Wednesday, December 26, 2012


1. Chinchero
Our third day in Cusco is a free day, and various people want to do various things. The Inca museum and Shopping are high on the list for many, but four of us are tempted by a trip out of town to see an alpaca wool 'factory', an Inca archeological site, and a salt mine, with a lunch of roast guinea pig « done the right way » as a bonus. Sounds like a great day. Surely we'll be able to tour museums in Lima, and our shopping will be taken care of by visiting the producers directly. We figure we'll be back by 5, in plenty of time to stroll around the city and then freshen up before the big dinner planned at the fanciest restaurant in town.
Details on the cathedral with a particular theme.

An Inca ruler facing down the colonial presence.

We set 9 am as the hour to gather and pile into the minibus, which gives me time for a quick-time tour of the central square with its giganic cathedral, and a few of the surrounding blocks, before it's time to go.
The alpace factory is in Chinchero, about half an hour north of Cusco in the beautiful Sacred Valley. The part we saw couldn't be called a factory in any industrialized sense, though literally it is the place where stuff is made. There's a large house and a big yard where demonstrations for the tourists are set up. Two women and a backpack baby show us how the wool, which is combed from the animals, not sheared, is washed and then spun on drop-spindles into yarn.
I don't spin, but I do knit, and I always thought that drop-spindles would be rather inefficient at generating the quantities of yarn in evidence in all the knitted and woven products on display everywhere. Of course some people us industrial methods, our hostess explains, but we spin all the time, we spin with one hand on the pot or the baby, we spin in our sleep. I might find it an exotic task, but to her all she needs is fiber in her hand and it turns to yarn.
They show us the different natural dyes used, including the unexpected RED from the coccineal insects in their white webs on prickly pear leaves. Then there's a woman weaving a wide strap on a backstrap loom, the complicated color pattern all in her head, row upon row.
It's all very interesting, and you certainly could do it that way. Though I can't help but wonder if there might be more convenient spinning and weaving methods used to get the perfectly even yarn and perfectly regular woven and knit goods on display in the shop area. I guess if you spend your whole life at it... Perhaps they really do all the work here by hand, but for me, as long as it's real alpaca fiber it's ok with me.

The hanging hanks of yarn are perfectly homogenous in color for each batch of about 300 grams, but each is a slightly different shade from the next, showing they weren't all dyed together, but one by one in the ceramic pots on the fire. I take one red hank, and the deepest of the greens, then choose a multicolored cardigan in reds and oranges, and a wrap in black & white. 
My companions take their time, buying shawls and blankets and sweaters and hats and etcetera. Each time somebody takes time over a choce, that lets another become entranced, and pretty soon we're spending the morning at it! So much time, that I almost crack for another two hanks of yarn, the orange-red and the deep yellow. Or maybe the grey-green, or the dark blue. I hold firm, reminding myself that this is just the beginning. Who knows what wonders will present themselves this afternoon, and tomorrow, and the next day? And what of the vast stock of yarn waiting for projects at home, living in boxes and baskets and cupboards all over the house? In the end, my indecision saves me as Xana makes her last purchase and we head back to the van.

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