Machu Picchu

Finally, after three months of anticipation, I make my way to Machu Picchu. I won’t spoil it with words, because no words could express the beauty and awe-inspiring nature of this place. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo, where we will spend the night before heading to the site early the next morning…

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The roaring Urubamba river…

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mist settles over the mountain for just a moment…

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and dissipates….

 

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view on the walk to the sun gate

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the end of the inca trail

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MP and the switchbacks that take you up and down the mountain

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the sun gate, the entrance point to MP from the Inca trail

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we climb Machu Picchu mountain…. slowly…

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and are rewarded with magnificent views.

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my first encounter with a vicuña!

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grazing llamas….

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we make a llama friend…

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and FINALLY I get a glimpse of the elusive viscacha! (aka, the Machu Picchu rabbit-squirrel).

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i want one for a pet.

 

 

 

 

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goodbye, Machu Picchu! I’ll see you again someday….

Cloud Forest Dye Workshop

April 4: At 4:30 am, we gather outside the Awamaki office for the 4+ hour trip to Parobamba, a small community high up in the cloud forest close to the jungle, where we will spend the next four days learning the art of dying yarn using nothing but natural materials. Our hosts and instructors will be the Soncco family, consisting of Daniel, the master dyer, his wife Leonarda, who weaves the stunning textiles sold in our fair-trade store, and two of their four sons, Nilson and Acner. Our route is as follows: take a combi east through the Sacred Valley to Calca, meet up with Daniel, and catch another combi heading north through the mountains to Amparaes, and then through high, rolling hills to the mountainside town of Parobamba, overlooking the Rio Yavero.

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Our starting point: the blue square (Ollanta), and ending at Parobamba.

After the early morning four-hour bumpy, drizzly drive past grazing llamas and alpacas (with a combi driver who seemed to have a death wish), we arrive in Parobamba!

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Although the weather is clear now, we are in the cloud forest, so as soon as the next cloud rolls in, visibility is reduced to practically zero:

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and the entire valley is shrouded in mist.

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Daniel and his family welcome us immediately!

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First we take a short hike to get a good view of the valley, and Acner guides us through town.

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Acner shows off his hill-sliding abilities…

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And we get a glimpse of the river as more mist rolls in.

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Then we head back to Daniel’s house to start dividing up our yarn and choosing what colors we will want to make.

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Here it is: 10 kilos of sheep yarn, plus an additional kilo of soft alpaca yarn per person, leaving us each with a total of 12 quarter-kilo skeins to dye to our hearts’ content.

Daniel shows us the rainbow of possible colors:

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The girls pore over the yarn, deciding which colors they want…

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And we start spinning our alpaca yarn into skeins for dying.

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Dying yarn consists of creating a dye bath, where you boil the yarn and your dye together for a certain amount of time, and then (if needed) add a mordent, which will change the pH of the dye bath so that the dye can properly soak into the yarn. Different mordents will create different pH levels, and can also change the final color of the dyed yarn. We’ll divide up our dying time into color groups, depending on which dye materials and mordents we’re going to use. The first set we will do is shades of reds, pinks, purples and oranges, all using as a dye cochinilla beetle shells. The cochinilla beetles live on the prickly pear cactus, and they are collected, dried, and their shells are ground up to a fine powder:

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the whole dried cochinilla shells

Daniel grinds them to a fine red powder…

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Then Rosie takes a turn…

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And we add the powder to two large dye pots.

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Two things will determine the final color of the yarn: how long the ground-up cochinilla boils in the pot, and the mordent used. These first two pots will boil for different lengths of time and use different mordents, ultimately creating a purple and a red-orange color.

We add yarn to the first pot and stir to distribute the dye evenly.

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The yarn quickly turns a wine-red color, the same color as the ground-up cochinilla, but then Daniel adds the mordent, and the yarn turns a bright purple:

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Then we add yarn to the second pot, add a different mordent, and create a brilliant red-orange:

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Then we add fresh yarn to the used water from the first dye bath (purple) and let it soak, and create a soft lavender:

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After we take the yarn out of the dye baths, we bring it to the stream to wash out the excess dye.

Daniel creates a small pool for us to wash the yarn:

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And shows us how to rinse out each skein…

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While he takes a break to coddle his puppy Susi.

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Then Leondarda hangs up our yarn to dry.

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And I catch of glimpse of Leonarda’s latest weaving…

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Which I fall in love with and purchase immediately.

Then Nilson shows us his latest weaving…

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Which Kelsey falls in love with and purchases immediately.

Our next dye bath uses the bark of the yanali tree, which will create a goldenrod yellow:

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Then we start on our next set of colors: turquoise and celeste. For these, we use kinsa q’uchu, (which roughly translates to “three corners”), a plant along with a fungus that grows on its branches which creates the proper color and pH needed for dying.

Kinsa q’uchu growing on the hillside:

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Dried kinsa q’uchu, which also must be ground to a fine powder:

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Then we add it to the dye pots:

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To create a beautiful turquoise!

Then we take a little break to watch Leonarda and Nilson start a new weaving:

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By throwing the balls of yarn back and forth in order to wrap them around the two sticks.

Then I discover a whole room full of just potatoes!

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The next morning, we take a walk to Daniel’s chakra to see some of our dye plants growing in the wild, and also see his many beehives.

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Down the hillside we go….

Daniel shows us some wild kinsa q’uchu.

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Kelsey finds a baby carrot!

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Daniel shows us the yanali bark, which is surprisingly orange when fresh:

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And his beehives, or colmenas, where he harvests delicious honey and bee pollen.

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We each eat a handful of the fresh pollen!

And then we spy a baby horsie….

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By the time we get back, Nilson has started on his next weaving…

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And Susi has fallen asleep on the pile of display yarn.

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Then we head out to collect fresh chillka, the leaves of an Andean tree which we will use to create various shades of green, and start a new dye pot using different leaves, to create a brilliant neon yellow.

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And Joey models one of Daniel’s beautiful ponchos.

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On our final morning, Daniel takes us for a hike up into the hills to see some pre-Incan tombs:

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And to our great surprise, actually climbs into one of them!

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And pulls out skulls!

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As he explains the ancient burial customs of pre-Incan cultures.

 

At the end of our four days, we have dyed 16 kilos of yarn 14 different colors and consumed an inordinate amount of honey and pollen. We pack up our yarn and say goodbye to the wonderful Soncco family…

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And now we begin the nerve-wracking, painstaking process of winding each of our tangled 12 skeins of yarn into balls for knitting… who wants to help??

Hikes and Treks Part 3: Inti Punku

On a beautiful Saturday morning Nicki, Rosie, Taylor, Donata and I hiked our way up to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate (so named because the sun sets through its open doorway during the summer solstice). Hiking to the gate gives you spectacular views of two glacier-topped peaks, Apu Veronica and Apu Salcantay, and along the way you can stop at Cachicata, the Incan canteras (rock quarries) where the Incas carved and shaped the giant granite boulders used to construct the fortress at Ollantaytambo. While the hike is completely breathtaking, you gain about 1,000 meters in elevation from the valley floor to the Gate, and so unless you are a marathon runner (or Kelsey Wenger), this is a hard freakin hike. A long hard freakin hike. We made it there and back in about 8 hours, and in the aftermath all I can really say is that the Sun Gate dominated me and I bow down to it in submission. Here’s how it went down…

9 am: Everything starts off fine. We get some great views of Ollanta and the valley.

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on the right side of the mountain, you can see Ollanta’s fortress and the ramp built to bring the large stones up the hillside.

11 am: we arrive at the first of the Inca quarries. We take a short rest while Rosie pretends she is queen of the world.

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the way we have come…

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12 pm: We arrive at the second, much larger Incan quarry, and take a break and have a snack. At this point we have walked about 14 km, climbed about 600 vertical meters, and I am pooped. Also at this point I have drunk all of the water I had brought, thinking that the Sun Gate is less than a half hour away, but no. I was wrong.

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See that little red dot I have circled? That’s the Sun Gate. Not even close!

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On we go, taking time to admire the elegance of the quarries, and the paths that have been laid out with stones in the grass.

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Donata gets her second wind!

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upward we climb!

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and there the Sun Gate sits in the distance, taunting me.

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taking a breath in a grassy field…

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slowly getting closer.

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while getting glimpses of the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Urubamba…

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and the valley below.

2pm: finally…. we are HERE!!!

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a thousand vertical meters, 20 km later, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and sunburnt, we have arrived!

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the gate itself may not look like much, but look at what is waiting beyond…..

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Apu Veronica! Usually shrouded in mist, but the clouds part just long enough for us to catch a glimpse and snap a few photos.

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totally worth it.

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and a gorgeous view of Ollanta and the sacred valley!Image

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and since the Sun Gate dominated me, now I must dominate it.

 

 

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taylor attempts a handstand….

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Rosie, Nicki, and Taylor relaxing before our 1,000 meter descent.

 

3 pm: we begin our descent. As we head back down the mountain, I turn back for one last glimpse….

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And the clouds cover Apu Veronica once again.

 

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6 pm: We arrive home, chug 2 gallons of water, eat a ton of ice cream, shower, and then have to go salsa dancing for Jesus’ birthday. FML.

Muchas cositas

In the midst of all the working and hiking and mountain weekends, I seem to have neglected to post about all the fun little things that have been going on here over the past month. Here’s a recap: 

John, my co-teacher, returned to the States, leaving my life devoid of all meaning and humor. Upon his return he had this to say: “America is so weird. I have everything at my fingertips. Life is easy. Nothing is an adventure. I hate it.” 

For John’s last weekend, a bunch of us went to Cusco for a night of dancing and to watch the Cusco-Lima soccer game. Apparently soccer games in Peru are more dangerous than prison riots, and you aren’t allowed to bring anything into the stadium that could possibly be used as a weapon, including plastic water bottles and your own belt. Additionally, the entire stadium is stocked with enough military police to invade La Paz.

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The game ended in a tie, so we didn’t get to see any such riots, but we did end up on the local news, when a cameraman asked us to blow kisses to all the players. 

 

For John’s despedida (farewell party), we had everyone over at Casa Wasi House to drink whiskey, eat cheese fries, and sing pirate songs (Alex was in a pirate-themed a cappella group in college, so this was our natural choice of entertainment). Three kilos of potatoes, half a kilo of cheese, and many bottles of whiskey later, this is how we ended up….

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Sadly I had to move out of Casa Wasi House a few weeks ago, since Alex and Mieka’s third roommate returned from the States, but now I’m living in a hostel/guest house with Lindsey, Awamaki’s marketing coordinator. It’s a little far from the center of town, but it’s right on the Patacancha river, we have a huge kitchen, our own private bathrooms, each with a gas shower, and HOT WATER COMES OUT OF THE SINK. (In Peru this is tantamount to having heated floors and golden faucets.)

 

My many attempts to tame Jack and make him my BFF have failed miserably (mostly through food bribery), but he’s still the coolest dog in the world. 

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surveying his kingdom….

 

8-hour long blackouts are still a regular occurrence. Somehow, though, the power always seems to come back on just in time for me to teach computer class…

I learned to knit! And I don’t suck at it! 

One of my English students, Giovana, took me to her farm one day, where I saw the most beautifully majestic turkey I have ever seen….

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Also I chased some geese around…

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And realized that avocados don’t just fall from the sky but actually grow on trees… 

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And saw some beautiful multi-colored corn!

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And then Giovana made me a beautiful pie for my birthday! 

 

Other than that, it’s pretty much business as usual. Joey and Rosie spend their days felting in the sun (aka making felt out of sheep and alpaca fibers and turning it into adorable baby booties)…

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A sheep and a dog have become friends…

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I was put in charge of an adorable Peruvian baby one afternoon…

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and Alex and Jack nap at the office.

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Soon to come… our hike to the Sun Gate (aka the hike that almost killed me)

 

and… cloud forest dye workshop!

Patacancha Weaving Weekend

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.

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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…

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beautiful mountain stream

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Miski gets dangerously close to a large pig….

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we stumble upon a woman and her daughter weaving in the countryside

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llamas and alpacas! (still can’t tell which is which…)

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view of the valley and river…

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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.

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rock bridge over mountain stream

 

Our first weaving lesson!

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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designs are usually only done in a few of the bands of color, usually in the middle.

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the design, or pallay, is created by picking up different colored strings of the warp, either by hand or using a needle.

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woman weaving a belt with a leaf pallay

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Mercedes and Felicitas, our teachers!

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setting up my first weaving, by wrapping the yarn around two sticks in a figure-8 pattern

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Setting up the ilyawa and tocoro

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creating an equis pattern

 

Hike #2… the most beautiful hike in the world

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the view of Patacancha from the hillside

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following another mountain stream up to the pass to another valley

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staring in wonder…

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and struggling to keep up with Nicki. (it’s the altitude. totally the altitude….)

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llamas, alpacas, and sheep all grazing together!

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llama or alpaca? no clue.

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abandonded rock wall / secret nook

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nicki passing by a rural homestead

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ponies grazing!

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view of the pass

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alpaca friend?

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maybe not.

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heading back down to the valley

 

More Weaving!

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finishing my equis (which will become a headband eventually)

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nicki works on her belt

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Taylor in her poncho

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random rooster wanders through our weaving center…

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adorable peruvian baby….

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Nicki and I weaving belts

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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.

Jack climbs Mt. Pinkyulluna… and other exciting things

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Did I not tell you that Jack was the most amazing dog ever created? What other dog would climb to the top of a mountain??

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an awesome cloud photo I took

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The Incan stone pools

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I may or may not live one block from Tupac street

Cusco weekend!

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The view of Cusco from my combi. The rolling hills surrounding the city always make me feel like I am in a Dr. Seuss book for some reason.

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John and his host brother Jesus, mejores amigos por siempre

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all of us passed out after a night of dancing

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Carnavales in Cusco with fun costumes and dancing

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Our combi broke down on the way back to Ollanta, so we had to hike a little bit to catch a bus to Urubamba. Unfortunately for us, during Carnavales, it is customary to dump water on people and spray them with shaving cream, which is exactly what people did as their cars passed us on the road.

John and Nicki get drunk at la pampa

John’s host family took us out to the pampa one day (a community a few minutes outside of town whose name I can’t spell, but it ends in pampa, so I’m just going to call it la pampa for now), where they brought chicken and beer to sell during the weekend soccer game. I had to leave early to go work at the Awamaki store, but here are some of the events that followed my departure.

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Janet and Susana, John’s host sister and mom, drinking

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Jesus, drinking, and apparently very proud of it

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John’s other host brother, Marco, and his baby Rafaela… not drinking, thankfully

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Yep, that’s a baby chillin in a trunk.

this is John and Nicki BEFORE they started drinking…..

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and this is them after.

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And on a more depressing note…. here are some pics of the damage from the floods a few weeks ago:

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Part of the wall that lines Av Ferrocarril, washed out

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what used to be a house

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what used to be a bridge

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collapsed houses

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road of muck

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an entire cornfield filled with rocks

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irrigation channel, also filled with rocks

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what used to be the riverwalk along Patacalle

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mud everywhere

Luckily, Ollanta and the surrounding communities have gotten tons of support and aid, so no one will go cold or hungry. The sad part however is that no one can start rebuilding their homes until April or so, once the rainy season is over for good.

And to finish off, since I don’t want to end this post on such a depressing note, here are some pictures of cute things!

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a little girl whose name I don’t know

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a billy goat I found one day up on Pinkyulluna!

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billy goat takes a nap

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baby sheep!

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pile of kittens!

Hikes and Treks (part 2)

Salineras

Like I mentioned before, the Incas loved to terrace things, and nowhere is this more impressive than at Salineras, the salt pans. Here, they built hundreds of shallow pools high up in the mountainside to mine the salt from mineral-rich water thaf flows from within the mountain. Since it’s the rainy season right now, the pools are filled with water, but come the dry season, the water will evaporate, rendering the entire mountainside a blazing white.

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we arrive at the salt pans….

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that seem to go on forever

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salt crystals on the sides of each pool

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Amanda: this is your heaven. (in case anyone was wondering, yes I tasted the salt, and yes it was delicious.)

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John high on crack rock… aka coca leaves and llibta (a mineral which you add to coca to activate the compounds in the leaf). The coca leaves are supposed to oxygenate your blood and make the climb easier, but all this succeeding in doing for me was making my tongue go numb.

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our pickup truck ride home! we couldn’t flag down a combi, so we had to hitch a ride in the back of some lady’s pickup. not too shabby of a way to see the sacred valley!

Victor shows us stuff

Some mornings at breakfast I would ask Deni where Victor is, and she would tell me he’s at the chakra (the cornfield), wathcing the choclo (corn). I would just nod and smile, because I’m not quite sure of the purposes of these visits but I don’t want to seem like an idiot. Is he checking to see if the corn is ready, or just keeping an eye out for corn-thieves? I got to find out for myself one Sunday when Victor took me, Nicki, John, and Rosie on a walk out of town to see the chakra and show us some Inca lookouts high up in the mountain, where they would signal each other if danger (aka Spaniards) was imminent. After we had a look at the field and everything seemd to be to Victor’s satisfaction, he showed us how to strip the cornstalks to get the the canya – the cane – where you can bite off a piece and suck out the juice.

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Victor explains things to us. I just nod and look intrigued and wait for Nicki to translate.

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Victor shows us how to peel the stalks with our teeth

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On our walk back into town, we spot this little one trudging through the sequia. No clue what he’s doing.

Pumamarca

Pumamarca is an Inca site high up in the Patacancha river valley that is supposedly where the Incas retreated after the Spaniards took Ollanta, and the coolest part about it is that it’s in the shape of a puma. (I think I belong there!) The hike is long and strenuous but completely breathtaking, with gorgeous views of terraced fields and the valley below. Unfortunately for us the rains washed out part of our trail and forced us to make some questionable decisions regarding the crossing of certain streams.

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a puppy we found on our way up!

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Joey cuddles with our puppy friend….

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while his (or her) brother watches adoringly from the other side of a rock wall.

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stream crossing #1…

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stream crossing #2….

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our trail which has become a mini-river on our way to….

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stream crossing #3

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walking along an ancient aqueduct

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our first view of the ruins!

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first view inside the complex

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view of the valley below

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rosie contemplating life…

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the room where yellow flowers live!

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rosie on top of the world!