Peru, Oct. 25 2015

Food, not wonderful and hazardous!

First of all you can’t tell whether the mild malaise you feel is food or altitude sickness – so you try a bit of coca tea, but I didn’t like how that made me feel. So I tried eating vegetarian but I can manage only so much quinoa and steamed vegetables. And then last evening I knew I was in trouble – I was having mild diarrhea from the beginning (taking probiotics, Pepto Bismol, visited the pharmacist with Giancarlo for Peruvian remedies) but last night at around 2:00 am “travellers diarrhea” hit! I spent the next three hours running to the toilet. Finally I knocked on Sab’s door next to mine and asked her to get Giancarlo for me. So at 5:30 he called the Doctor in Cusco (an 8 hour drive away from Ayacucho) that Puchka Tours uses because he speaks English, to consult with him about what to do.

“Imodium” he ordered – take two immediately, then two more in eight hours, then two more eight hours again if the diarrhea hasn’t stopped. Well, I didn’t have any with me because Sasha in her travel notes was adamant we not use it. Fortunately Sab had some so at 6:00 I took two right away and that was effective. The doctor also wanted to prescribe an antibiotic, something for nausea, and because I was now dehydrated he insisted I drink vast quantities of an electrolyte drink (that tastes awful) – a litre every 4 hours until I started feeling stronger. Of course the pharmacy doesn’t open till 7:00 – promptly at 7:00 Giancarlo fills the prescriptions, and he and Anabel and Sab and Elaine begin nursing me. I haven’t moved from the bed all day except to go to the bathroom. Anabel brought me dry toast a couple of hours ago to nibble on. And now I’m settling in for the night.

I feel better than I did three hours ago, but I’m guessing it will be at least another full day before I’m up and around.

The group is off on a long bus trip tomorrow – either Anabel or Giancarlo will stay back with me. And in the meantime I’m continuing my regime of having a glass of electrolytes hourly – I’m not going to bother setting my alarm to wake me, but I’ll drink as much as I can through the night.

Everybody has been most accommodating and helpful – picking up bottled water, electrolytes, stopping in to see If I want/need anything. I will get through this like travellers before me! 

I have bought very little. I’ve taken a gazillion pictures – that’s enough. I’ve picked up an alpaca shawl, another shawl woven of beautiful Peruvian cotton, a couple of pieces of typical Peruvian striped woven fabric, and one small piece of embroidered cloth. I don’t need more stuff, nobody else needs more stuff, so that’s about it for my shopping.

Time to call it a night.

Peru, Oct. 24 2015

I haven’t said much about the tour group – perhaps I should. Peru was not on my bucket list – but when the trip to Paris/London fell through I googled to see what other textile trips I might find. That’s when I happened across Puchka Textile Tours.

They do two tours – a 22 day with eight days of hands on weaving / knitting / embroidery, etc. (and including a visit to Machu Pichu); and a 12 day tour with visits to the artisans of Ayacucho. I chose the 12 day tour simply because I find at the end of two weeks I’m usually ready to return home.

This tour has been well organized, all I had to do was arrive in Lima, and our Peruvian guides and driver have taken care of the rest. So today was a typical day – we began with a visit to Marcial Berrocal – he paints “tablas”.

Tablas are traditional in the community of Sarhua. Originally tablas were paintings depicting a family’s story, done on slabs of agave wood (planks cut from the tall woody flower stalk of the agave plant) and affixed to a beam in a new house.

Sr. Berrocal paints tablas in many sizes, each depicting aspects of Peruvian life.

He spent some time explaining his tablas to us then invited us to paint a small one ourselves. This may look like folk art, but having tried my hand at painting one, I can tell you there’s skill and technique involved!

This is the tabla I painted – filling in the outline created for us by Sr. Berrocal.

Following our visit to the Berrocal workshop we went to the Museo Historico Regional housing an exhibit showcasing artifacts from the Wari empire.

The pottery is highly developed with lots of intricate detail. The Peruvians with whom we are spending time seem to have a strong connection to their  Wari past, incorporating Wari iconography into their work.

Although the Wari fell to the Inca, the Inca to the Spanish, the Wari influence still seems strong in contemporary Peru.

Today was Saturday – on the weekend the bustle in the square where our hotel is located increases. First thing this morning the “ice cream” ladies were out in full traditional dress making fresh ice cream. They were busy the entire day.

They have a tub filled with ice, in which sits a large pot filled with the ice cream custard. They spin the pot in the ice till the custard is the right consistency – one of our ladies tried spinning the pot – it was hard work, she reported!

After lunch we visited the Fortaleza Textile workshop where we were able to see the beautiful embroidery this family does.


The Fortaleza are constantly innovating in order to build a market for their work.

Here we got a lesson in braiding – I am able to do a 4-thread flat braid, a square braid, but for the life of me I could not figure out the sequence of moves to create the round spiral pattern woven here in Ayacucho. I think I will have to get some plastic lacing that I braided as a child and see if I can figure out this braided lanyard design.

In addition to traditional hand embroidery techniques, this family produces complex, machine embroidered reverse appliqué designs derived from designs used in the women’s skirts from their ancestral town.

Tomorrow we have a “down” day – I’m looking forward to a slower pace and a return visit to the market where I can browse more widely. Then Monday we’ll be back on a tight schedule – more archeological sites and visits to artisans. This trip will be over before we know it.

Peru, Oct. 23 2015

We visited some very interesting master artisans today. First a master tinsmith Sr. Araujo. As with the other artisans we’ve visited, the Araujo workshop is a family enterprise – sons, daughters, brothers, grandchildren are all engaged in aspects of production. There are very few tinsmith in Peru so support for the work these artisans do is very limited. However, they’re hard working and enterprising.

Sr. Araujo showed how he crafts elements of his works from tin. He starts by tracing a template – traditionally, he would have used an awl (a pointed metal tool) but he was tracing with a permanent marker! How long had he been doing it that way? Maybe 18 months. What fascinated me were the many tiny improvisations that facilitate the production – the permanent marker being just one.

Our second visit was to the workshop of Alejandro Gallardo – a young talented weaver. This visit was an impromptu one – the other day while at the craft market, I got into a conversation with Alejandro’s mother – she speaking no English/me no Spanish we managed to communicate about my knitting and textile work and about her son’s tapestries. Maximo came over and greeted her warmly and took the information about the location of the family workshop. When another visit fell through this morning we made a stop at the Gallardo workshop.

Alejandro allowed us to take photos but asked that we not post them. I wish I could show you the beautiful, fine alpaca tapestries this family makes! Alejandro and his father (now 4 generations of weavers) are hard at work preserving pre-Incan motifs using all natural dyes in their work. They (and a couple of other family members) weave for many hours each day. Each tapestry more intricate than the next. Alejandro spent quite a bit of time walking us through the Wari images, which are his passion, based on textiles recovered from archeological sites. His tapestries draw on these elements. His father was working on an Incan-based weaving building the iconography from memory. With Maximo’s help, the elder Gallardo and I had a lovely conversation about his work as a weaver.

Our third stop after lunch was to Jesus Huarcaya Huamani’s tapestry/embroidery family workshop.

When we arrived the senior Sr. Huamani was working on an intricately braided rope, two of the women were doing embroidery, the third was spinning sheep’s wool using a drop spundle (creating a fine, even spun thread). Elsewhere in the workshop two other male family members were weaving tapestries.

The hand work of this family is beautifully executed. Below an embroidered hanging – the embroidery done with cotton thread:

An alpaca woven tapestry (the depth in this work achieved through weft thread colour alone):

We ended the visit by attempting to
spin ourselves using the drop spindle – it looks easy as the women do it but there is a lot of technique involved. My hands were useless.

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.