The BTSA Team

 Travel with the Experts!

Cynthia with Gulnora, Uzbek embroiderer at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market.

Cynthia LeCount Samaké

Cynthia began “Behind the Scenes Adventures” to share with others the traditional textiles 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 clothing and textiles, and also festival costume 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, and those studies resulted in her book Andean Folk Knitting: Traditions and Techniques from Peru and Bolivia, now out-of-print.

Cynthia was Academic Director of the University of California Research Expeditions Program (UREP), also leading art and textile 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 and at Bowers Museum (Bolivian Carnival) in Santa Ana. She was 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 sometimes writes about textiles and travel for such publications as Piecework and Fiber Arts Now.

Sonam and Tej – The Bhutan Team

Cooking class in Bhutan hotel in Bumthang Valley.

In the Bumthang hotel kitchen, after a cooking class, making buckwheat noodles, garlic potatoes and the typical chile-cheese dish for a traditional and delicious dinner. Sonam is at center and Tej, expert driver, is at far right. March 2020.

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.

The Kingdom of Bhutan has had only ONE death during the whole pandemic so far, because the King firmly closed the borders on March 12, 2020. And Bhutan has had impressive success with their COVID vaccination program; the great majority of the people have had at least one shot. Vaccination teams even went by helicopter or slogged through snow to protect the people in the highest, most remote villages.


Barou Samaké

Barou Samake in Mali portrait.Barou is the BTSA Africa expert. He was born in Segou, Mali, and leads trips to West Africa. There his extensive knowledge of the culture, languages, and his many friends and acquaintances make travel with him truly ‘behind-the-scenes’ adventures. His tours to Ghana receive rave reviews. See the trip listings for the dates of his latest Ghana adventure, and the Ghana Photo Gallery here.

Barou has lived in California for the past 21 years, with frequent visits to Mali to see his family. Because he speaks fluent French, English and Bambara (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 some time in the future. See the Mali Photo Gallery if you are interested in the country.

Gerardo Guzmán

Gerardo sitting in a chair knitting on gold yarn to make a muffler.Gerardo is BTSA 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 help you 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. And 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, right.

Gerardo will be accompanying Cynthia on the Argentina & Uruguay 2023 knitting and cuisine tour. Buenos Aires is one of his favorite places!


Ali and Abdel – 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 BTSA 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.

Abdel, 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 I know they will find for us.

Claudia Avila

Claudia and knitters in Andean village near Cuzco, Peru.

Claudia is a BTSA 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 BTSA trips to the Andes, she discovered the typical cuisines of Peru and Bolivia; see her photos here:   With her cheerful, easy-going personality, culinary knowledge, and great bargaining skills, Claudia will make your trip delightfully fun and interesting.

Pat Stark, Logistics Expert

Indigo dyeing in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Pat dyes with natural Indigo; Laos.

Pat is Behind the Scenes’ passionate travel researcher – and a true hodophile!  She loves to scout out new and intriguing sights, sounds, and flavors to enrich our travel destinations around the world. Her great finds have led to an idyllic waterfall hike in Laos, a vibrant circus of young acrobats in Cambodia, and a social enterprise gourmet restaurant run by disadvantaged youth in Thailand.

She’s meticulous in her searches for accurate routes, driving times and cost information, like ferreting out the price of gas for a Toyota Hi-Ace model van in northern Thailand! Pat’s organizational skills are impeccable when she’s putting together an exciting itinerary for our latest adventure.

In addition to traveling with Behind the Scenes Adventures to Mali, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Peru, and Bolivia, Pat has traveled over Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. When she is not traveling, she’s growing her own vegetables or stair-hiking in the hills of Los Angeles.


Nilda Callañaupa

Nilda holds steaming dye pot Cuzco Peru

Nilda dyes alpaca fiber with the weavers of Paucartambo, Peru.

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.


In vientianeDaniel Joyce

Daniel is Behind the Scenes’ Graphic Design Artist. After an extended stay in Thailand (where he met his beautiful Thai wife, Lek) Daniel arrived in Laos and realized he was hooked on traveling. He immediately faxed in his resignation to terminate his “day job” as Senior Mechanical Designer, and proceeded to cover South America and the Arctic Circle.

Back at his design job now, Daniel provides graphic design support to BTSA, creating the print publicity for textile and festival tours, and accompanies as many trips as possible.

Chloë Sayer

Chloe Sayer with weaver and rug.

Chloe with Master Weaver Isaac Vasquez.

Chloë is a specialist in Mexican popular culture. She has traveled widely in Mexico researching textile traditions, crafts, festivals and dances. Her many books include “Costumes of Mexico,” “The Arts and Crafts of Mexico”  and “Textiles of Mexico” (British Museum Press, 2002). She also  co-wrote “Mask Arts of Mexico” with Ruth Lechuga (Chronicle Books).

Chloë co-curated the exhibition “The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead” in Mexico at the Museum of Mankind in London, and wrote the accompanying book. She lives in London and lectures regularly in museums and art schools. She has collected ethnographic material for the British Museum and has also researched and produced a number of television documentaries for the BBC.

Chloë is English, enthusiastic and delightful. You will savor memories of a Behind-the-Scenes trip to Mexico with Chloë!