Every time I need to buy a special present, I visit "La Chero". This shop is like paradise for those looking for something really different, or for the tourist wishing to purchase an authentic souvenir from the country he or she is visiting. It might be small, but this is a quite unique artisan shop.
It was opened in Cardenas on 4th April, 2014, by my journalist friend Cristina Valdes Lescaille. The store was lodged within her own house. Surrounded by museums, restaurants, cafeterias; it’s located in a privileged site, but its location, however nice, isn’t the shop’s main asset.
A unique eco-friendly shop
"La Chero" is, above all else, an eco-friendly store, where its owners and the artisans behind the handicrafts they sell, use only recycled materials. You’ll actually be surprised by the variety of articles made out of nothing but paper that Cristina and Alejandro obtain after long working hours. They later turn it into postcards, autograph or photo albums, datebooks and curious plates. The plates are decorated with replicas of pictographs drawn by Cuba’s primitive inhabitants in "La Cueva de Ambrosio" which I have previously told you about in a previous blog post and found on the walls of other caverns around the area comprising the Varadero – Cardenas – Matanzas tourist triangle.
As a result of various degrees of forced metamorphosis, you’ll find candle holders, glasses, lanterns and other ornamental paraphernalia made from bottles of all shapes and sizes. Those who wish to, can take them home with personalisation, having their names engraved or that of a relative or friend
You’ll also find other remarkable handcraft attractions such as handmade soaps, candles, unusual dream catchers, pipes, earrings, key holders, pot holders, and many other fun knick-knacks that won’t take too much of your luggage space.
A family business
La Chero recently opened to the public, as one of the new types of private businesses the Cuban state has authorised Cuban citizens to run. The owners; who are a couple, had not previously devoted themselves professionally to the recycling business, nor had they tapped into the commercial side of the process. One of them, Cristina; now alternates the running of the shop with the job she has been carrying out since 2006 at the local radio station “Radio Ciudad Bandera”, from which she runs her blog www.radiociudadbandera.wordpress.com. Her counterpart, Alejandro Valdés; comes from the world of thermo-energetic engineering.
La Chero also offers visitors with unique pieces made by outstanding local artists like Raudel Campanioni, who is a member of the "Asociacion Cubana de Artesanos Artistas" –ACAA (Cuban Association of Artisan Artists).
The origin of a name
We have in Cuba, a rudimentary means of transportation (mainly used by children to wheel themselves off smalls slopes) made of wood and iron wheels (typically old skate wheels). It’s a somewhat rustic version of a skateboard with roller-skate wheels, and it’s called a "chivichana". Even today, in Cardenas and in other Cuban city streets and parks, children and youngsters can be seen enjoying their rides on these makeshift devices. I confess that I myself, along with my cousins and friends, loved to ride them for hours.
But going back to my story, “La Chero” was the name given by Alejandro Valdes to a rather cherished "chivichana" he once owned as a child, and which he rode around with his co-builder and friend. Such artifact competed in the first and only National Chivichana Contest held in Cuba.
Held on 27th August, 2010 at "Loma de Trebol" (Clover Hill) in "Santa Maria del Mar" (a beach to the east of Havana); it saw 42 participants from all over the country battle it out for the winning title. This old "chivichana", is now showcased along with the store’s other decorative samples.
Now, if you’re interested in learning more details about the contest, you can ask the store owners, who aside from holding various university degrees, are able to communicate fairly well in English. In addition to this, you’ll be able to see photos and documents related to the contest in the area where this peculiar "chivichana" is exhibited.
Rescue, recover, reconquer
Those who like me, love curiosities, will find in "La Chero" an exceptional collection of bottles, which the owners have been able to gather with the help of relatives, clients, neighbours and friends.
Cristina and Alejandro’s love for rescuing all sorts of objects is endearing and surprising at the same time, with many of their raw materials being items that Cubans have once disregarded or thrown away with the passage of time. Such is the case of rag dolls, hourglasses, and kaleidoscopes which they themselves make to delight children and grown-ups as well.
For all these reasons and even more, if you’re in Varadero and you want something far more special than the commonplace (and overdone) tourist fare and overtired crafts sold at most hotels, artisan markets or stores, I recommend you to go to "La Chero", a short cab ride away in the nearby city of Cardenas, where you will surely find an authentic memory of your time in Cuba.
Address: de Jenez Ave. Between Coronel Verdugo and Industria streets. (Very near Jose A. Echeverria Park and Oscar M. de Rojas Museum in Cardenas)
Open: Every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
Prices: I can assure you that this is the lowest-price craftwork store in the whole tourist triangle Varadero – Cardenas – Matanzas. Prices range from 0.25 CUC to 5 CUC.
Ideal for travelers looking for genuine handcrafted pieces.
Don’t forget to purchase: The kaleidoscopes and hourglasses; you might not find them in any other place in the island.