Friday, June 9, 2017

I am Off on Another Adventure!

Welcome back!

I left my little yurt near Pahoa, Hawaii, which was
home for a year, on June 1. I will be visiting my
friends  on Vashon Island in Puget Sound,
Washington,  for three weeks. Then my first
stops will be Iceland and Scotland.
Some of my readers have become aware that I will soon be embarking on a new travel adventure, so I thought it would be a good idea to update everyone. 

How did all this start? 

It began about three years ago when I first heard about the Camino de Santiago for the first time and then over the next month, I was hearing about it again and again from other unrelated sources. So, I took it as a "sign" that I should make the Camino pilgrimage and began making initial plans to do so in the fall of 2016. 

Circumstances changed and it took an extra year to launch, but in the meantime I managed to keep adding places in Europe that I also wanted to visit:

Estonia because they are famous for a special style of knitted lace shawls, which I just love.

And then...
Scotland because that is where the Shetland Islands are and they, too, are famous for their lace shawls so fine that one will fit through a wedding ring. And well...Scotland! Why not? 

Visit the Travel Plans page on my CathleensHands
web site 
to see a detailed and updated
itinerary of the trip. 
And then...
Southern England because my friend Annie lives there and we could have a nice visit before I begin my Camino. (Of course, on the way, I will have to hike in the Yorkshire Dales because that's James Herriot country.) 

And then (after a month in Spain)...
All the fascinating countries between Spain and Estonia:  Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark...I might as well make my way around the coast of Europe visiting countries that have lots of knitters--at least until my EU visa expires. 

I will be accompanied by my Traveling Scarf,
which other knitters and crocheters will add to
as I travel. The scarf has its own travel blog.
And then(after  few weeks in Estonia)...
Why not take the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Russia's east coast? Why not? Well, I won't get there until mid-December.  Hmmm...shades of Dr. Zhivago...Am I crazy? 

And then...
Wouldn't it be cool to come home on a leisurely passenger-carrying freighter? 

But then...
Going to Thailand and warming up on a nice beach for a while would be pretty nice as well. 

As you can see, the deeper into the trip I get, the more nebulous my plans become. We will see if I bail out at some point, or--more likely--run out of money. 

Stay tuned...I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chinchero to Urquillos: All downhill…

When Yiqian and I were ready to leave Chinchero, we asked directions for the path that would take us down through the canyon to the Vilcanota River that runs through the Sacred Valley. It is a little-known walking trail and indeed, we did not encounter anyone, except on farmer and his dog, on the trail until we approached the village Urquillos, near the river. 

Here are some photos of this tranquil walk:

The trail begins near these massive agricultural terraces that date from the Inca empire.

It was not long before we were walking alongside a gurgling creek, with many waterfalls.

The wildflowers bloom most profusely in the fall in the Sacred Valley—after a summer’s worth of rainfall.

Eucalyptus trees are grown here in woodlots for firewood and building.

Where the water does not run naturally, artificial canals, like this one, have been built for over a thousand years to direct it to the crops.

We arrived at the mighty Rio Vilcanota just as dusk settled. From here we could catch a bus back to Calca.

The only difficulty for me was the fact that the entire trail is downhill, losing 2800 feet in 5½ miles. At least the amount of oxygen in the air at 12,000 feet was not a problem—going downhill requires little cardiovascular exertion
but my 60-year-old knees did a little complaining.

If you are thinking of taking this hike, here are a couple maps that might help:

It is easy to find your way…anytime you have a fork
just choose the one going downhill. It is helpful to ask when you get to Urquillos how to get to the bridge (“puente” in Spanish) Allow about 3-4 hours for the triplonger if you eat lunch or take lots of photos

Despite the pain in my knees, I would do the trip again. I think it is just about the most beautiful hike I have done in Peru. And it is not likely you will meet any tourists.

Quest for Fiber Chapter 8: Chinchero Textiles

I had been wanting to visit the Centro de Textiles in Chinchero for quite a while and finally had a day free to go on April 16. I had met Yiqian, a wonderful artist from China when I attended the natural dyeing workshop at Apulaya. She also wanted to visit Chinchero, so on Thursday morning we set out by bus from Calca to Urubamba and then on another bus to Chinchero.

Upon arriving in Chinchero, when we asked about the Centro de Textiles, we were pointed uphill toward the market site. As it turned out, we did not actually visit the well-known Textile Center that was founded by Nilda Callanaupa (which was my goal). Because we were directed uphill, we ended up visiting a couple other smaller textile centers where the women were very friendly and were also demonstrating the methods for natural dyeing, spinning, weaving, and knitting. Of the two, I enjoyed visiting Centro Textil Llank’ay the most. The women were very welcoming and since we were the only customers, we had a nice visit with them. One talented young woman was knitting a very fine chullo (hat) and manipulating three colors of yarn which she ran around the back of her neck.

Next I was attracted by the hanks of handspun and naturally dyed yarn hanging near the dye pots. The fiber is tightly spun and is hanked, with two unplyed threads held together, in a continuous figure-8 for dyeing. Because the yarn is so tightly spun, it is dyed in “singles” (in other words, before two or more threads are plied together). This allows the dye to penetrate both threads.

Andean women spin and ply their yarn with much more twist than we do in the US. This makes a firmer (and not so soft) yarn, but the woven fabric wears much longer than loosely spun fibers. When so much time is dedicated to creating clothing, they want it to last. After the yarn is dyed and air-dried, two threads are then plied together and it is ready for weaving or knitting. 

I chose a couple unplyed hanks, both dyed with cochineal, a red dye that comes from a parasitic insect of a cactus from the prickly pear family. These insects are cultivated on cactus and harvested, dried, and crushed to make a red powder. It is one of the most expensive dyes in the world. 

The cochineal dye yields slightly different colors depending on additives in the dye bath as well as how many times the bath has been used before discarding it. Manipulating the acidity of the bath using such things as alum and vinegar makes it possible to yield a wide range of colors from cochineal, from purple to red to orange.

Then we sat down. I showed the women my little Turkish spindle, which is much smaller than their spindles. Whenever I bring it out, I get astonished faces and people eager to try it out. 

After we visited for a while, it was time to leave, but I brought out a collection of knitting needles that the Vashon Island knitters had donated for me to give to the women. I told them, “De las tejedores de Isla de Vashon a ustedes, las tejedores de Chinchero!” (From the knitters of Vashon Island to you, the knitters of Chinchero!) They were delighted and made their choices carefully. With big smiles, they posed for a group photo.

After I returned to my home the next day, I could not wait to tear into those hanks and start plying. I spent much of the day running the fiber through my fingers. The local women are able to ply directly from the figure-8 hanks, but I found it easier (and safer!) to carefully pull the threads apart and drop it into a basket. Then I made center-pull balls from the two yarns held together and plied the yarn from that ball. I later learned that this is the way that the young people prepare the hanks when they are learning to spin because they are less likely to get it so tangled.

 Up next! The hike from Chinchero down to the Sacred Valley...Beautiful!

Many thanks to my travelling companion for the day, Yiqian, who grabbed my camera and took some photos of me!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Huchuy Qosqo: Hiking up…up…up

…and then down…down…down.

Since I moved here to Calca, I have been eyeing some zig-zag trails on the mountain across the Rio Vilcanota. I was told that they go up to an Inca ruin site called Huchuy Qosco (which means “Little Cusco”). That trail kept calling to me, but I was pretty intimidated. A check on Google Earth showed that there was an altitude gain of over 2800 feet in less than three miles! Steep indeed. Some friends had made the hike by starting higher up near Chinchero and hiking gradually down to the site and then taking the zig-zag trails down to the little town of Lamay. But getting to that trailhead was a bit involved. There are also routes from near the city of Cusco, but those take two days and I was not prepared to carry enough gear to camp overnight and was too cheap to hire a guide and horses like most people do. So, my only option was to go up those zig-zags and back down again the same way. With only about a week and a half left in Peru, I had to do it now or not at all. 

To be perfectly honest, I am not strongly drawn to ruins in the Sacred Valley—I know, I know, it sounds sacrilegious. I am more interested in the present culture and the people who live here now. (And the textiles…oh, and the food.) I also enjoy walking along less-traveled dirt roads through the small communities, occasionally meeting folks in the fields and talking with them. Sometimes I am offered chicha to drink (a homemade corn beer), or invited to come back for a meal later. So, this hike to Huchuy Qosco was more of a personal challenge. The day before I embarked, I gave myself permission to turn around and come back if, at any time I decided it was too much for me. This is one advantage of hiking alone. The other being, that I can travel as slowly as I want to—and boy, do I travel slowly. 

On Thursday morning, I got up early and took a bus to the little town of Lamay, east of Calca. They let me off right at the road that goes over the bridge that begins the trail.

The trail begins across the bridge. The arrow points to my destination.
 Right away I started going up, and before I knew it, the trail got so steep that I was stopping to catch my breath every 20 steps—sometimes in only 5 or 10 steps. Remember, the trail started at 9600 feet.  Chewing coca leaves helped and I made myself stop to refuel with snacks and Powerade every hour. It took me four hours to get to the top—it takes the average person three. I met a guide coming down with a tourist couple and he asked where my group was. I told him I was solita (alone) and he gaped at me. I jokingly told him, in my broken Spanish, that I was such a slow hiker that no one would walk with me—which is actually not true—but he laughed and continued on.

It was not long before this lovely view of this part of the Sacred Valley opened up.

I also stopped to talk with a caballero (horseman) who was talking on his cell phone (!) and leading horses down with tourists’ packs on them. [That is the WAY to hike here if you are going to be out for overnight, and Rebecca (my daughter) and I did hike with pack horses and caballeros when we did the Choquequirao trail last year. Talk about luxury camping—they even prepared all our meals! See my blog post about that trip here.]  The caballero was named Domingo and he wore a colorful chullo (hat) and vest, on which I commented, telling him that I was interested in textiles, especially spinning and knitting. He told me that he and his wife have a homestay house in the community of Patabamba, not far from here, where they demonstrate fiber art. He invited me to come up to visit with them next Monday. He asked me what I like to eat and we made arrangements and continued on our way.

It was pretty disheartening when I would round a steep switchback and
find another one waiting for me.
One highlight of the trip was sighting two Andean condors in the wild. The caretaker at Huchuy Qosco later pointed out where they were nesting. I was also impressed with the fields of blue lupine-type flowers. They reminded me of the bluebonnet carpets in Texas. Wildflowers are blooming in earnest now, in the middle of autumn. That is because the rainy season has just about concluded with summer’s end and everything is very green. The caretaker at Huchuy Qosco told me that in a couple months everything will be brown.

Four kilometers down
and less than one to go

I arrived, worn out, at the ruins and then had to climb up seven agricultural terraces—each with 14 high steps! But no one was there and I found a nice grassy spot to rest for a while before exploring. It was so lovely and the solitude was welcome, even if dark clouds were gathering, threatening rain.  

After eating—yet again—I began to explore. These ruins have been restored (and many are covered with thatch roofs to protect the restoration, so it is easy to see how they once looked. The Inca stonework is amazing—all the stones are carved so they fit together so tightly that you cannot insert a razor blade between them. The nice caretaker gave me a short guided tour.

 I could have rambled for a couple hours, but since I needed to get back to the river before dark, it was time to go down.

My Final Destination
Wildflowers continued
to keep me entertained.
Thank goodness for trekking poles—they saved me from several nasty falls since the trail was so gravelly and it was easy to slip. Every time I fell, I just used it as an excuse to sit down and rest a bit. This part of the hike went faster—although I was still walking slowly and taking care of my knees, I did not have to stop every 10 to 20 steps to catch my breath. The air became considerably warmer as I descended.

Before long, I could see the bridge. It was a matter of 15 minutes and I was across and waiting for my bus ride home. A wonderful, empowering day! On the way home, I bought a large bottle of cervesa to celebrate with my friends. (It also makes a nice muscle relaxer.)