Peru, Oct. 22 2015

Today’s visits included trips to historic sites and to two well known Peruvian ceramicists – both folk artists.
IMG_6518Our first stop was to the Historical Sanctum of the Pampa of Ayacucho.

This memorial was constructed in the late 1970s to commemorate the battle Dec.9, 1824 which won Peru independence from the Spaniards – the last country in South America to do so.
On our way to the locale we made an impromptu stop in a wild grove of prickly pears – to taste the fruit and to capture some cochineal insects! This is where the dye cochineal – a deep red colour – originates.

When you squish the bugs you get a substantial squirt of red liquid from each.
Our first pottery stop was to Sr. Limaco – who explained how he creates his pottery sculptures while making a small pottery piece of a musician.

His work has a contemporary political flavour – this nativity has the child Jesus in chains, the wise men with guns and grenades representing the difficult period in the region’s recent history with the terror brought about by the Shining Path.
Our second visit was to the workshop of Mamerto Sanches – his work is also folk art in character with much of his sculpture having a religious connection – this piece below a rendition of the last supper.

Our last stop was the Cheqo-Wari  archeological site – pre Incan, this site was the locale of the Wari capital city.

This portion of the site was the location of the tombs in which the aristocracy were buried, sometimes at more than one level. The tombs included large, flat rocks obviously quarried from volcanic basalt at some distance from the site and brought there – the mystery is how these large cut rocks were moved since there is no evidence these pre-Incan people understood the wheel (or round logs) for moving large, heavy objects.

Tomorrow we visit embroiderers.

Peru – Buildings

Homes, shops, apartments in Peru are unlike buildings I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world. From what I can tell almost all construction is brick (traditionally adobe, and again more recently adobe) and mortar with a stucco finish sometimes. There are two reasons for the thick walls – they keep the heat out during the day, and then they release that heat during the night. In the cities/towns much of the building is unfinished – that’s because people have to pay taxes on finished construction so it’s not uncommon to see rebar sticking up beyond the first or second story, indicating the job is yet to be completed. 

This is the street where Maximo’s workshop is located – on the left just as the pavement ends. There are cell towers everywhere with good wifi reception (if you have a contract with a mobile provider). The buildings, however, are still under construction.

We saw lots of buildings like those above on our drive from Lima to Paracas – these considerably more finished than most.

The parts of Huaytara we could see looked well kept up – painted, finished with roofs – although a lot of rural construction affords little more than very basic shelter.

Miraflores, an affluent part of Lima, consists mainly of high rise condo and rental units. But many streets also had units (I don’t think many of them were single family houses) and they are much less prosperous looking.

The closest we’ve come to wealthy abodes were the beach houses on the bay in Paracas. Owned mainly by people from Lima (I was told), used as get away locations (a 4+ hour drive from Lima), these looked like affluent homes you’d find in many other places in the world.

Peru – Signs

Secure Zone In Case Of Earthquakes:
The “secure zone” is the open vestibule for the building – I have no idea whether the construction has been reinforced in some way, but it didn’t look all that “secure” to me!

They mean – don’t put the toilet paper in the toilet! Put it in the can beside:

Can’t tell you how hard that is to remember. I’ve fished out soggy, used toilet paper on several occasions. This is everywhere! The sewage system simply can’t handle the paper waste.

Peru, Oct. 21 2015

A full day today – the morning spent visiting Maximo Laura’s Ayacucho studio.
Maximo Laura (click on his name to learn more about this Peruvian textile master’s wonderful work)
A weaver at work – the warp threads (Peruvian cotton) are set up in Lima and brough to Ayacucho – each warp setup will make a number of tapestries. The detail from the painting (seen taped to the loom above the work in progress) is transferred using a marker to the warp threads – the weaver then refers to the painting for colour and texture information.

The underside of a tapestry shows the ends  of each new colour grouping as it gets tied on. The ends are trimmed after the tapestry is completed.

Maximo showing Sab how to develop texture in a tapestry using bundles of warp threads which are wrapped with weft threads. The tapestry advances for the most part one row at a time.

The alpaca weft is blended to create subtle shading throughout the weaving. The spools of fine two-ply yarn are laid out in a colour progression, then 6-10 threads are blended into small “butterfly” bundles – the colours used slowly changing to alter the tones of the bundles.

Maximo’s sister (whose name I didn’t get) is responsible for all the weft thread blending in the Ayacucho studio – she has a fine eye for colour and produces some very subtle shading.

While we were there one of the tapestries was finished:

A closeup showing detail:
A tapestry in progress seen from above.

All but one of the weavers in the Laura studios are men (there is one woman weaver in Lima) – that is because the weaving is traditionally done by men in Peru, the women dye the yarn, blend the weft and do other preparation and finishing work, but men do the weaving. 

A major purpose of the Laura studios is to train rural workers in the complex artistic processes of tapestry weaving. Maximo himself has been a weaver for 40 years. His goal is to develop skilled tapestry weavers for generations to come.

In the afternoon we visited Manta, a not for profit fair trade knitting enterprise to help rural and other low income women become gainfully employed.

There must have been 150 women, many in traditional garb, sitting and speedily knitting (alpaca shawls, scarves, sweaters, and hats)

I saw a new technique I will try when I get home – passing the yarn through the large pin changes the direction in which the yarn reaches the needles – keeps it from becoming tangled – a lot of the women were knitting in this way.

Mantis, a subsidiary of a larger social enterprise, provides day care and after school programs for the children of these women while they are working as knitters. There is also a program for at risk teens (victims of sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, family conflicts) which provides shelter and offers the girls life skills and work skills opportunities for up to two years – the goal is to give these young women a chance for economic independence.

Elaine with a few of the younger after school children.
All in all a wonderful day.

Peru, Oct. 20 2015

A leisurely stroll to the market near the main square where our hotel is located. We started off “early” at 8:00 am – already the streets were full of people.
The main gate to “old” Ayacucho. Built originally during the Spanish occupation it has had only symbolic function – used today for parades at festivals.
We arrived at a different entrance but from the outside you can already sense the bussle inside.

Many stalls side by side, very narrow aisles, goods sort of organized by categories – food court, women’s traditional clothing, notions, shoes, fresh cheese… You get the idea.
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Some lovely hand work to be had for a reasonable price. What I wanted were a couple of colourful woven cloths that I can use to make something – I ended up buying three – one for a sewing friend.

Then back to the town square which serves as the hub for a university campus. One of the entrances housed a shop which showcases alpaca hand embroidery done by women artisans from around the region. We saw lots of beautiful embroidery.
The streets were filled with young people heading to and from classes, hanging out, just doing what students do.

It’s a lovely day, sunny with a few clouds and a bit if breeze. Hot in the direct sun, comfortable in the shade.

This afternoon a visit to a museum commemorating the reign of terror instigated by the Shining Path, telling the story of the mothers of the disappeared and the atrocities of both the guerillas and the government forces.
While inside the museum a thunderstorm produced a torrential downpour flooding the hilly streets and causing havoc for traffic. We did finally make it back to our hotel.
More exploring of Ayacucho tomorrow.

Peru, Oct. 19 2015

Today was our day-long trip across the coastal plane and into the Andes to Ayacucho (altitude 2700 m). I took a gazillion pictures of the changing character of the mountains as we climbed from the coastal desert to altitudes where it rains (we even had a few drops along the way).

We saw saguaro cactus, ecalyptus, grasses of all sorts, flowering prickly pear, and lots of vegetation I’ve never seen before. The changes in geological formation were also striking the farther and higher into the mountains we went. Now I need to spend time learning about the geological history of the Andes.
Llamas – we saw many herd of llamas. We also encountered some alpacas – like llamas just smaller.
The most unexpected sight was the Monday washing displayed on the mountainside being done by hand at a spring outlet near the roadside.
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Our highest altitude – just over 4000 m.IMG_6195
And did I ever feel it – head-achy, slight nausea, quite different from being seasick. The traditional Peruvian remedy for altitude sickness – chewing coca leaves. Our guides had brought plenty along for us and it definitely helped; hard candy made from coca was also useful (I’d bought some in the market the other day). A third remedy – an essential oil of some Andean plant, the name of which I can’t remember, worked as well to clear the headache and nausea.

We arrived in Ayacucho about 3:45 pm, all of us tired from the long drive and glad to be at our hotel. Tomorrow we explore Ayacucho on foot with Maximo Lauro – a tapestry maker of major international reputation.

In any case, that’s it for tonight. The Canadian federal elections results have started coming in – so far a Liberal sweep of Atlantic Canada. May that momentum continue and sweep the Harper Conservatives from government. I have to watch for a while.

More on Peru tomorrow.

Peru Oct. 18 2105

It’ll be a short entry this evening, not because I have little to say about our trip from Lima to Paracus, but because The wi-fi connection is weak and likely won’t support picture upload.

What I hadn’t realized before we set out on the drive south today was the Pacific coastal plane of Peru is desert! No rain, extensive sand hills all along the coast.

It’s a barren, poor landscape dotted with communities of squatters in partially built dwellings and small “resort” settlements. We’d travelled more than an hour south before seeing any green and that only due to extensive irrigation (and I think the water comes from aquifers as well as from the Andes).

We saw maise, pumpkin fields in bloom, strawberries and several other crops being grown in this rich but otherwise waterless soil.

Our first stop was Chincha to visit a basket weaver. On our way to his workshop we encountered a religious parade replete with a shrine being shouldered by teams of young and old men in purple robes with white rope neck ties supported by a marching band.

The band played for a couple of minutes as the men slowly moved the shrine a short distance down the street through the throng of people; then they lowered the shrine to permit people to approach the Saint for a blessing. Then the band resumed, the shrine hoisted aloft and the slow march moved the contingent a little further along. It was clear it would take a while for the shrine to reach whatever was its final destination. We watched for a short while then went around the corner to the basket weaver’s workshop.
The artisan took us through his process for dying the reeds – first yellow, then pale orange, stronger orange, red, and last magenta. After each successive batch of reeds was placed in the boiling dye vat, stirred like spaghetti and lifted out, he added a bit more aniline dye to the dye mixture before adding the next bundle of reeds. It wasn’t long before he had an array of strongly coloured reeds he could use for the baskets.

Next he demonstrated the actual basket weaving process.

He started by taking each reed and tying it to the “loom” – two long boards, each filled with small closely packed nails, first one on the upper board, second on the lower board. Before tying each reed, he passed alternating reeds through an improvised bar of “heddles” made from wool loops – one through, the next outside that loop, until all reeds were attached.

Then he wove a single weft reed to hold the warp reeds together where he wanted to begin the base of the basket, inserted a metal rod above that line, attached a harness to the bar and strapped it to the back of his seat in order to be able to use his body to apply tension to the warp and to be able to use the heddles to separate the warp reeds. He quickly inserted a bundle of four reeds, pushed it tightly against the tension bar, shifted the position of the heddles to alternate the position of the warp reeds, added another bundle of four weft reeds, again pushing that bundle tightly against the previous one – the whole process was a great improvisation of a fibre weaving loom! It didn’t take too many passes before he had completed his basket bottom.

He weaves baskets in a variety of shapes and sizes and weaving patterns. As with all craft production, he doesn’t really earn much for his time. Although you might think his prices high you have to realize it probably took him a full day to make a medium size basket. It’s a family business so he’s not the only weaver, but even with four or more people weaving, the time it takes to create these beautiful colourful baskets is substantial.

Our next stop was the San Jose Hacienda for a lavish, delicious buffet lunch of traditional Peruvian dishes, followed by some live musicians performing traditional Peruvian music.
The Hacienda was originally a cotton plantation using slave labour. This huge homestead is today a destination for up-scale gatherings able to provide accommodation and meals for good size groups.

After lunch we continued down the coast to Paracas where we are spending the night before heading into the Andes tomorrow.

It was early enough when we got to the Hotel Condor (on the beach) that we were able to walk the beach boardwalk – where we discovered the first lavish homes we have seen in Peru. Obviously seasonal homes, currently unoccupied since it’s spring, but very well kept up.

Our walk ended at sunset, when we turned around to head back to our hotel, a light bite to eat and off to bed.

An early rise again tomorrow morning – it’s another lengthy drive up into the mountains to Ayacucho.

Peru Oct. 17 2015

A second day in Lima. Sab (whom I met just yesterday morning) has taken on the role of “tour director”. I figure it’s my responsibility to arrive at the primary destination-after that I don’t want to make decisions. I suppose that makes me a passive tourist but it means I am happy to tag along and see the parts of the world others have chosen to visit. Sab, an experienced traveler has done much research and had prepared an itinerary that I was more than happy to adopt.

Sab had listed four things she wished to do/see today. First was a visit to a woman who brokers between international customers and weavers/embroiderers from many regions of Peru. She does broker alpaca items, but she specializes in 100% Pima cotton weavings that were simply gorgeous. Beautiful, soft, subtle shawls, scarves, table runners, cushion covers all handsomly woven in lovely colors-the craftsmanship outstanding.

As I am writing I realize I forgot to take pictures of the goods on display in her home showroom (a lovely apartment, BTW). How dumb was that! All I have is this picture of the shawl I bought which doesn’t do justice to the weaving.

Our second stop was for lunch in a central part of Lima after finding Park Kennedy, which we’d come to see, mostly under construction. From there we walked several blocks to a main Market in search of nuts and dried fruit for snacks during the next two days of travel.

I have many more photos from the market, but my internet connection isn’t allowing me to upload them right now, so I’ll move on.

Our final stop was a large labyrinthine shop showcasing Peruvian crafts people of all persuasions, each set of items displayed in its own small room.

Were I twenty years younger I’d have bought this plate below, but these days I’m divesting so the photo is all I’ve taken away with me.

The most interesting objects were four foot tall sculptures of boys we found in the indoor cafe “garden”.

Tired, we headed back to Larcomar Shopping Centre for one last fast walk through, mainly to pick up a couple of bottles of water to take on our upcoming journey – then a walk back home.

Tomorrow begins with breakfast at 6:00am and departure at 7:00 for our journey by van south along the coast to Paracas for an overnight stay, before carrying on to Ayacucho on Monday.

Peru – Oct. 16, 2015

I landed in Lima at 11:30 last night. Immigration was reasonably fast (in spite of the large number of people to process), but my luggage took forever – in part I think because United (remember Dave Carroll’s great video “United Breaks Guitars“) destroyed my hard sided checked bag! I was only able to get out of the airport because I really had packed a roll of duct tape! There was a tear from the top to the bottom on one side of the bag – so while at the United counter setting a claim in motion, I dug out my duct tape and wrapped the suitcase a couple of times to make sure I could get as far as the reception area where I was actually met by a driver holding a sign with my name.

My first day in Peru started with breakfast where I met up with Sab from Munich. She and I had been corresponding and had planned to spend the day visiting historic Miraflores and then the Museo Larco to see treasures from ancient Peru.

Casa Inca, our hotel is just a few steps from the Pacific Ocean:

We took the walk along the top of the cliff until we reached Larcomar, a large upscale shopping centre really just around the corner from our pensione. Expensive, international brand stores. We walked about for a short while then left. Next we hailed a cab to take us to central Miraflores. We hadn’t gone far when the driver pulled over and said traffic was too heavy and he put us out! Fortunately we were able to hail another, more accommodating driver who took us to the Plaza Mayor (the historic center of Lima).

Several large ornate churches are located there as well as the Presidental Palace (guarded by high iron fences and a police detail).

Lots of shops for tourists, the colourful goods machine made using synthetic materials but interesting to browse.

We looked around for maybe an hour then took another cab to Museo Larko – first stop lunch in the restaurant there. We decided to order a selection of appetizers and weren’t disappointed. The food was beautifully presented and delicious.

Then a visit to the Museo itself starting with the collection of early Peruvian erotic pottery – several rooms of interesting, detailed, explicit renderings of all aspects of sexuality as functional objects.

Next stop the permanent pottery, textile, silver and gold body ornaments and jewelry collections. All amazing artifacts like this burial set.
It was now past 5:00, we were tired so we got another cab (cabs by the way are amazingly cheap in Lima – these long distance trips costing us between $9-$12) and returned home.

It’s now about 8:30pm – I’m worn out so off to bed. Sab and I are planning a visit to another part of Lima tomorrow and I need to be rested to be able to keep up with her.

Peru Begun

My alarm was set for 2:00 am – the cab was coming to take me to the airport at 3:00. We departed Halifax on time. A change of planes in Toronto, and now I’m sitting in the Houston Airport with another two hours before we leave for Lima.


The airport is quiet – it’s mid afternoon. I’ve been reading an Inspector Banks novel, some New Yorker articles, watching TED videos – loved the one of Benjamin Zander on the transformative power of classical music (search for it on

This adventure has begun. I’ll do my best to journal the experience for you.

More tomorrow.