Only the Best Local Guides
and Renowned Textile Experts
English-speaking local guides and expert trip leaders join travelers to the most exciting destinations in the world. All are experts in their fields of ethnic art, indigenous textiles, cuisine, and culture. We plan travel to favorite places and we search out unusual destinations for new experiences to share with you.
Cynthia LeCount Samaké
Cynthia began “Behind the Scenes Adventures” to share with others the traditional costume and festivals of far-flung countries. Since 1998 she has led small groups of textile fanatics and friends all over the world. She has lost count of how many times she has been to the Andean countries of Peru and Bolivia – at least forty times! Her new book, Textile Traveler’s Guide to Peru and Bolivia was published by Thrums Press in 2019.
She’s a specialist in indigenous textiles and festival costumes of Bolivia. She earned a Master’s in Art History from the University of California. Her thesis covered the evolution of Carnival costume and masks in Bolivia (somebody’s gotta do it!). For many years, Cynthia taught “World Textiles” in the Environmental Design Department at UC Davis. She did field research in Peru and Bolivia over a dozen years which resulted in her book Andean Folk Knitting: Traditions and Techniques from Peru and Bolivia, now O/P but available used or in some libraries.
Cynthia was Academic Director of the University of California Research Expeditions Program (UREP). And she led art history research trips to South America and Southeast Asia through UREP for many years. She has curated museum exhibitions of traditional textiles and festival costume at the UC Davis Design Museum (‘The Ghost and the Beauty Queen: Two Thai Festivals’), the Museum of Craft and Folk Art (MOCFA) in San Francisco (‘Knitting of the Andes’), and at Bowers Museum (‘Con Mucha Alegría’ – Bolivian Carnival) in Santa Ana. She was also curator for ‘Rhythm and Hues: Cloth and Culture of Mali’ at MOCFA.
You can read an interview with Cynthia here about her travel company. She speaks fluent French and Spanish. Besides leading trips, she writes about textiles and travel for magazine publications such as Piecework and Fiber Arts Now.
Sonam and Tej – The Bhutan Team
Sonam and Tej, the BTSA guide and driver team help to make every trip to the ‘Land of Happiness’ a superlative experience.
Sonam constantly takes on duties that go way beyond his normal job description, that of relating the complex history and culture of Bhutan and Buddhism. His positive energy, sense of humor, and upbeat personality make him a joy to travel with. Sonam earned his Senior Guide qualification in 2008 and has been making Bhutan travelers happy ever since.
Tej is our patient, careful and cheerful driver who not only knows all the backroads but graciously expands his job description to include climbing to Tiger’s Nest to help us with the ascent, setting up a picnic site, dividing two weavings evenly, translating, pouring tea, serving momos and more!
Both Tej and Sonam speak a Bhutanese language called Dzongkha, and thus can translate to English even the complicated explanations of natural dye sources or special techniques when we meet weavers in remote villages. Bhutan is a small country and they know everyone! They can cajole anyone from monks to weavers, and festival dancers to cooks, into sharing their lives and experiences with us.
Barou is the BTSA Africa expert. He was born in Segou, Mali, and previously led trips to West Africa. There his extensive knowledge of the culture, languages, and his many friends and acquaintances made travel with him truly ‘behind-the-scenes’ adventures. He occasionally leads tours to Ghana when there is enough interest. See the Ghana Photo Gallery here.
Because he speaks fluent French, English, and Bambara (the native language of Mali), he can talk to everybody and negotiate all situations. Barou makes instant friends everywhere he goes!
Unfortunately, it is now unsafe for tourists to travel to Mali, which is a fascinating country, but the Islamist groups have made it impossible. Many people who traveled with him in Mali have remarked how happy they are that they went before the problems started. Hopefully, Barou will be able to lead tours there sometime in the future. See the Mali Photo Gallery if you are interested in this fascinating country.
Gerardo is Behind the Scenes Adventures Latin American expert and Tour Assistant. “Retiring” from a long stint in the food industry, he decided he wanted to do something creative. A couple of years of art school were an inspiration, but ultimately he decided barbering was his thing! Now when he’s not traveling with BTSA, he buzzes interesting patterns, and ‘fades’ into his customers’ hair.
A native Californian, Gerardo also speaks Spanish, thanks to his Mexican heritage. So in Peru or Bolivia or Argentina, he’ll translate and help you order your steak the right way or decide how much you should pay for a weaving. Gerardo is also an excellent photographer with such a friendly, unassuming way about him that his willing subjects are always pleased to be photographed.
He’s getting into textiles too! He learned to dye yarn at the Malabrigo factory in Uruguay. In Buenos Aires, he found himself with a group of avid knitters and decided he should learn to knit. The result was a very cool blue-and-gold striped ‘man-muffler’ that impressed the other knitters.
Gerardo will be accompanying Cynthia on future trips to Spanish-speaking destinations such as Argentina & Uruguay for the knitting and cuisine tour. Buenos Aires is one of his favorite places!
The Morocco Team
Ali is the Behind the Scenes Morocco guide par excellence! Ali will not only relate the history of Morocco, but amuse you with his take on all aspects of his culture, from the King to marriage customs, culinary traditions, etiquette, and more. On every trip, Ali discovers more textile techniques and artisans’ workshops and encourages the working masters to give demos for the Behind the Scenes Adventures groups.
Ali speaks French, Arabic and English, due to his decades of guide experience. He knows where to find the best djellabas and carpets, the sweetest dates and the crispest b’stilla. He is rather a ‘foodie’ also, so he gladly accommodates our secondary focus on the typical cuisine. Ali and Abdel often find local, non-touristic restaurants for us, with the most delicious food.
The best driver! As he skillfully navigates the Sprinter in Casablanca traffic, calmly dodges rude drivers, and agrees to umpteen bathroom stops, Abdel never stops smiling. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him. He happily joins the group to help out whenever he can. He has even ridden camels in the desert with us, definitely not in his job description!
Both Ali and Abdul live in Fes with their families. They are great friends and complement each other’s skills with grace and humor. Both men make the ‘Textiles & Tajines’ trip a delight for all. I look forward to traveling with these two friends, and can’t wait for the new experiences they will find for us.
The Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan Team
After University graduation in 1998, Ulan became a professional guide in his country of Kyrgyzstan. He loves his job and is a font of knowledge about the country, its culture, and cuisine. What better person to promote interest, appreciation, and tourism in this little-known region! Ulan is patient, ever-cheerful, and easy-going, and he seems to know everyone. We arrived at a remote village homestay, and the hostess turned out to be one of his schoolmates that he had not seen for dozens of years. He also speaks many useful languages like Russian, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz of course, in addition to great English.
Mirza taught English at the Tashkent Law College before becoming a professional guide in 2006. His easy-going and calm personality is a large part of why trips with him are so delightful! He explains just the right amount of the complicated history of his country and its architecture. It would be easy to get overwhelmed by all the conquerors and wars, but Mirza seems to know just how much info to impart. He’s also friends with many of the textile and ceramic artisans and understands their working techniques, which makes those encounters more interesting. He speaks fluent Russian and English in addition to his native Uzbek, so he can solve anything, and communicate with everyone along the way.
Munira Akilova of Khujand, Tajikistan, is a modern-day Silk Road “Renaissance woman.” After a first career as an economist and university teacher, she left academia behind to turn her beloved embroidery hobby into a business. Today, she runs her own handicraft and design business called Munir, and is manager and designer for Armughon Handicrafts, one of the top artisan brands in Tajikistan.
The winner of numerous national and international awards for her embroidery work, Munira is also an international consultant for artisan-based businesses. She has led numerous competitive grant-funded artisan projects in Tajikistan, and is highly sought after as a master teacher in the traditional Tajik textile arts.
Claudia is a Behind the Scenes Adventures Latin American tour assistant. She’s a native Californian and speaks fluent Spanish thanks to her Mexican heritage. She has traveled widely in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Cuba, and has also lived in Spain. She’s always available during trips to help you understand the culture, translate a menu or to find exactly what you need in a local market!
Branching out from her degree in Food Sciences from UC Berkeley, Claudia has become an expert in traditional indigenous cooking and international fusion cuisine. She loves to seek out and try the exotic ingredients found in markets and restaurants all over the world. During Behind the Scenes Adventures trips to the Andes, she discovered the typical cuisines of Peru and Bolivia.
With her cheerful, easy-going personality, culinary knowledge, and great bargaining skills, Claudia will make your trip delightfully fun and interesting.
In Peru, renowned weaver Nilda Callañaupa will accompany us “behind the scenes” to explore the amazing weaving and knitting of several rural communities. In the Cuzco area, Nilda oversees our natural dye workshops. She’s wonderfully knowledgeable about Andean culture and the many textile techniques. And she has lectured at many North American museums, including the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum and The Textile Museum in Washington, DC.
She is the dynamic founder and Director of “The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco.” This organization has the goals are preserve and revive Peruvian textiles through documentation of techniques. More importantly, the CTTC supports the contemporary weavers. On our village visits, many textile artists affiliated with the Center will demonstrate their skills and methods for us.
Nilda has written several books about the textiles of the Andes; see her latest, the wonderful Textile Secrets book.
If you love going “behind the scenes” to meet people and experience exotic destinations, then join us for your next adventure!
Taste savory local cuisine, see flamboyant festivals and gorgeous natural scenery, and visit remote villages where people make exquisite textiles.