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A Fiber Filled Journey Through Peru
Backpacking with a twist

Introduction: During the summer of 2008, I decided to take a trip.  I chose Peru because I've never been to South America before and I knew that a lot of the yarns that I loved came from that region.  And I wanted to see Machu Picchu of course!  Peru has a lot of offer in terms of diverse landscapes: from ocean to mountains, deserts to rainforests, and everything in between!  I heard that it was fairly easy to get around and I was worried if I waited longer, the country would become too "touristy".

So, I got my yellow fever vaccination and picked up my malaria pills.  Then I purchased a plane ticket, stuffed my Lonely Planet guidebook into my backpack, and I was on my way!

Note: Almost all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them!

I flew into Lima and spent a few days there planning my trip, but I didn't encounter a lot of fiber arts being produced there.  Just a lot of people selling machine-made hats, scarves, and sweaters.

Nasca / Yarn Store: This was my first stop out of Lima.  After flying over the Nasca Lines in the morning, I walked around the city & was pleasantly surprised by this little yarn booth amidst the convenience & clothing stores.  The owner doesn't speak a word of English & my Spanish is atrocious.  But I showed her the socks I was working on & we were instant buddies! :)

She gave me a receipt.  Her store is called El Paraiso de las Lanas, located at Calle Lima No 629 - Int. 1 (CC.Gamarrita) - Nasca.  I can't understand anything else on the receipt.


Nasca / Yarn Store: I bought a dip-dyed hanging skein.  I have no idea what type of yarn this is, but I suspect it's a wool blend because of the way its dyed and the "sticky" factor when I wound it into a ball.  I tried felting a sample, which felted partway.  I asked, "Alpaca?" and she said "No".  Then, she brought out a bag of natural colored commercially processed alpaca yarn.  She told me the price of the dyed skein: three-five.  So, I thought it was 35 nuevo soles, about $12 at the current exchange rate.  That's actually a decent price for hand dyed sock weight yarn.  Turns out, it was only 3.5 soles or about $1.25.  Wow, that is unbelievably cheap!!  I couldn't buy any more because I was backpacking...maybe that's a good thing or I would have bought out the store! :)

Arequipa / Colca Canyon: These little beasties are the rare vicuna, a smaller relative of the alpaca and llamas.  This picture was taken at a national reserve, on the way to the Canyon del Colca.  Vicunas live in high altitudes and are not domesticated.  They are rounded up and shorn every few years.
Arequipa / Colca Canyon: This lady was peddling her wares, ubiquitous chullo hats, scarves, sweaters made of varying amounts of alpaca.  She is a native Andean lady and she wears a black hat to identify the group she belongs to.  She's spinning some alpaca with a bottom-whorl drop spindle.
Chivay / Colca Canyon: This little girl was hanging out with her family and her adorable baby llama, right outside of the town of Chivay.  Her mom was selling the usual stuff.  I almost bought a scarf from her.  It was made of handspun llama yarn, then knit in a very simple lace pattern.  I didn't like any of the colors though and it was a little expensive.  Non-knitters wouldn't appreciate the amount of work that went into making something like that, and I was only buying stuff for gifts.
Chivay / Colca Canyon: Yes, this guy is wearing a knitted mask.  He was participating in a native dance routine at a restaurant we went to, in the town of Chivay.  Kinda freaky, huh?  Check out the knitted moustache and eyebrows!  There were some shops in other Andean towns that were also selling these knitted masks.

His hat is also like the ones I saw later on Taquile Island, on Lake Titicaca.

Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  We took a city tour of Arequipa on a double-decker bus.  One of the stops was an alpaca store in the city.  They had a small corral with some friendly real life alpacas!  Don't get near unhappy alpacas because they DO spit, like their llama cousins.  These alpacas were very dusty, which is normal, because they like to roll around on the ground.
Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  Must be seen to be believed.  It's an ENTIRE TABLE covered in vicuna fiber.  *drool*  It's enough to make a law-abiding citizen like myself think about snatching a handful.  I didn't, though.  Heard Peruvian prison is no fun. ;)

Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  Brilliantly colored yarn from natural dyes.
From left to right: cochineal (red), indigo (blue), chapi (orange), kinsa kucho (light teal), ttire (bright yellow), mote mote (brown), 
sacha sunka (mustard yellow), ahuaypili (dark brownish maroon) 

Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  More natural dyes.  I'm amazed at the richness of the colors.
From left to right: Ttire (bright yellow), cochineal (red), kinsa kucho (light teal), ahuaypili (looks more purplish in this one), yanali (mustard yellow)

Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  Giant piles of naturally colored alpaca fiber.  C'mon, I know you want to jump in and roll around!  Mmmmm...alpaca.

In case you're wondering, this store only sells finished alpaca products and a few vicuna products like sweaters.  Unfortunately, no vicuna/alpaca fiber or naturally dyed yarn.  They did have a small display of commercially processed alpaca yarn in small rolls, much like the stuff you'd find at any local yarn store.  This store's name is Mundo Alpaca, located in downtown Arequipa.  There is no charge for going in & visiting. 

Arequipa / Alpaca Store:  A large floor loom and some hanging looms.  
I'm not a weaver, but I'm impressed they can make such beautiful weavings with such primitive equipment.

Puno: This high-altitude city near Lake Titicaca is full of knitters, but they use mostly acrylics.  Not a great place for yarn snobs.  I stayed at the Inka's Rest hostel and the owner knit these mini chullo hat souvenirs as advertisements.  It looks like acrylic, knit in the round, but not jogless.  Other non-knitting tourists got them too and were perplexed.

I was absolutely delighted!  I think you can use them as keychains.  There's a small yarn shack on Cahuide Street, near Ugarte Street, filled with garishly colored neon acrylics.  I didn't get anything there.  There's plenty of garish acrylic I can get at Wal*Mart back home! :)

Lake Titicaca / Amantani Island: This picture shows some friendly natives, wearing heavily embroidered clothing, and knitting of course!  As soon as our boat landed, there were a bunch of women on the docks, hanging out and knitting hats with their metal double-pointed needles.

These two ladies were relaxing near a school and small shop, on the path up the hill.  I think they're also knitting hats.  The colorwork is quite impressive!  They loop the different colors behind their necks to keep them separated.  Pretty much every little kid wears one of those hats with the characteristic ear flaps.

We got a chance to wear some local garb.  The dresses are very thick and heavy.  The wraps are also very thick.  Perfect for keeping you warm in the high altitudes!  The elaborate waistbands are especially for each lady and can be personalized with her family name where it ties in the back.

Lake Titicaca / Amantani Island:
A shepherdess leads her herd right through town.  
These people live with their fiber source!

Lake Titicaca / Amantani Island: Yarn seller right by the docks, in the open air market.
And a close-up of some delicious skeins to the right.  
I didn't get a chance to investigate or purchase anything, as I had to run to catch my boat! :(

Lake Titicaca / Taquile Island: Your eyes are not deceiving you.  On the tiny Taquile Island, both women and MEN KNIT!  Click on the pic to see a larger view.  And the stuff they knit is amazingly fine & detailed.  They usually knit hats with elaborate patterns.  Like Amantani Island, they use metal DPNs and loop the different colors around their necks.

This guy stashed his loose change in his hat.  Some guys store their coca leaves in there!

Lake Titicaca / Taquile Island: The hats tell you whether a guy is married or single.  
Single guys wear the two-toned hat with red on the bottom and white on the top.  Married guys wear the red and blue striped one.
The other pic is a whole wall full of hats inside the handicraft store.

Lake Titicaca / Taquile Island: This is a hat that I bought from the handicraft store.  It cost 40 soles, or roughly $14.  I found out later that these rainbow hats were worn by married guys with a leadership role in the community.  It's supposedly hand-knit, but it looks amazingly "perfect".  I found similar hats in other places, but they have fewer colors and the knitting isn't as fine.  Those hats are probably mass produced.  Be very careful when you buy anything that is supposedly "hand made".  Sadly, some sellers are not honest.  They'll tell you anything to get you to buy.  I think this hat is made from alpaca yarn, but not handspun.  I counted a total of 20 different colors in this hat alone! Wow!

The pic on the right is a weaving loom inside a Taquile restaurant.  So, they're not just knitters!

Lake Titicaca / Taquile Island: Upstairs from the handicraft store is this shop of "knitting women".
Well, they're actually spinning. :)  "Tejidos" is the Spanish word for knitting.

Outside Puno: These little llamas were at a jewelry store outside of Puno, on the way to Cusco.  Some people were feeding them with bottles of milk.  They are very happy and well fed.  No one got spat at. :)

FYI, the Peruvians (and probably other Spanish speakers) call the llamas "Yah-mahs".  The double "l" is pronounced like a "y" sound.  No one calls them "Lah-mahs".  Alpacas are called "Al-pac-ahs", like the rapper and Incan revolutionary "Tu-pac".  Not "Al-pack-ahs".  You wouldn't call Tupac "Tu-pack". ;)

Ollantaytambo: The Andean town of Ollantaytambo has a tiny cultural museum.  There's a pretty battered loom on display, with some figures dressed in traditional clothing
Ollantaytambo: There is another museum called the BioMuseo at Calle La Convencion.  Ollantaytambo is so tiny that you'll find it by just walking around.  They have fantastic food-related cultural displays, but they do have some handwoven products in their store.  They even have a replica Andean kitchen complete with live guinea pigs!  I got this tiny bottom-whorl drop spindle with some coarse cochineal dyed handspun.  It measures only about 4" tall.

Ollantaytambo: I bought this little coin purse at the Hearts Cafe, which is located in the Plaza de Armas.  The prices are very reasonable and the profits benefit childrens projects in the Sacred Valley.  The yarn looks like it was dyed using natural dyes.  The food and coffee is great too! :)

There is a very small shop on the main street leading to the ruins which sells handwoven goods.
They have small displays explaining natural dyes and the Andean backstrap loom, which is totally portable!
They also had a very small selection of handspun, hand dyed yarn.  It was very coarse, probably meant for use in rugs or bags.
My backpack was out of space, otherwise I'd have bought some.

Machu Picchu: The fabled city is filled with alpacas who are totally used to having a ton of tourists around.  They'll graze right over you!

Alpacas come in all sorts of different coat patterns.  The Incans made small stone carvings of alpacas and llamas and even included these patterns in their designs.

These alpacas go up and down the steps with ease.

Cusco / Centro Artesanal Market: Near the waterfall monument is a HUGE crafts market.  Inside, there are several colorful murals depicting Peruvian handicrafts.  This one shows the shearing of llamas/alpacas, spinning, and weaving.  

Sadly, most of the stuff at the market does look mass produced.  And I couldn't find any yarn for sale there!  They did have several bead/jewelry making stores.  

Cusco / Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: My new friends and I spent a long time at the Center, browsing through their woven goods.  It is located at Avenida El Sol No 603.  There were two weavers inside the store, demonstrating their craft.  I wish I took a picture, but you have to leave them a little tip.  They have great displays about spinning and weaving, but not a lot about knitting.

No pics allowed of their displays, otherwise, I would have taken a ton of them!  I heard they also offer weaving classes.  Careful now...visiting this store makes you want to learn weaving!

Cusco / Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: I caved and ended up purchasing a woven bag for myself. 
 It came with a little card, listing the name of the weaver and her date of birth.  This bag is made of wool and alpaca.
The detail on this bag is amazing.  It has matching cording along the sides and top.  The strap is also woven in matching colors.

Southern Amazon: Near the town of Puerto Maldonado, we visited a local family.  The mom of the family was spinning cotton with a very long spindle.  They also made clothing from peeling and softening bark from certain trees.

I didn't see any products made from the spun cotton, though.  They sold a bunch of trinkets like bracelets made from seeds.

I didn't ask what type of wood her spindle was made from, but it looks like palm.  I got some palm wood hair sticks and it looks just like it.

Conclusion:  Well, I got to see a lot of great fiber arts in Peru without going out of my way.  Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of places selling quality yarn.  Most places sell completed products like hats and bags.  Or neon colored, worsted weight acrylic yarn.  I never found a place selling heaps of premium, buttery-soft alpaca yarn at dirt cheap prices!

Yes, I did see things other than alpacas and weaving looms!  I have about 400 other pictures from my 4 week journey.  Peru is becoming quickly industrialized and sadly, these skills may be lost as people move from the villages to the cities.  I enjoyed my trip immensely and felt welcomed in this country of knitters and weavers!  I hope you'll visit and check out the local artisans yourself. :)


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