Tarabuco: We climb out of the geological basin that cradles the white city of Sucre and journey an increasingly chilly 60 kilometres out to Tarabuco, a country village perched at an altitude of 3700 metres.
The artisan market is well underway by the time our bus heaves into the cobbled square, and folk from the surrounding area are manning their stalls with eyes as keen as a crow’s for any hint of silver coinage. Gringos, predictably, are more prized stall-browsers than the locals, and the prices are suitably inflated.
We wander past honey vendors, try local stews and a local corn-paste dumpling filled with vegetables. I try my one word of Quechua, which softens distrust and garners a friendly smile among these people who centuries ago lost their own tongue to Incan invasion, but refuse to lose their adopted one for Spanish.
Local dress is worn as proudly, each deviation in costume representative of a particular village. Mostly, the clothes worn by indigenous Bolivians is unchanged from what must have been worn centuries ago.
The cholitas dress in petticoats covered by a pleated – often jazzy – skirt, knee-high woollen socks and legwarmers, a lacy or checkered short-sleeved shirt covered by a cardigan or jumper, on top of which is an apron. All this is then covered by a poncho-type of shawl or blanket, and then slung over shoulders is an additional carry-shawl.
It’s the hats that are the most obvious differentiators though. These are elaborate affairs, inspired by the conquistadors and other Spanish invaders and range from trilbies and sombreros though to full-on military officers’ hats bearing pom-poms and other decoration.
The men are, of course, less excitingly dressed, but there is still considerable effort to be seen. Hats on the men are often sequinned or adorned with ribbons and flowers, and they wear broad leather belts with plenty of studs imprinted. Their ponchos are not as ornate, mostly following geometric patterns, but they’re still handsomely bright.
We pass a pleasant afternoon wandering around the square, chatting to a few people and drinking coca tea in the sun, before returning to Sucre.