Since we had booked an extra few days in Cusco to acclimate we had time to do a lot of exploring before the trek. For our second day in Cusco we did a full day tour of the Sacred Valley. Evelyn, our guide from Peruvian Local Friend, picked us up early Saturday morning for our hour long drive to our first stop: Chinchero! We went to the Chinchero Center for Traditional Culture, where a local Quechuan woman showed us the traditional process weavers use to make textiles from alpaca, llama and sheep wool. When we arrived we were greeted by a few guinea pigs and some adorably awkward llamas and alpacas; a nice woman welcomed us with mint tea to drink during the demonstration. The woman who led the demonstration (unfortunately I didn’t catch her name) showed us how the wool is cut with a piece of glass, then washed with natural detergent made from grating a tuber similar to yucca. Once the wool dries, it is spun into yarn using different techniques depending on what the yarn will ultimately be used for. The yarn is then dyed with natural dyes – dried flowers, crystals, coca and eucalyptus leaves, moss, purple corn, and of course the cochineal beetle. Lime juice and salt are used to change the shades of the dyes; she showed us this by using lime juice to change the deep red color of the cochineal beetle into bright orange!
To dye the yarn, the organic matter used for dye is tossed into a pot of hot water and then the yarn is placed in to soak. Some of the colors are powerful enough to dye the yarn immediately (like the pink crystals, which is the one she demonstrated to us — the yarn on the left) others (like coca leaves — used for the yarn on the right) need to be soaked for awhile before the yarn is the desired color.
Once the yarn has been dyed (and dried again) it is ready to weave! One of the women was making a table runner with sheep wool, which not only showed off her incredible talent but also was used to tell us about the Quechuan symbols and colors. Girls begin learning how to weave around age 7 and are taught to memorize the patterns; memorization through generations is the only way the patterns are learned and kept alive they aren’t written down anywhere! The colors all have meaning as well, the only two I can remember now are yellow (Father Sun) and black (Pachamama, or Earth Mother). These women are incredibly talented, and I felt lucky that they would share this very important and beautiful Quechuan tradition with us!
Our next stop was Ollantaytambo — one of the last Incan cities. We learned a lot about the Incan people here, how they used terraces for agriculture and created aqueducts to bring water from the glaciers to their cities. Ollantaytambo is considered one of the last Incan cities because it was one of the last cities inhabited when the Spanish invaded — in fact it was still being built when the Spanish got there, you can tell by the “handles” left on the stones which were used to move the rocks into place and then were chiseled off. The huge rocks were shaped in quarries and then transported by human power for miles and set into place. Storage rooms were built high up on the mountains to store crops like dehydrated potatoes and corn. There were special temples built for the sun and water, and cut outs in the walls where idols were placed.
After Ollantaytambo, we stopped at the market in Pisac to have some empanadas and then drove a short way to a llama/alpaca farm! We got to see several different species of llamas and alpacas; we fed them and learned about their importance to the Andean people. Then it was back to Cusco for our pre-trek briefing with our Kandoo guide. We met the rest of our group, and our awesome guide Alex who told us what to expect on our trip, made sure we knew what to pack and got us excited about the trek! After that, Tish and I went back to the hotel room to relax and Tonya headed out to get some pisco and check out Cusco’s night life.