Moises Hernandez has been fashioning beautiful baskets on the side of the free road near the Pescador Restaurant since 1978. He patiently and skillfully cuts the carrizo, which is a tall reed that looks like bamboo. He peels the strips, then pounds them flat until they are perfect for working. The next step is to cut the strips into the desired length for the basket he intends to make. Then the weaving begins, starting with the bottom and working upward, and if there is a handle or cover, it’s the last step in the weaving. On average, it takes a full day to make a basket.
I met Moises the first week we were in Baja, when I stopped and purchased one of his beautiful baskets. It was big enough to hold the entire large bag of oranges that I got just a few miles ago, again on the side of the road, and it looked incredible. The price? $8. Really? Where I live in Maine, movie prices are considered inexpensive, but I can’t see any evening show for under $9. The Chicken McNugget large meal is $8.99, and all you are left with is $8.99 worth of extra chubby on your thighs. So Moises’ price is a true bargain.
He learned his trade from his family, and he shakes his head sadly when he says he is now the last true basket maker. A true artisan, he takes enormous pride in using his skill to create beauty. He said there used to be a basket shop up past the Federali checkpoint, but that too is now gone. Still, he makes all kinds of baskets, from a large laundry hamper with cover for $25 (I know!) to smaller square, round, and oval ones. One basket is made like a baby’s cradle, in sizes both for a doll and a real baby. I wanted one but gave up both dolls and babies many years ago.
The experience I had today of talking for about an hour with a man whom I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand me was made possible by another true artisan that I met at his restaurant, Nube 58. He is Mexican but also taught English for several years. Although he had not met Moises before, they got on famously, and Moises would get excited and add so much that Joao Ordaz, the wonderful bread and pizza maker, would have to write very fast, sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English, which gave us both a laugh. But that’s just like the people in Baja, willing to talk with you and help you in any way they can.
Moises said that once a television crew interviewed him; he asked them why, and they told him, “We’d like a positive story to end our newscast.” And that, my friend, says it all.