Bolivia: A Textile Adventure Steeped in Tradition

Bolivia has a rich Andean textile tradition, borne of its history as the center of the ancient Tiwanaku empire and later as part of the Inca empire from the 15th to early 16th centuries. The idea of an ATA tour to Bolivia came about during the last Tinkuy in Peru, in conversations with Andean Textile Arts (ATA) board member Betty Doerr and Kevin Healy. Early in his life, Kevin was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Lake Titicaca region along the border between Bolivia and Peru, and then he worked for years as a grant officer for the Inter American Foundation (IAF). Who better to introduce our ATA community to Bolivia?

This August, 15 intrepid tour participants joined our favorite guide Raul, of Day Hikes Peru, and Kevin to visit artisan groups and sites in Bolivia.

Altitude and distances were a challenge, so we started in Santa Cruz de la Sierra (elevation only 1,300 feet) where our first stop was Artecampo, a cooperative that supports 14 artisan communities. We were delighted to learn that the granddaughter of the founder is now director of the museum there.

Highlights of the tour included:

  • Being greeted with a jipijapa palm weaving demonstration in Buena Vista. (We were sad to hear the wild palm they work with is disappearing due to logging and clearing, but they have since received a $5,000 grant from the Delta foundation to help plant new palms!)
  • Dance performance and weaving demonstrations by the Tarabuco weavers in the community of Candelaria before we explored the market there.
  • Enjoying the ASUR museum in the charming city of Sucre, with Jalq’a weavers demonstrating in the courtyard.
  • Visiting Potosi at 13,340 ft, which was a stretch for some of us, but it is where the Cerro Rico silver mine, opened in 1545, produced much of the Spanish empire’s wealth. Most of our group actually toured the mine with a former miner.
  • Driving from Potosi through the stunning landscape, dotted with vicuñas and llama farms, to Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, then arriving at the elegant Luna Salada Hotel built with salt. Salt even covered the floor in the corridor of our wing.
  • The few of us who happened to be awake at 4 a.m had the opportunity to see a fireball from a meteor shower streak across the sky.
  • Floating over the city of La Paz in gondolas, which saved us from some traffic jams. Elvira Espajo Ayca, director at the National Museum of Ethnography there greeted us warmly, and we were delighted by more weavers in the courtyard tempting us with their colorful textiles.
  • Wandering in La Paz with a tour friend in the witches’ market, thinking I was too tired to purchase another textile before dinner, yet somehow finding the energy to discover another!

Another highlight of the trip was to see Kevin greeted with such warmth in textile communities that he helped to fund over the years. And our “Port Townsend Trio” of tour guests even brought along 10 spindles they designed on the computer to give away.

We did feel like pioneers on this first ATA trip to Bolivia, but now we’ve paved the way! We hope with all our hearts that the current political turmoil in Bolivia will be short-lived and that you’ll join us on a future Bolivian adventure.

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