If you wonder if there is still a place where modernity did not arrive, let me tell you about Tarabuco: a small town in the highlands of Bolivia. While it has a colonial heritage in its architectural style, it is mostly populated by indigenous people. Even though the town is small and quiet, on Sundays, the streets get filled with people who come to visit its traditional markets.
There is a product that you will find in few other places besides this market: the Jalk' a and Tarabuco textiles. Do not confuse them with the aguayo, usually worn by Andean indigenous people. The Jalk' a and Tarabuco textiles are part of an ancient way of communication of specific Andean cultures. Those textiles have such a level of detail that they have been the subject of study by national and international experts, who affirmed that Jalk' a and Tarabuco people are among the best weavers in the world. There are no two same pieces of those textiles since they are not pre-designed, and the smallest ones - approximately 20 cm x 20 cm - can take from two weeks to one month to be finished. In this market bargain is possible, but remember textiles are a means of subsistence of these communities and, after all, you will take with you a unique handmade piece, while helping to preserve a culture that is in a big risk of disappearing. If you are interested in having a more in-depth insight into the story, importance and uniqueness of these handmade pieces, visiting the Indigenous Art Museum in Sucre is an excellent recommendation.
Besides the 'star products,' other types of textiles and handicrafts are sold in this market. Winter clothes of the Andean llama and alpaca wool are among the most requested products too. They are warmer compared to the ones made of sheep wool and also hypoallergenic, water-resistant, and even fire-resistant. The alpaca wool is also known for its smoothness, which can be compared to silk.
It is interesting to observe that, in this market of small farmers from different communities, bartering still happens. For example, the nearest communities - located in the highlands - regionally exchange products, such as potatoes, tarwi, and brad beans, with fruits brought by producers from the nearest valleys. There is no need for money to close the deal.
Every year, the third Sunday of March, the Pujllay Festival takes place in Tarabuco. That day, people from the nearest communities of the region come in traditional clothing to perform the pujllay dance – which has been declared as a cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2014.
A wooden tower covered with all sorts of products - such as flowers, fruits, legumes, drinks, and others - called “pukara” is built that day. Pukaras are erected as a way to remember those who have died and also to thank Pachamama, which is the Mother Earth in the Andean culture.
Even if Christmas is actually a legacy of the colonial period, people from the town and surrounding communities have their own way of celebrating. They gather to dance Chuntunquis, a joyful traditional Christmas dance, originated in lower and warmer neighbor lands.
Tarabuco, where modernity refuses to pass through, shares with its visitors a bit of the Andean indigenous culture, through traditions, a different way of living, and textiles that tell stories.
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