Thursday, February 27, 2014

Revisiting Candelaria--This Time on the Shores of Lake Titicaca

I never seem to get tired of listening to Andean music. Today, I finally processed many videos and images from Puno’s Festival of Candelaria down into a few minutes of procession highlights. I had enjoyed the festival in Arequipa on February 2 and wrote about it here. But the Festival takes on a new meaning in Puno, where the Virgin of Candelaria is the patron saint and the celebration goes on for two weeks! Dancing and music go on every day and last late into the night. I caught the last few days of the festival—after February 10 when the activities are a little more sedate. I can enjoy them more when there are not quite so many people in the street.

I have seen this video so many times during the editing process, but always a smile comes to my face when I see the young man singing his heart out with such passion, the little girl—about 5 years old—with a smile as big as the sun, the flirtatious clown inviting touristas into the dance, the young up-and-coming pipers, and, of course, the young man, dressed to the nines, not missing a step as he danced alongside his mentors.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fiber: Chapter 2—Experiences with Alpaca and Acrylic and Títeres

This post is written especially for my fiber-loving friends. As many of you know,
my original intention for traveling to Peru was to experience the fiber arts—
especially knitting and spinning.

Arequipa has been a bit of a disappointment as far as searching for handcrafted knitting and spinning. The two largest commercial mills for alpaca fiber in Peru are located here, and I thought it would be a good place to engage in knitting with the women who do the work. Well, I was wrong. However, I am far from sorry that I made Arequipa my first stop in Peru. I have been privileged to live with Manuel and Adela for over a month. They are amazing hosts and have taken such good care of me as I adjusted to this new culture. Besides Adela is an incredible cook! [See my review of Adela and Manuel’s guest house here (scroll down to February 17).] I have also been able to adjust to living at a medium-high altitude (7500 feet) before moving on to the Puno area (12,500 feet).

On my third day in Arequipa, Adela (my host) took me to Michell’s Fiber Mill. There is an outlet store there with all kinds of alpaca yarn at very good prices. Adjacent to the mill is Mundo Alpaca, a museum showing the process of preparing alpaca fleeces for market—both by hand and by machine.

When the fleeces arrive at the mill, they must be manually sorted and classed by color, origin, quality, and length of fiber. This difficult process can only be done by expert women who use classing techniques handed down from one generation to the next since the pre-Hispanic era. Sorting cannot be mechanized, as the variables involved can only be assessed by experienced human hands and eyes. Two women were sorting these piles of fiber.

The dirt (tierra), straw (pajas), bristly hairs(cerda), and other foreign matter have to be removed from the fleeces:

They are then washed carefully and are ready to be spun and dyed. Here are some of the natural dye materials:

A nice description of some of the natural dye plants used in the Andes can be found here.

Despite the fact that that two of the largest commercial alpaca fiber mills in Peru are in Arequipa, finding alpaca yarn on the street has been impossible. All the yarn stores only carry acrylic yarn, which is what most women knit with. The processed alpaca fiber is mostly exported, some is made into fabulous items to sell to tourists, and some is used by the indigenous people for their own clothing.

On my first visit to a LYS (local yarn shop) I found this lovely green crochet yarn. Although it is acrylic, I bought it anyway just because I like the shiny color and it did knit up into some lovely lace.

Later, on the street, I found this bag of small balls of acrylic yarn and knitting needles. The vendor was selling a variety of unrelated items—rope, hardware, laundry soap, webbing, flyswatters, shoe inserts—and he and his friends were sitting just off the sidewalk playing cards. I have passed by there several time since then, and after about 3:00 pm, they are always passing the afternoon at their card games.

The balls were 3 for a sole (about 35 cents), so I bought 6, just for the fun of it. I had been reading about the women of  Chucuito (south of Puno), who are famous for their títeres de dedo (finger puppets) and I thought that before I visit there I might try my hand at making some.  A few days later, I successfully created a woman and (because it was the morning of the Superbowl) a Seattle Seahawks player for my friends who are fans.

Fast forward to February 16. As it turned out, I was very glad that I had practiced. Indeed, when I came to Chucuito’s Sunday market, every little handcraft stall had finger puppets for sale. I bought 2-3 from as many stalls as I could and at the end of the line, I met this cheerful woman who was knitting a little stuffed alpaca using a punto de arroz (rice stitch). I told her and her friends that I also knitted and showed her some socks I was working on. She invited me to sit with them for a while and knit. I was prepared!! I had brought the socks I had been working on, but I also had my little balls of acrylic yarn and I started a little finger puppet. Other women gathered around as I cast on and exclaimed “Sabes!” (“You know!) It was so sweet how, as I completed my puppet (after almost three hours!), they all remarked on it, even though they make them by the dozens. I gave them the puppets I had made the previous week and the one I had just made and they acted like I had given them the prize of the month!

I have now finally met one of my intentions for my trip to Peru—knit with the women here. I will be returning to Chucuito in March to stay for a while and I hope to meet back up with my new friends.

Títeres de dedo from Chucuito

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I am in Love: Posada Santa Barbara

Warning: This is probably my longest blog so far...but you may be enchanted.

I am in love. Cue romantic Italian music, moss-covered stone walls, candle-lit dinners, and a quaint lodge in a small quiet village run by the friendliest couple you have ever met. Sound like a fantasy? Well, I just described Posada Santa Barbara, a small inn located in the pueblo of Chucuito, Peru, just south of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. And I am in love with this place!

There are not too many places to stay in this village and two of them were way out of my price range. Posada Santa Barbara sounded a bit too good to be true, but since I am on a budget, I could not be picky.

Once I arrived by combi (a mini-bus carrying up to 20 people to a specific location)—a 20 minute ride in little vans that leave Puno about every 20 minutes—I had a little trouble locating the inn. In such a small town, GoogleMaps has yet to label all the streets. When I entered the address, GoogleMaps could not find it, and the  HostelBookers map placed it on a street north of the Plaza del Armas. It turned out that there is a street named Santa Barbara north of the plaza, but the posada is located south of the plaza. (See my accurate map below—just in case you get to go there.) Of course the village is so small, that a few inquiries on the street got me turned in the right direction (“go under the arch by the cathedral, turn left, and walk a couple blocks”) and soon I was looking at the inviting entrance, including arching trees overhead and a quiet pathway that led to the inn.

My mouth was open in an unbelieving “Oh!” When I walked into the empty restaurant, I whispered to no one, “How beautiful!”
My first impression of the posada.

Okay guys, if you are not interested in a chick-flick, you can turn the
channel right now. Otherwise, read on...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Estoy en Puno!

Instead of cattle crossings,
 you see “
Zona de Vicuña
I am spending the week in the Puno area to scout out a place to live for the month of March. I set out from  Arequipa on Monday, February 10 and had a front row seat on a Cruz del Sur bus. These buses are double deckers, so if you ride on top and are lucky enough to get the first seat, you have a panoramic view of the countryside.  (See my February 10th entry on my for more about riding on Cruz del Sur.)

Of course, photos taken while the bus is running are not so great...

The south of Peru reminds me of some of the landscapes you see in the Southwest. Miles and miles of open desert country, with an occasional river running through.

Friday, February 7, 2014


This blog entry is especially for all those people who have commented to me about how brave I am for travelling on my own. Occasionally I have these experiences that put me in my place where so-called “courage” is concerned. And what is courage, after all?
I am such a chicken when I have to do ANYTHING outside my comfort zone. I cannot imagine how many people would laugh at me at how hard it was for me to finally put myself on a city bus in Arequipa. I had ridden once before, but that was with Adela and she showed me the ropes. But today, I decided to give myself a supposedly simple lesson on riding the bus. This is one aspect of travelling that you cannot research on the internet beforehand. These buses do not publish their routes anywhere.

So I walked over to Ave. Independencia to catch a bus that would take me to the inter-city bus terminal (Terminal Terrestre). Now, as I left the house, I asked myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” (This often puts things into perspective for me.) My answer, “I might get lost and I can always catch one of the ubiquitous taxis for a whole 5 soles ($2) which will bring me home.”

A variety of buses and their cobradores in Arequipa
Even so, when I got over to Ave. Independencia, what did I do? For about 20 minutes, I just stood there watching as buses came and went— many that had (among other destinations) “Trm. Terrestre” pasted to the front window. People got off and on; cobradores (conductors) called out the destinations to us; and I stood there, frozen, observing the situation and NOT GETTING ON A BUS. Now, please note, my heart was not racing; my hands were not sweating; I did not feel afraid; and I never considered forgetting the whole endeavor. After a while I began to get embarrassed, because, to bystanders, I was obviously waiting for a bus. Unlike in Seattle, if you are waiting for a bus and you have failed to board one within about 5 minutes, you are not paying attention! Buses to your destination come by about (this is no exaggeration!) every 2 minutes!

Finally, after about 10 buses with “Trm. Terrestre” passed me (and, again, I am not exaggerating), I confirmed with the cobrador the destination and climbed on, trying not to look too conspicuous. (I don't know why—I am nothing if not conspicuous—brown hair, fair skin, taller than many of the men here.) The nice cobrador stopped me when I tried to disembark too early and then he made sure I got off at the right place after I paid my S/.80 fare (about 25 cents). What was I worried about? Sheesh!

Later, journaling about the experience, I realized that, for me, experiencing the process was my way of learning. We are all slow when we are learning new things—how to use a smartphone, knit, speaking Spanish, or riding a bus. It WAS all a bit embarrassing, but you know what? When I was ready to return, I got right on the next bus from which I heard the cobrador call “Plaza de Armas!

On another note, be sure to check out the "pages" associated with my blog occasionally. I update them regularly, but even if you are a subscriber, you won't get notice of the updates on those pages. Recently I added entries about: 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Nuevos Soles for New Soles*

The title is a play on words: The currency in Peru is the Nuevo Sol.
I have a pair of sandals that I have had about 10 years and I love them! At home, it is just about impossible to find a shoe repair shop, and even when you do, the repairs are sometimes as much as a new pair of shoes. I just about threw them away in October when I left Hawaii, and again in January when I left the States. But instead, I wore them on the plane to Peru. Those of you who know me, know how hard it is for me to throw things away.

Now, as luck would have it, just a few blocks away from my guesthouse, there must be 20 shoe repair shops—some no larger than a closet. I decided I did not have much to lose, so I entrusted my very special sandals to Charle. He very generously let me watch and take photographs.

The cost? 20 soles—about $7.


On a completely different subject: you might enjoy seeing the walk light that I came across today. Go to my "Tidbits from My Journal" page.

Fiesta del la Candelaria in Arequipa

The Fiesta de la Candelaria is a festival in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the city of Puno, Peru, held in the first fortnight of February each year. I am planning to attend the last part of the festival in Puno next week, but I got a little preview yesterday. February 2 is the first day of the fiesta and, my host, Adela told me in the morning that there would be a procession from the church of Santa Marta to the Plaza de Armas.

So I dressed and hot-footed it to the church and waited around with the performers for the mass to end when the Virgin would emerge from the church. There was a group of women right next to me and one of them handed me her beautiful shawl and hat to put on. We laughed as I modeled for the camera.