After a couple of months being 100% dedicated to Pia & the Makers and baby Germán, I finally feel I have some time to blog. I hope you have been following us on Instagram and FB page to keep up, if not, now is a good time to start!
Since I have been receiving quite a lot of mails with questions and concerns about travelling to Colombia I decided to come back with a post on La Guajira, the land of wayuu bags (that are now on SALE on Pia & the Makers). Wayuu bags have become over the last three years in the tribal IT bag, we have seen them in fashion blogs and magazines, worn on celebrities and in the shelves of designer department stores. Yet we know very little about the Wayuu people, who take up to 40 hours of intensive work to make them, or La Guajira -Colombia-, the magical region where they come from.
Traveling to Colombia today is as safe as going anywhere else in Latin America. Everything will run smoothly as long as you do not ask for trouble, “no des papaya” meaning this is not the place to wear your brand new Celine bag, or a 6K euro watch. Having said that, La Guajira is one of those places where you have to be a bit extra careful. La Guajira lies between Venezuela and Colombia and smuggling used to be widespread – and with it, violent crime. Less than a decade ago, parts of the peninsula were too dangerous to visit. But Alvaro Uribe’s, demobilisation campaign encouraged local people to find alternative sources of income, including tourism and the recovering of traditional artisanal practices such as weaving wayuu hammocks (chinchorros) and bags (mochilas or susus).
With that in mind I decided it would be a great opportunity to visit Riohacha, –capital of la Guajira- look for real wayuu bags and meet the makers. Somehow we were convinced not to stop in Riohacha and visit the true Guajira by going further north to Cabo de la Vela (Candle Cape) and Punta Gallinas. Punta Gallinas is the northernmost corner of Latin America. They made it sound so beautiful and unspoiled, that we decided to go for it. Plus I could visit the “Rancherias” where wayuu women make the mochila bags.
So, first we got to Riohacha, met a Wayuu artisan in charge of a group of weavers (all women, most from the same family) and got hold of our beautiful mochilas, or wayuu bags. She explained the whole weaving process, the geometric patterns that are inspired in the wayuu culture, how labor intensive they were (up to two weeks of work for each bag) and how cheap Chinese replicas were hurting their business. By weaving bags and hammocks she had achieved a certain economic stability and set an example of hard work and success for her sons and grandsons.
We left that same day for Cabo de la Vela and took a road that soon came to an abrupt end and we pushed on a dirt track with no directions trying to follow occasional drivers. For hours. We arrived just in time to see the magical sun set. The cape has a beautiful beach full of intrepid windsurfers and is La Guajira's tourism hot spot. Almost every Wayúu family here runs a hostel, yet it doesn't feel too touristy. We had wonderful grilled fish and went hiking along the beautiful coast line.
|The coast line|
|While wayuu women are mostly artisans, men are fishermen, and raise cattle and sheep|
|Rancherias, where wayuu bags are made. From the wild west to Le Bon Marché|
The next morning we got up at 4AM to follow the truck that would lead the way to Punta Gallinas. It turned out that he drove like a mad man and our 4x4 was not as prepared as his to drive through the desert, so we managed to loose him within an hour. Fortunately we had his nephew with us to show us the way in case we got lost. But it was February, just after rainy season and all the paths were erased by the water so we got lost a couple of times too many along the way. I cursed myself for being convinced to go every minute of the journey, no wonder most tours go no further than Cabo de la Vela. We were literally battered for hours by the 4x4 we were in, as we drove along the non existent road to Punta Gallinas. Nothing could possibly be worth such a long and arduous journey. I was wrong. After seven hours we finally arrived at the top end of South America, and the middle of nowhere: a beautiful, ghostly quiet and unreal wilderness.
White dune beaches, turquoise water and nothing else at sight, maybe a few bushes and cacti. That is the land of the wayuu bags.
I will not tell you about the night we had sleeping in hammocks (smelly, cold, itchy and terribly uncomfortable –apparently there is a technique for this I did not know of) nor about the shower on the next day (inexistent). I will only say that those were by far the most beautiful beaches, and landscapes I have ever seen. That the Guajiros, or wayuu indigineous community, are outstanding resilient people. And that I tasted there, in a plastic plate, the best lobster I have ever had.
|Breath taking views|
|A better view of the hotel|
|A lobster for 10USD, rice and patacón side dishes|