Each Tuesday the Indigenous tribes surrounding the village of Silvia gather to trade and do business. Silvia is a scenic 2 hour bus from Popayan with mountainous views from the twisty turny highway. This market isn’t the type of market that is built up for tourists with plenty of artesenal delights. Vendors here sell fresh produce and meat, warm clothes, shoes, school supplies, tools for the farm and plenty of other practical necessities. There are a couple of smaller tables selling hand-woven bags, ponchos and sweaters but again these are necessities for the local people.
We walked in and bought a bag of fresh strawberries to munch on while teeter tawtering along the aisles and streets that surround the market. What is most unique to this market is specifically the way the indigenous people dress. The women wear straight shin-length black skirts, a bright blue square blanket with pink stitching draped over their shoulders and top it off with a bowler hat (plus many wear bold and colourful beaded necklaces). Most of the women also have a blunt bob hairstyle compared to the more common Colombian super-long-hair-down-to-your-butt style. The men wear the same blue blanket with pink stitching but wrap it around their waist (similar to a sarong); they cover their shoulders with a poncho and also adorn a bowler hat. The style is extremely unique to this region.
This market can easily be seen in an hour or so as there isn’t much for a tourist to purchase besides some food and handbags (though there are a few people in the square selling handmade beaded jewelery). We found a little cafe on the square to sit and enjoy a hot beverage and do some people watching before catching a bus back to Popayan.
Once we left Silvia, we were both facing a bit of an internal conflict. We had gone to this town to check out the market, however, the people ended up being our real focal point. Each town/city/place has it’s own appeal, but the idea of tourists coming to this town just to gawk at the locals trying to do business was unsettling; even more unsettling is that we are guilty. “Human Safaris” has been a popular topic in recent years. As the international tourism industry grows and travellers continue to search out brand new experiences, we are coming close to crossing a very thin ethical line. We’ve avoided similar situations in the past (e.g. alms in Luang Prabang) because it made us feel awkward to invite ourselves to a spiritual ritual. With regards to the Silvia market, these people simply came to do business and while we spent some money and hopefully contributed to the local community a bit, overall it felt as if we were intruding. If you’re interested in the topic, we urge you to read this article.
Now, we’re interested in what you think about going to a market solely to see how the local people dress and interact. How would you feel if the roles were reversed?