When I was asked to go as part of an NGO delegation to meet with knitting groups in the remote central Andes of Peru, I jumped at the chance. After all, I had been in this area of Peru nearly 30 years ago, when I was trying to reach the lost city of Gran Pajaten while reeling with hepatitis.Now I was intrigued at returning to this area in my grown-up incarnation as an exporter.
My last trip was still vivid.Hepatitis is a stealthy illness.It comes from eating tainted food, and it sneaks up on you with flu-like symptoms that wax and wane.When I reached Huamachuco after an 8 hour bus ride, it was waxing, and I was feverish and hallucinating that I could hear foreign tourists right outside the window of my cheap filthy hostal.Which didn’t stop me from eating hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus with an old Peruvian man I met and climbing to the ruins of Marcahuamachuco.There, the old man showed a hollow in the ground which, he told me, he had heard in his youth was formerly a tunnel into which the Inca could descend and reappear instantly in Cajamarca, 85 miles away.He also told me that fossils were created by a cataclysm that so terrified all living creatures that they turned to stone.He was an interesting man.Of course, I never reached my destination.I reluctantly turned back about a week later at the trailhead into the ruins, too sick to make that last leap into the wilderness.It took me two years to fully recover.
Flash forward to the present.We drove along the highways and dirt roads at altitudes of 10,000-13,000 feet, the gorgeous landscape dotted with adobe houses and livestock.Occasionally a herd of sheep or llamas would block the road.After 2-3 hours of travel, we would come to a town or village and be greeted by groups of women waiting for us.I have never kissed so many tiny Peruvian women in my life!
These women live in places where there simply are no jobs.They tend flocks, or they help cultivate small fields, or take care of their families.Their average cash income is about $23 per month, and the project’s goal was to eventually increase that by 50%.Even this will take massive work.While their handwork was often amazing, they work mostly in bright acrylic yarn that is cheap and durable.They have to be trained to work to the rigid levels of uniformity and quality control required to export to foreign markets, and they have to use marketable materials like alpaca and sheep’s wool.And all of this has to be coordinated over vast areas with limited communications and public transport.It’s a challenge.
We are trying to do our part, and are now developing hand-loomed baby alpaca scarves and sheep’s wool sweaters, which we will have for Spring, 2015.Meanwhile, we hope you’ll enjoy a few pictures and a short minute-and-a-half video of that particular province of Invisible World.
Designer Gregory Parkinson and I with the head of Women's Knitting Co-Op.
A yummy meal of...guinea pig!
Llamas and sheep traveled the same roads as we.
The ruins of Marcahuamachuco offered magnificent views.
The people of Peru, always so hospitable and kind.
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