20 November 2011

Bolivia day 9: Cristina and the Yampara

Sunday morning and a little sleep in, then breakfast and a quick internet check, before a 9am pickup for a half day outing to the farming and craft community at Jatun Yampara, about 45 minutes outside Sucre – a chance to see the local indigenous people and their traditional lifestyle.

Her donkey
First we visited an 85-year-old woman called Cristina. She lives alone, with only her little puppy, a pig and a donkey, and a few chickens for company, in a ramshackle collection of small mud and stone huts placed around a central yard.

One hut was the kitchen, where the fire was burning and water was boiling. There were no shelves, just small bits of mud brick jutting out to place things on. Another hut was the storeroom, for farming tools and sacks of seeds and grains, but it also doubled as a bedroom, as there was a single bed against one wall and some clothes (including one pretty pink and another lacy white petticoat) hanging over a wooden ceiling beam.

Another hut was a second bedroom and storage place – maybe for when the family come from Sucre to visit. The fourth hut seemed to be another storeroom. None of the huts had big windows so it was easier to see their interiors through photos taken with the camera flash, rather than with the naked eye.

When we arrived, Cristina was nowhere to be found. We yelled out for her and looked carefully around the property but there was no sign of her. The driver wondered if she’d died (!), the tour guide thought she might be out behind a wall, following the call of nature! We left half the bananas and bread we’d bought the previous day, as a gift for her, got into the car and started to drive away, when Cristina was spotted walking down one side of a field.
Pretty petticoats
Cristina's homestead

Cristina and her puppy
She farms two large fields, one currently planted with corn, just sprouting, the other with potatoes. She had been to fetch two plastic jerry cans full of water from the local well – not the clearest or cleanest water I’d ever seen, but it was all that was available – no piped water or electricity or sewage system out here!

The driver helped Cristina carry her heavy cans of water back to the house, then she tottered back with him, carrying some weaving she’d done to sell to the tourists. I didn’t really want the woven belt, but I did want to give her some financial assistance in a way that wouldn’t offend her, so I bought the belt. And she let me take lots of photos of her and her dog.

What a face she has! I wondered what sights those eyes had seen. And what an amazingly strong woman to be surviving – and farming – in such a harsh environment. If I had a hat, I’d take it off to her.

Next we visited the Yampara cultural centre, a little further down the road and then across country in the 4-wheel drive. Yampara is the name of the local Indian people, one of the oldest groups of indigenous people on the continent, and the centre has been built by Tourism Sucre to showcase Yampara culture. The project aims to rescue, preserve and protect the identity, and cultural and artistic values of these people.

There’s a collection of mud and stone buildings: 4 huts with bunk beds and bathrooms, where tourists can stay (I didn’t know about that option – it would have been interesting); a separate dining and living hut; another hut where the women demonstrate weaving (and I got photographed wearing a traditional hat); a bar, where we enjoyed a small sampling of non-alcoholic chicha (made from maize) (after first making an offering to Pachamama, the earth mother, by tipping a smidgen onto the dirt floor); a small museum, showcasing traditional clothing and with a display of locally grown medicinal herbs; and a small chapel – the locals are essentially pagan, but the tourism people felt religion should be introduced. Personally, I don’t approve of this, so was pleased to hear the people don’t actually attend the chapel and no priest comes to preach to them.

The Yampara headman

One of the weavers
Another weaver
Me modelling a traditional hat

There was also some livestock: llamas came to a whistle, spindly legged sheep nibbled at the sparse grass and a few goats roamed the fields, which were awaiting the onset of the rainy season to be planted with maize, potatoes and various legumes.

The headman had shown us around and we then gave him a ride to the main road so he could travel to the nearest town, Tarabuco, for some meetings with local authorities. He is trying to get electricity for his community. I gave him a donation to buy books for the small school we could see on the opposite hillside. Despite the chapel, the community centre is a good way to showcase Yampara culture and earn some income for the people, though, sadly, the young people are drawn to the bright lights of the city and the traditional way of life may well die out with the old people. I hope not.

We arrived back in Sucre around midday and, after dropping some of my things at the hotel, I strolled the city streets taking more photos. When hunger started to gnaw at my stomach lining, I headed to the Joy Ride cafe near the plaza, where I enjoyed a delicious panini and salad on their plant-filled rooftop terrace, and wrote up the details of my morning excursion. It was a very enjoyable hour or so.

A building at the university
Agate and a church

I then walked the streets some more, some streets twice as I needed to buy some water but even the street sellers were absent, presumably at home enjoying their Sunday with family. I finally got a bottle of water at the central market, which I explored a little, though the majority of the stalls there were also closed. For a while I sat under the shady trees in the plaza, people watching and enjoying the warm sunshine. Later, I spent some more time enjoying the geranium-filled courtyard at the hotel. It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon, something I needed as my holiday had been quite full on up to this point. I could quite happily have spent several more days soaking up the delights of sunny Sucre.

The cathedral tower
The Supreme Court - the reason Sucre is
Bolivia's capital

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