Last Friday Nicki, Taylor, Krissa, Mieka and I headed up into the mountains to the small town of Patacancha, a traditional Quechua community about an hour’s drive from Ollantaytambo. I use the word town loosely; there’s just one dirt road leading to and from town, with fifty or so houses scattered throughout the hillsides on either side of the river. The remoteness of Andean communities like Patacancha means that life here has barely changed in the past few hundred years – little Spanish is spoken, llamas and alpacas roam freely, and there is little connection to the outside world. It’s incredibly high and incredibly beautiful and incredibly cold. So few trees grow that far up into the mountains that the people only light fires to cook, not to heat their homes, so whatever temperature it is outside, it is inside. Sometimes there’s electricity, and sometimes there’s not. The people here live modestly – growing corn and potatoes, raising their sheep, pigs, and chickens, and weaving beautiful textiles from the wool or lana of their alpacas.
The Patacancha Valley, with the town in the background
We went up to Patacancha for a four-day weaving immersion workshop, where we stay with a host family and get versed in the arts of weaving, a tradition kept alive by Andean women for over 10,000 years. Awamaki works with a cooperative of about 40 women weavers in Patacancha, helping to connect them with a market to sell their products down in Ollantaytambo. We received private weaving lessons every afternoon, leaving the mornings free to read and hike the beautiful hillsides (we stuck to the latter, the better to keep warm). Life in Patacancha happens from sunup to sundown; we would wake up, eat breakfast, go for hikes, eat lunch, weave all afternoon, eat dinner, and go right to bed after that. The cold made it pretty much pointless to be out of bed after dark. I basically wore the same outfit every day, consisting of 2 – 3 pairs of socks, hiking boots, two pairs of pants, four layers of shirts, a coat, scarf, hat and gloves. And I was still freezing my ass off.
Our first morning hike…
beautiful mountain stream
Miski gets dangerously close to a large pig….
we stumble upon a woman and her daughter weaving in the countryside
llamas and alpacas! (still can’t tell which is which…)
view of the valley and river…
Three adorable Quechua children we ran into on our hike. I really wanted to take their picture, but didn’t want to be rude, so we gave them each a banana, hoping they would oblige. They didn’t seem to care either way, so I went ahead and snapped this photo.
rock bridge over mountain stream
Our first weaving lesson!
A woman weaving a chalina. Andean weaving is done on a backstrap loom – meaning that the top of your weaving is attached to one (or two if it’s wider) stakes hammered into the ground, and the bottom is attached to a string which wraps around your waist. This method allows your weaving to be completely portable, but it also means that you can’t weave anything wider than the width of your shoulders.
The long threads that go from top to bottom are called the warp, and the string that goes across is called the weft. Andean weaving is warp-faced, meaning that you only see the strings going from top to bottom, and the weft is woven back and forth underneath the warp (in one piece!).
A woman passing the weft (mini in Quechua) through the warp. The stick with the green and purple string is called the ilyawa and the white circle of string is called the tocoro. These allow you to switch the bottom part of the warp (underneath the gray tube) to the top.
designs are usually only done in a few of the bands of color, usually in the middle.
the design, or pallay, is created by picking up different colored strings of the warp, either by hand or using a needle.
woman weaving a belt with a leaf pallay
Mercedes and Felicitas, our teachers!
setting up my first weaving, by wrapping the yarn around two sticks in a figure-8 pattern
Setting up the ilyawa and tocoro
creating an equis pattern
Hike #2… the most beautiful hike in the world
the view of Patacancha from the hillside
following another mountain stream up to the pass to another valley
staring in wonder…
and struggling to keep up with Nicki. (it’s the altitude. totally the altitude….)
llamas, alpacas, and sheep all grazing together!
llama or alpaca? no clue.
abandonded rock wall / secret nook
nicki passing by a rural homestead
view of the pass
heading back down to the valley
finishing my equis (which will become a headband eventually)
nicki works on her belt
Taylor in her poncho
random rooster wanders through our weaving center…
adorable peruvian baby….
Nicki and I weaving belts
Mercedes, my teacher, working on my belt. I still haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve got two bracelets and a headband so far, and I will hopefully squeeze in a few more lessons before I have to head back to the States. I am completely in awe of our Quechua teachers, not only for their patience and ability to teach while speaking a completely different language, but also for the fact that they are experts at this skill which requires so much abstract thinking and conceptualization, yet they barely read or write. (And they manage to survive at 12,600 feet while wearing skirts!) I hope they realize what an amazing and rare talent it is that they possess.