Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tarabuco and Beyond

It can take as little as 10-seconds to pass through many of the roadside villages in Peru and Bolivia. Many times, just a blur, but I have always wondered how people live in those places. The ground is dust, the road dirt, and the houses are of bricks of earth (adobe). Donkeys and cows meander through the streets at will, and dirty kids run around barefoot. No stores, gas stations, restaurants, only a small church or school if they are lucky, nothing more. I never had much reason to stay longer than my 10-second “fly-by”, but I was curious.

During my initial visit to Sucre back in October, I was introduced to the textiles of the area, and I wanted to learn more upon my return. Every once in awhile during my “10-second tours” through the dusty villages, an old woman would appear in a brightly colored shawl, or a man strained with a load of firewood on his back would be displaying a brilliantly designed poncho. These images would always stand out against the monochromatic dirt background. The people seem to have compensated for their rather drab environment with color, texture, and artistic expression.

So, since being back I have read as much as I can about the textiles of the area, visited the local museum several times, visited the textiles shops, and on Sundays, visited the market in Tarabuco.

Tarabuco is a small town about an hour southeast of Sucre, and is connected by a beautiful twisty road through the mountainous countryside (or campo) making “the getting there part” half the fun. Once there, you walk through stalls and stalls of goods sold by the indigenous people for the indigenous people. It is also where the local craftspeople take their wares to sell to visiting tourists. Of course, this is also the social event of the week where people from neighboring villages meet, and because of this, they don their best traditional clothing. I thoroughly enjoy the trip every time I go, always seeing something different, and return well fed from the traditional food stands, and with a cheek full of coca leaves.

During one of my Sunday visits, I came across a woman whose collection of weavings was just a little bit better than everybody else’s. An American woman, Alisa, was sitting there with her. She was here doing research for her masters program from the University of Florida on Bolivian women in the textile industry. We talked for a while, I bought a small weaving, and we made plans for me to visit the family she was staying with in a small village about two hours from Sucre.

Later that following week I ventured out to find their home. The town was not on any map, (GPS or paper), there would be no road signs, and due to some road construction, I would have to take a detour. My landlord was familiar with the area and drew me a small map, which included one dry river crossing. After my fourth dry river crossing, I knew that I was lost. An hour or two later, I finally found the rock-paved road that I was looking for (see video).

It was a great visit and I immediately hit it off with Santusa and her husband. I was able to watch her weave for a while and ended up buying a red wool shawl (or manton) in the traditional Tarabuqueño style. The 80-year old grandmother made some lunch, and then Alisa took me for a walk to visit some of the other weavers in the area.

It was a great introduction to village life and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I asked Santusa and Damian if I could come back and stay for several days or a week once Alisa departed for the States, when her room was vacant. They seemed as excited as I was and we agreed to touch base later. It was a beautiful ride home at sunset, now knowing the way “out”. I was filled with a sense of wonder and satisfaction, and could not wait to come back.

Video: "Do You Ever Get Lost?"

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