 25 pesos – not a bad deal!
Although neither of us speak a lick of Spanish and the shop keeper did not speak any English, he couldn’t stop smiling as we paid for the tiles. He was probably wondering to himself – what on earth are these two tourists going to do with nine tiles. After we paid he then started wrapping them. He used copious amounts of newspaper and packing tape to complete the job , and much to my horror the finished product looked just like what I imagine a compact brick of hard drugs would look like – and of course I was about to fly home! Sure enough, once we were home and I unpacked my backpack there was a notice inside from the US Border Service informing me that they had searched my bag at LAX. I’m sure they were a bit disappointed when they found tiles instead of cocaine wrapped up inside my backpack.
It didn’t take long to find nice pieces of wood to build my table, and I then hastily drew up some plans. Now the real work was to begin, how exciting! It took me a few days to get comfortable working in a woodshop again, after all it had been almost 10 years since high school, which was the last time that I had done something similar! My ‘woodworking’ projects during my university years and early twenties mostly consisted of finding the cheapest wood I could find, using my Dad’s old hand-me-down drill, and slapping something together as quickly as I could with minimal concern about appearance. But that wasn’t the plan this time – these tiles deserved more than that!
Luckily, there were plenty of helpful folks at YuKonstruct to lend a hand if needed, and all my skills learned a decade ago came back pretty quickly. After I figured out how to work the dust system and turn the planer on (after numerous failed attempts) I was off to the races. A few minor mistakes were made during the building process, but at the end of the day I’m happy how the table turned out! My creation turned out to be infinitely better than that “made in China” shot glass I would have bought otherwise.