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We travelled to the Guajira territory to highlight the importance of supporting the weaving industry and to learn more about the lives of the Wayuu people. Uribia is located over an hour from Riohacha, there is no bus service available within these two locations.
The road to Uribia is in the middle of a desert. A few kilometers before Uribia, travelers can find connecting transportation to get to northern Guajira in one intersection. This stop give travelers an opportunity to stock up on supplies, food and drinks. Northern Guajira is the tourist area Twelve years ago I had done a trip a trip to this area. The beauty of these places fascinated me. They seemed authentic, untouched On arrival in Uribia, the poor living conditions in the town initially raised concerns for our safety and the safekeeping of our personal belongings.
Our concerns, based on a faulty correlation between poverty and crime, turned out to be unfounded. The infrastructure of Uribia is rustic and in bad condition. The roads are unpaved and there is garbage everywhere. Being one of the largest cities of the region Uribia does have water and electricity, but that is not the case for many communities living in the Alta Guajira. Further, the combination of the heat, proximity to a huge coal open pit mine the Cerrejon and the many street gasoline vendors makes the air very toxic.
Other common sources of income for inhabitants of the Guajira, are smuggling, drugs and prostitution including child prostitution. The town is very dirty, there is a clear need for greater education and better waste management infrastructure. It seemed common practise and acceptable to throw garbage in the streets. In speaking with the hotel manager, we learned that there are no recycling programs and the pickup of garbage is inconsistent and unreliable. The most well maintained place in Uribia is its town square where Wayuu artisans gather to make and sell their Mochilas.
On the day we visited there were approximately 40 artisans. Our goal was to purchase from as many artisans as possible, to distribute the profits. In the end we purchased Mochilas from 12 different artisans. As we chatted we learned more about the significance of the designs on these beautiful bags. Most artisans learned to weave as children, learning at their mothers side.