Peru is special in many ways to many people. No matter how many opinions and thoughts you've imagined about this country the moment you see it from the airplane window, you'll understand that nothing really describes Peru in all its splendour except Peru itself. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the same time I was craving more of Peru!
After three years of not being able to go home because of the pandemic, I knew this trip would be an unforgettable experience! I had crafted the perfect plan for my trip to Peru. This time, I’m with Matias, my 10-year-old son as my travel partner. But this was not an ordinary trip, this was me going back home to the country that saw me grow into adulthood.
Our first stop was Mexico City where we had a little food trip and pampered ourselves with huevos rancheros and of course, churros! Then we headed straight to Lima City. First thing on my agenda after a whole day travelling? Visit my parents, aunts and uncles!
As a Peruvian-born naturalized Canadian, my ties are deeply rooted in our immediate and extended family. The pandemic has hindered us from seeing each other and like you, I was also afraid of losing my loved ones and scared of the thought that I would never be able to see them again. That was why being able to see them in person and experiencing the Peruvian culture once again filled my heart with so much joy.
Most tourists would visit Lima and think that they have seen the wonders of Peru. But I tell you, you haven’t been to Peru if you did not go to Cusco!
For this part of the adventure, I was joined by my mom who, as you recall from my prior blog, loves travelling as much as I do. I was worried at first because of her existing health issues but I was comforted by the thought that there was no one I would rather go on this trip with than her. Growing up, my mom would always bring me along on her adventures, now I was bringing her along on mine.
To give you an idea of where Cusco is situated in comparison to Lima, well Lima is in the center-west of Peru and overlooks the Pacific Ocean, at about 5,090 ft above sea level, which is as high as stocking up five Empire State buildings! Cusco, in contrast, is in the southeast of Peru, nestled in the Urubamba Valley, at about 11,152 ft above sea level. Here at Cusco, the temperature is lower and most people experience altitude sickness or as the locals call it soroche.
The Textile Centre
Our first stop was at the “Urpi” textile center in Chincheros. There we were introduced to traditional weaving, everything from yarn preparations to colouring to doing intricate patterns and symbols of Peruvian weaving. We also met artisan weavers Rosa and Flor using the loom!
Traditional weaving is an extremely important craft in Peru. The locals have been using woven garments for thousands of years. And there’s even more to it. The native language of the Andean people is Quechua and was originally an oral language, so Andeans needed an instrument to keep the stories, local history, and their thoughts and ideas alive and pass them on to the next generation. The woven textiles became a means of communication between people and recording knowledge. Stay tuned for our next blog where we will be talking more about this!
The Artisan Community
Our next stop was to meet Ayllin in person. She’s one of the women entrepreneurs I met virtually during the pandemic. This was a big deal because she was going to take me not only to meet designer Nataly Huaco (read more about this encounter on our blog about Nataly) but also to meet the rest of the artisan community.
I had to get up early for this meeting as strongly advised by Ayllin. We left at 6am and had to make sure we return before 4pm or else we might get ourselves into trouble. Why you might ask. The road that leads to Qelqanqa is not ideal (there’s no road really) and if it rains, we might face a mudslide where our van might end up in the river.
I was very intrigued by this place since I had never heard of it, nor the other locals I had spoken to. All I knew was that the town was far but that the artisans that live there were excited to receive us – that was enough reason for me to get going.
Meeting the Artisans in Quelqanqa
When we arrived in Quelqanqa, we were welcomed with flower garlands as a gesture of hospitality. Edwin, another artisan introduced us to his community using their local language. The people there speak the indigenous language Quechua, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying even though I am fluent in Spanish.
They showed us garments made of colourful textiles and started to put these garments on us. They were giggling so I thought this has to be good! Then, they put on a skirt on me, tied it around my waist, and placed a thick shawl made of sheep wool over my shoulders and some sort of hat on my head. I felt ready. But ready for what?!
The locals said it was time to…dance. So we did! This was a workout and for sure will be one for the books. Like a passage ceremony, we had to dance first and laugh together so we can build trust with each other.
When the music stopped, their spiritual leader explained that they give thanks to the spirits of the Apus (mountains) for such a beautiful day. We joined the ceremony in silence, to show our respect, and the spiritual leader started to pray over each of us by name. We ended the ceremony by blowing on a coca leaf and chewing it after.
Coca leaves are a traditional medicine that helps with altitude sickness and considering that we were at 9,000 ft above sea level, it was almost mandatory. After this engagement, they introduced us to the most beautiful sight I have seen so far: the alpacas and a demonstration of their weaving technique.
Each community of artisans has a different weaving signature, especially in the way they put the final touches to a piece of fabric, as well as the designs they use. It almost seemed that they have different stories to tell and these textiles were the storytellers.
At Qelqanqa, they specialized in weaving textiles made of alpaca fibres, which you can see on the Pasos hat bands here. We buy the bands directly from them and pay them fairly so they can continue buying materials and weaving more products to sustain their families.
And of course, I save the best for last. The beautiful experience at Qelqanqa was topped off by the kids I met during my time in Qelqanqa: Carmen Rosa, Abel , Flor, Nansy, Maritza, and Mariluz. Together, we went inside one of the little houses made of mud, looking for warmth since it was still raining outside. We found a fireplace and exchanged stories. I shared a little bit about my life in Canada and I even taught them some English! We concluded the visit by sharing gifts with each artisan and thanking them for such a warm welcome and for the opportunity to share their craft with the world.
It was an excellent opportunity for Pasos to give back to the community and help the artisans of Qelqanqa pursue their craft in the form of a fun-filled day. It was a unique way for me and my ethical brand, Pasos, to learn more about the Peruvian culture even though I’m from there. I learned that there’s still so much more to discover and more opportunities to give back and support emerging communities like the artisans in Qelqanqa. If you want to see what the finished products look like, check out our Pasos accessories online.
Until next time!
Read about what inspired me to pursue my purpose in life in my next blog.