“Few people realize how much they owe to the ancient Peruvians. Very few appreciate that they gave us the white potato, many varieties of Indian corn, and such useful drugs as quinine and cocaine. Their civilization, which took thousands of years to develop, was marked by inventive genius, artistic ability, and a knowledge of agriculture which has never been surpassed.”
— Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas
Our first full day in Peru was filled with bright color, beauty and poverty. We arrived at the airport and hit the ground running with our guide who had a full day of Peruvian fun planned for us.
But it was a long journey getting there. The all day trip to South America was all about trains, planes and automobiles. It began with a two-hour drive to San Francisco where we boarded the plane for a five-hour flight to El Salvador. From there we flew into Lima, which took another four hours. Then we spent the night and got up at 4am to catch a one-hour flight to Cusco.
We are spending a few days in Cusco at the tail end of our trip. Therefore, our guide met us at the airport and we drove to a lower elevation of 8,000 feet. Our destination was the Sacred Valley, a set of towns tucked deep in the crevasse of towering mountains.
On the way to our hotel in Sacred Valley, we stopped at a special place called Awana Kantha, which is a co-op of locals whose mission it is to make sure the Andean custom of processing and weaving is carried down and appreciated generations to come.
In his book Lost City of The Incas, Hiram Bingham who brought Machu Picchu to the world says, “ancient Andean weaving, as developed by the Incas, was one of the greatest textile arts the world has ever seen. They have the soft wool of the alpaca but they also used fine and rare wool of the Vicuña, the smallest American camel.”
We met with many alpaca that were ready to rip alfalfa right out of our hands. If their friends tried to take their alfalfa, they would spit chewed alfalfa at each other accompanied by a disgusting noise. It is quite entertaining for the tourists.
From there we were able to see the process of making the wool from the Alpaca, Llama and Vicuña on property into yarn and then watching how they dye it from natural products found on the earth, rather than with chemicals and artificial colors. The wool products produced at Awana Kantha were the softest material dyed in subtle Peruvian colors, not the bright colors we associate Peru with. The cloth products for sale were expensive, probably because they were not made in China. One hand made scarf or blanket can take a Peruvian weaver a week of work to make. There are not machines of any sort used in the process.
One thing that struck me the first day in Peru was how down-to-earth and humble Peruvians are. They don’t have much. Let’s be real – they are very poor. Yet they are growing all their own food, weaving their own clothes, making their own toys and living off the land in every way. The carbon footprint of the Peruvian people must be extremely low. Peruvians grow their own food on farms or in their backyard. They raise their own meat. I think it will surprise you what the most common meat eaten in Peru (which I will discuss later). They may have an alpaca and use the wool to weave their own cloth. I can just imagine all the chemicals and processed food that they ARE NOT putting into their bodies and feeding their children. Or the plastic toys made in China that their kids don’t play with.
In fact, many of the kids play out in the streets and tag along with their parents as they sell their goods to tourists. Babies were roaming fields and properties alone while their parents worked. I can’t say I felt completely comfortable with unaccompanied children. I often wanted to scoop them up and take care of them, yet they seemed perfectly content. It was such a contrast to our parenting in the States where we must know where are children are and what they are doing at all times. I just imagined bringing my kids to hang out and do nothing for an entire day while I weaved wool, and it made me laugh out loud.
We went to one of the coolest markets I have ever been to, maybe even as good as the outdoor market in Florence, Italy. As are most things in Peru, the Pisac market in Sacred Valley was located up a winding dirt road surrounded by shacks. Our car dodged dogs and people on the way up to the market place. At this market, you can buy the most beautiful handmade products from local artisans, including wooden hand painted bowls, woven ponchos and sweaters, jewelry and everything else you can imagine.
We were driving back to our hotel by around 4pm. The van bounced and vibrated me like I was a baby in one of those vibrating seats, so naturally I fell asleep.
The next two nights we stayed at the Aranwa Hotel, which was nothing short of spectacular. To get there, you must drive down this long dirt road that seems to be leading nowhere. I was hoping Chris and I wouldn’t be on a future episode of Dateline. I can hear Keith Morrison now. . . ‘they were an American couple living out a lifelong dream to visit Incan ruins. How could it have all gone so wrong?’ Our guide assured us that the road did indeed lead to our hotel.
We got into our room, Chris planted himself in the hammock on our patio overlooking the Urubamba River, and we pinched ourselves. We are in Peru.
Until next time, the mothership is signing off.