Day 5 — Chinchero (Part 1)

Tuesday — April 7

From Sacsaywaman, we headed towards the Sacred Valley — immediate destination: Chinchero. We took a different road this time and found it to be just as scenic as our first two forays into the valley. En route, we stopped at the highest elevation of our trip to date —12,500 ft (~3,810 m). While Vidal and Yoaquin stayed behind to listen to the broadcast of the indictments against Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Perú, we went off to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air. The landscape was breathtaking — orange-red adobe structures set against lush green fields; blue-gray mountains partially hidden by low-lying clouds; fields of purple lupine swaying to and fro in the gentle breeze. I have to admit it wasn’t just the scenery that took our breath away; at this altitude, we had to remind ourselves to slow our pace as we wandered around.

Highest altitude on our trip to date.

A bit of dalliance in the lupine fields.

(I’ll digress just long enough to say that by the end of the day, Fujimori was convicted of human rights violations and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the killings and kidnappings by the Grupo Colina death squad during his government's battle against leftist guerrillas in the 1990s. My blog is not a political one, so I won’t get into a debate as to the rightness or wrongness of the sentence.)

In his guidebook, Exploring Cusco, Peter Frost notes that Chinchero was the major population center of the Pampa de Anta (Anta Plateau). He goes onto say that some historians believe Chinchero to have been the capital of a small state before the expansion of the Inca Empire. The Inca ruins in town are said to be part of the royal estate of Inca Tupac Yupanqui (aka Topa Inca). In the days before the Spanish arrived, the Inca belief that the rainbow was born here led to Chinchero being known as town of the rainbow.

Our first stop in Chinchero was at a weaving cooperative. When we asked Vidal which one we would be visiting, he said, “We have to look for the flag.” Apparently the cooperatives that are open to visitors on any given day so indicate by flying a small flag. I am especially happy that we went to a locally-owned textile center, in our case Awana Wasi, instead of one of the popular commercial operations. That we were the only ones there made the experience that much more personal.

We’re greeted by some of the weavers of Awana Wasi.
(left to right: Inez; Amelia and her son, Wayra;
and a young girl who was too shy to introduce herself)

We were welcomed into a courtyard rimmed with displays of colorful handcrafts. There were several women inside, each dressed in traditional costume, which we found out the villagers wear as a matter of pride and not just as an attraction for tourists. Each woman had a specific role in the presentation that described the weaving process, starting with how they use a root to create a soap-like substance to wash the wool (llama or alpaca in most cases); how they spin the wool into yarn; how they dye the yarn using organic materials, including plants, bugs, and salt; how they weave the basic fabric; how they finish their products with decorative edges. The women showed us examples of the designs they weave and explained the symbolism behind each. We spent an interesting and informative hour at the cooperative.

Inez demonstrates how adding salt to the dye
changes the color from purple to red.

Lydia demonstrates how she weaves a table runner.

Our visit concluded with us browsing the stalls set up along the edge of the courtyard. There were items brought from outside and some that were commercially made, but we asked them to show us only those things they had made themselves. I pointed out the things that I was interested in and let Mui, the master of bargaining, go to work. It turned out to be another win-win session all around.

Lucy and Mui bargaining over the price of a table runner.
(photo by Vidal)

The design on this wall tapestry represents Tumi;
it is a symbol of good luck, and some say the god of health and medicine.

Fabric goods from Awana Wasi — some are for us, others are gifts.
(The dolls in a pouch is a gift from one of the weavers.)

Next Up: Day 5 — Chinchero (Part 2)

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