Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Trueno Y Relámpago! Tiempo Real!*

* Thunder and Lightning! Real Weather!
Almost every afternoon or evening, we get a violent thunderstorm over the Lake Titicaca. When I was on Isla Amantani, every lightning flash felt like it was right overhead. Tonight, I took the opportunity to point my camera out my bedroom window and try my hand for the first time to capture some of Mother Nature’s power: 

This one looks like it jumped over the trees, but in actuality it was just a coincidence— the lightning was miles behind them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Celebracion de 60 Compleanos en el arriba de Pachamama

(Or How I Spent My 60th Birthday)
For the weekend of my 60th birthday (March 22), I decided to take a little tourist jaunt to the island of Amantani. This is how I spent the second day there—my birthday!
We woke in the morning to a breakfast of fried bread. It tastes just like Navajo fry bread and I enjoyed it plain, although some people sprinkle sugar on it. Both the couples who shared my homestay only stayed one night and had to catch the return boat early in the morning, so they ate quickly and Mirasol escorted them to the port. Artemio soon left for a painting job in a nearby building. Meliza and Yheison and I went to the plaza. The children played with a ball and I walked around examining the buildings. There was hardly anyone else around.

I decided to pack my shoulder bag to take a walk around the village for an hour or so. I always carry my camera, water, sweater, and some food—just in case. I started uphill toward the walkways to Pachamama and Pachatata, the two highest  points on the island. Pachamama is the fertility goddess on whom the Quechua depend for good harvests.  Once I started up the hill, I decided to try to go all the way up to Pachamama, the higher of the two hills. The walkway was paved in stone all the way up to the top of each hill. The hillsides are terraced and planted with wheat, barley, quinoa, potatoes, oca, and havas (fava beans). This is the season for harvesting potatoes so many families were walking up to their fields, some leading burros which would graze all day and then transport the harvest down to the village.

ONLY three arches to go!
I was stopping to catch my breath about every 100 feet or so, enjoying looking around at the view. One old man (79 years old—I later learned) asked about who I was and where I was from as he passed me up with his burro. About halfway up, I was getting a bit fatigued and realized that I needed my coca leaves, but had left them in my room. The about 10 minutes later the same old man walked over and sat down with a bag of coca and offered me some! Amazing! He told me I only (!) had to pass through three more archways and I would be at the top. I could see them above me. We talked a bit more and I continued up the walkway.

The view at the top was worth the walk! The sun was warm, so I sat in the shade and dozed on a stone seat for a bit before eating the snack I had brought. I had not originally planned to walk so far, so I had to ration my water for the trip down. Not a sole was there and I remained at the top of Pachamama for about an hour enjoying the quiet, taking pictures, and realizing that I was celebrating an incredible 60th birthday!

View from Pachamama

Pachatata through an archway on Pachamama

Soon after I began my descent, I ran into a woman walking up. She jokingly held out her hand asking for help up. We laughed I took it and pulled her up the hill a few feet. She asked if I had any water and I offered her my bottle. I was surprised she did not have any since she was going to the top of Pachamama to harvest a special kind of potato there. But it was a nice trade for the coca leaves the old man offered me earlier. We talked for a while and laughed over the fact that she was 43 and already had 3 nietos (grandchildren) and I was 60 and had none. She looked to be about 30! 

A bit further down and I saw an old man harvesting potatoes. I called over “Muchas papas!” It was the same man who had shared his coca leaves with me earlier. He stopped and walked over and we talked a bit about potatoes and where I was from. His wife walked up and he introduced her as his senora. She looked even older than he did, but may have been a bit shy because she did not stop to converse. He introduced himself as Torebio and wanted all my contact information to send to a friend of his who lives in California.

A bit further down, I met a family coming up who knew my host family and we talked for a while. The father was delighted to talk. His wife would ask him questions in Amayra which he relayed to me in Spanish. (It is not uncommon for these remote Andean women to not speak much Spanish.) Their son was 11 years old and had such a sweet smile that I just had to get a photograph.

The little hour-or-so walk I had started ended up being a 3½ hour hike. Although it was only about 2.8 miles, at this altitude (4100 meters at the top), I considered it an accomplishment!

I got back to my homestay casa about noon and it was a good thing I did. Earlier in the morning, Artemio had told me that lunch would be at dos (two)—or at least that is what I thought I heard. He actually said doce (twelve)!  It may have been rude to show up so late. Mirasol and Yheison had gone to harvest potatoes and responsible little Meliza had lunch ready. Artemio came home for lunch and we talked for a bit while we ate our barley soup. I commented on what a good cook she was and said that if I bring my daughter to Amantani, they could cook together! She smiled and served more papas.

Altitude + Hike + Hearty Lunch = Siesta so I took a short nap before accompanying Meliza down to the port for her to buy drinks to sell in the family tienda (store). When we returned, Meliza told me to bring my knitting down to work on while she cleaned the store. She dusted all the shelves and merchandise and window sills and swept the floor and then sat down to practice spinning again with the Andean spindle and alpaca fiber I brought.

The tienda faces the plaza and there were some young men outside on the steps. Meliza and I moved outside to sit near them. I asked if they could spin. Freddie, sitting next to me smiled broadly and said yes and he started using the little Turkish spindle while his friend tried out the one that Ben made me. Both of them had made their beautiful chullos with colorful mariposas (butterflies) on them. Beautiful knitting they had done with the floats in back tied down perfectly. Meliza told them I was making a chullo, so I had to go get my flimsy excuse for color knitting to show them. (Lace is my specialty) I complained about how bad my floats looked and asked him to show me how he knits. He very patiently showed me the Andean method of knitting—running the yarn behind my neck and using my thumbs to wrap the yarn around the needles. (Unfortunately, I was not “all thumbs,” but “all fingers and thumbs” and very clumsy. I will need much practice to master this new method.) Freddie and his friends wished me “Feliz compleanos!” and went to play volleyball—a very popular game here.

It was getting dark and cold so Meliza and I moved inside the store. She worked on some math. (Math is her favorite subject.)  School would not even begin for two days and she was already studying her math! I told her that math had been my favorite subject in school, too. The store closed about 7:00 and we went upstairs to eat dinner. I told them that I only had room for soup, so Mirasol put the pasta in the soup! It really hit the spot—so warming and hearty! Again, we went to bed early. Mirasol had been working hard all day and it was apparent she was very tired.

While Mirasol cooked, little Yheison colored
in his Disney coloring book and then gave
me the page he had finished.
During both nights that I was there, we had violent thunderstorms, with lightening and thunder clapping right over our heads. But I went out to the bathroom after one of the storms had passed and the stars were brilliantly clear.

And that is how I spent my 60th birthday. Who could ask for more?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Islas! Islas!*

* Islands! Islands!

For the weekend of my 60th birthday (March 22), I decided to take a little tourist jaunt to the island of Amantani via boat. You can purchase a tour  from one of many agencies in Puno, but Juan, my host at Posada Santa Barbara, told me that if I go to the pier in Puno and pay the captain directly for the trip and then, when I reach the island, pay my host family directly for my stay, that the families receive more of the proceeds and don’t have to wait for the agency to send the money. For the tourist, it costs about the same, AND I could choose to stay more than one night, which is what I wanted to do. On an overnight tour, you barely get there about 1:00 in the afternoon and then have to leave at 7:30 the next morning! As it turned out, I was really glad that I decided to stay longer and two nights was just enough.

Most of the people on the boat book through an agency and have a guide and those of us who are travelling independently are welcome to follow the guide, who gladly repeats everything in English.

The boat stops at the Uros (floating) Islands, which is a pretty touristy stop, but also interesting. Only a few people still live as they always have on these unique artificial islands. If you look at a Google map of the Uros in satellite mode and close up, you will see that around the edge of Lake Titicaca is a lot of green stuff. Before I came here, when I first saw the green stuff, I thought that it was algae and was pretty disappointed. But, it turns out that huge areas of reeds line the lake. These reeds are very useful for all the inhabitants in and around the lake. They are great for thatched roofs and even making cottages. You see them drying or stacked and for sale all along the shoreline.

At some time in their history the Uros people discovered that they could cut blocks of the boggy part that the reeds grow in, tie the blocks together, and float them out into the lake. Then they stack about three feet of fresh reeds on top of the blocks. They use stakes to anchor the whole contraption to the bottom of the lake. (I have no idea who volunteers to dive down and pound the stakes into the bottom of that cold lake, but when we visited, the children were happily swimming!)  On top these rafts, they build their houses of (what else?) reeds. They obviously have to be very careful of fire!

Reeds are also used for making their uniquely-shaped boats and the bottom part of the reeds is tender and quite good to eat. For 10 soles, they will take you on a little trip in one of their boats, which are propelled by a boatman with a pole. The water was very still and the ride was very relaxing and tranquil.

One of the reed boats. Notice the solar panels and our guide using his cell phone!

Artisans selling their work on one of the Uros Islands.

I later learned that this is kind of a “living history” museum. Very few of the Uros people still live in this fashion, and those that do usually do not invite tourists to their communities. Today’s Uros use motor boats and often have solar panels for electricity and even satellite dishes!

Then it was on to Isla Amantani (about another hour and a half—these boats travel pretty slowly). When we arrived the guide assigned us to a homestay family. The families provide lodging and meals on a rotational basis so all the families offering accommodation get a fair shake at hosting tourists. I, along with two young couples, was assigned to Mirasol and Artemio’s home. They live right on the central plaza and even have a little tienda (shop) that opens to the plaza. The walk up to their home was straight uphill almost—or at least it seemed that way to this almost-60-year-old. It is customary to bring a gift of fruit to your host family since they cannot grow any fruit on the island. I kind of went out of control shopping at the mercado near the pier. I love shopping in the market! So my bag of fruit consisted of a pineapple, 2 avocados, 2 cucumbers, a mango, some apples, bananas, and a few more things. Well, the upshot of that was that I had to carry it along with my day pack UP THAT HILL. When I lagged behind, huffing and puffing, (Remember the altitude?) one of the young people gladly offered to carry my bag of fruit. AND I STILL LAGGED BEHIND! Luckily, no one seemed to care and we all got to the home eventually.

Braid decoration
Mirasol prepared us a hearty lunch of quinoa soup, fried cheese, boiled potatoes, and oca (a root vegetable that is shaped like a bumpy carrot and tastes like a combination of potato and carrot—just a little sweet.) I really like oca, and the cheese is good mashed with the potatoes. After lunch, the two couples went on walks, but Mirasol and her 13-year-old daughter, Meliza, brought out their knitted, woven, and crocheted work and so, of course, I stayed behind. I purchased a cute decoration from Meliza for my braid that Mirasol wove into my hair. Most all the Aymara and Quechua women here wear decorations dangling from their braids. Now I had one for myself. I brought in my knitting and spinning and they got to try my spindles out. Meliza was learning to spin, so she was most comfortable with the Andean spindle. Younger brother Yheison enjoyed spinning the spindle Ben had made me like a top on the floor. Meliza and I knitted and crocheted together for most of the afternoon.

That evening, the two young couples returned and we were served soup followed by spaghetti. We were all pretty tired and cold and went to bed by 8:00. In these high Andean villages, the warmest place after about 7:00 is bed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fiber: Chapter 5: Translating Tom Sawyer

I made another excursion to the Sunday market in Acora where the Alpaca ladies sell their fiber. I had practiced some since last week and I wanted to buy some more colors of fiber for myself and as gifts. (More about that later.) Graciela smiled broadly as I approached and I showed her my poor attempts at spinning with an Andean spindle. We spun yarn together for a while, with me stopping occasionally to watch her very closely. The movement between spinning the fiber and winding the spun yarn onto the spindle is so smooth and fast, that it is practically impossible to see the difference. It is also interesting to watch her stop and talk with the ladies who drop by to purchase fiber.

I told her that I was planning to visit the Island if Amatani this coming weekend. The boat trip is long enough that visitors usually stay overnight in a homestay program that the islanders have arranged. This helps the community economically. It is customary to bring a gift of fruit, which they cannot raise there, to your homestay family. I am hoping to continue my encounters with fiber there, so I came up with the idea of taking alpaca fiber as gifts to the women I meet. I asked Graciela about this and she agreed that, since they do not raise alpaca on Amatani, that the women would appreciate it. She also told me that the Amatani women spin the finest of yarn, and she demonstrated how fine by pulling out a few strands of fiber and twisting them together. Oh, I cannot wait!

So, I picked out four colors of fiber to equal a kilo and paid her 13 soles (about $4.60). We sat together for about an hour and then I went over to visit a lady who was selling handspun yarn. I picked out a couple balls, one cream and one black, to use in a chullo I want to make out of the gray I have been spinning.

Saying goodbye, I then walked through the market to make some food purchases for my daily lunches, and caught a combi back to Chucuito.

Yovana happily trying
out Ben's spindle.
Yeni loved the little Turkish spindle.
In the afternoon, I walked over to the Plaza de Armas to meet up with Yovana, her sister Yeni, and Victoria to show them my new fiber and spend some time with them. I got out my three spindles—my little Turkish spindle, the lovely spindle that my son Ben made me, and my newest acquisition that I purchased from Graciela last week. I had started spinning on all of them and offered them to the women to try. Yovana picked up Ben’s spindle and Yeni attached herself to the Turkish spindle for the whole three hours I was there. She started out using the Turkish spindle as a supported spindle, but later gave up and I noticed she was dropping it.

Yeni allowing the twist to travel way up into the fiber!
Don't worry, it all works out.
(Okay, I’m going to get a bit technical here, so if you are not really interested in the hows and wherefores of handspinning, you can skip to the next paragraph.) One thing the spinners do here is to allow the twist from the spindle to travel way up into the fiber, making what looks like a big mess. Then they go through the initially spun yarn and work out all the bumps and big fluffs of fiber clinging to the twist. It works out every time and their yarn is very uniform. Of course, they have been spinning for a very long time; both Yovana and Yeni said they were 10 years old when they started.

Victoria (who preferred not to have her picture taken) also used my new Andean spindle for a while and at that point I had nothing to spin. Sitting there with no work reminded me of a very classic American story by Mark Twain. In very broken Spanish, I tried to recount Tom Sawyer’s method of snookering his friends into whitewashing the fence. The women must have understood, because they all laughed as I pointed out that they were spinning my yarn for me while I watched!

Before leaving, I could not resist purchasing
 a cute little knitted doll from Victoria.
Yes, I know it is acrylic, but I can think
 of a few little girls who won't care!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Arches of Chucuito and a Hike at 4100 m!

The tiny pueblo of Chucuito (about a 30 minute combi ride south of Puno) is well known for the arches you see everywhere—a remnant of Spanish Colonial architecture. I walked around the village photographing many examples of the arches and put them together in a slide show:

To get used to moving around at this altitude, I try to take a walk daily around the village and countryside. I usually run into someone to stop and chat with. On March 13, however, my walk (more like a hike) took me up to a mirador (overlook) above Chucuito. I have no idea of how far it was, but it took me 3½ hours round trip and I was walking VERY slowly. I learned later that I climbed about 1000 feet above the pueblo, which put me at 4100 meters above sea level! The altitude here is nothing to scoff at. Altitude sickness can be deadly for some people. But once you have been here a couple days with no real problems, you can be fairly confident that it is possible to begin slowly to adapt. I walk slowly everywhere, and I notice that, except for the young, most local folks also walk slowly. (Of course, oftentimes, the women are carrying quite a load on their backs!)
The mirador from my lodgings at Posada Santa Barbara.
As I began my hike, I noticed that I was just a tiny bit lightheaded, so after a bit, I decided that some food might help, so I found a shady spot and ate the lunch that I had been saving until I got to the top.
  The view of the lake and village from my lunch stop was already amazing! 

However, even after eating, and walking a bit more, I still felt lightheaded, so I got out my coca leaves and chewed a few, stuffing the remains between my cheek and gums as is customary. I decided that if the coca leaves did not help and if I continued to feel worse or began to not think clearly, that I would abandon the hike, especially since I was alone on that hillside. Although I had told my host where I was going, no one would really miss me until dark—and it gets really cold after dark! I did not want to do anything stupid! I continued walking and interestingly—and thankfully—I began to feel better and the lightheadedness dispersed.

Despite having help from the coca, this turned out to be one of the most difficult hikes I have ever done. But every step higher empowered me to continue. I paused to catch my breath every 20–30 feet or so. The trail I was on disappeared and I had a bit of a time finding the best way to the mirador. You cannot really get lost, because the countryside is very open and you can see Lake Titicaca and the villages the entire time you are hiking. You could always figure out how to get back somehow. But I really wanted to make it up to that little mirador! As it turned out, I went the long way around and came up the back of the lookout. At one point I scrambled up a small dry cataract, with some concern about how easy it would be to scramble back down.

I came the long way around behind the mirador. Can you see it? Chucuito is below.
With a bit of cross-country travel, I finally made it to mirador. And when I got there, what did I see? More arches!

But look at these arches! I know people have been building arches like this by hand and without mortar for thousands of years, but the skill involved in selecting just the right rocks and setting the keystone always fascinates me.

 The cross at the mirador.
At this point, my legs were a bit shaky but not too much so. I was taken away by the view and my accomplishment. It was windy and cool, so I could not rest long, but I did remain long enough to enjoy the euphoria of being there.

Refortifying myself with more coca and lots of water, I began my walk down, which I knew would be torturous for my knees. Lo and behold, I found the trail that most people take to go up. It was very clear! However, it was also much more steep. In taking the long way around I had pretty much traversed the hill in one big switchback, which made it easier to climb. The route down was also more difficult because the rocks slipped around under my feet and shaky legs. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to bring my trekking poles with me. They probably have save me from a nasty fall or broken bone. Even when I was young, I was never very sure-footed. When I hike with Rebecca, she is always nearby to give me a hand up or (more often) down. I laughed as I thought to myself, “In lieu of Rebecca, I have my trekking poles!”

Map of the "trek" I  later drew in my journal.
Afternote: My knees survived, possibly because as soon as I returned, I took some Ibuprophen. They were fine the next day. Pretty good for an almost 60-year-old!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fiber: Chapter 4: The Alpaca Ladies of Acora

While knitting last Sunday with the women in Chucuito, I told them I was looking for lana de alpaca (alpaca yarn). They told me I had to go to the feria de domingo (Sunday fair or market) in Acora another small pueblo about 15 kilometers south of here. That meant I had to wait an entire week! Well, I made it to Sunday and took a combi (minibus taxi) which dropped me off literally right in the middle of the market.(The market is situated on both sides of the highway that runs through town.)  I was told to get there early and I had assumed that the women would sell out and go home if I did not get there soon enough. Well, it turns out, since I arrived before 8:00 am, that many people were still setting up. I walked around and saw LOTS of colorful acrylic yarn, but no natural fibers at all. Oh no! Was I to be disappointed again?

At the top of the market, I saw bunches of people each consisting of several women gathered around one person—all clamoring for the person’s attention.  How, I thought, do I figure out what they are doing without interrupting? Well, after watching for a bit, I figured out that they were selling their bags of handmade finger puppets to the wholesalers! Those puppets would mostly be exported to Europe and the US.

Graciela and her alpaca fiber.
I bought some bread and sat and waited a while, thinking maybe the alpaca women really did not arrive until a bit later. I encountered a man who was waiting for his wife and he asked me the typical questions (where was I from?  how did I like Peru?   have I been to Cusco?). I told him I was looking for lana de alpaca. He started to tell me where to find it, but when, not understanding, I kept asking if I needed to cross the street, he and his wife walked me about 200 feet to where a woman sat on the ground with not only her raw fiber of many colors, but also her hand-crafted husos (spindles) for sale. WOW! Here I was! I thanked them profusely and knelt down to examine the fiber and spindles. Her name is Graciela. Gradually more women joined her in specific locations on the sidewalk. I picked out a half-kilo of gray fiber (she weighs it on a little hand scale) and a medium sized spindle and started spinning. She picked up another batch of fiber and, by example, gave me some pointers.

 (Okay, I’m going to get a bit technical here, so if you are not really interested in the hows and wherefores of handspinning, you can skip to the next paragraph.) Until today, I have only used drop spindles. The spindles that most women use here are mainly meant to be used in a supported fashion. (The bottom point of the spindle rests on the ground.) The technique is a little different from what I am used to. For example, you don’t have to tie a half-hitch at the top of the spindle between each section of  spun yarn. But I am so used to doing so, that sometimes I would absentmindedly add a half-hitch and then forget to undo it, creating a knotted mess on the spindle. On top of that, I had been plying yarn for the past several days, in which you turn the spindle counter-clockwise. So, I forgot and started spinning to the left. On top of that, I usually draft the fiber in my right hand and spin with my left. Well, immediately, Graciela noticed that I was spinning in the wrong direction, but I had already started, and did not correct myself. (I should have!) She also, kept trying to get me to draft with my left hand. I did change hands for a while, but it was kind of  like trying to write left-handed and I kept dropping the spindle, so I eventually switched back. I have been very spoiled in the past using fiber that has been cleaned and combed. This was raw fleece, with bits of vegetation and small mats of tangled fiber that had to be cut out. Yet another challenge for me, but I persevered. Graciela gave me tips, and watching her spin was very helpful.

I enjoy showing the women the spindle that Ben (my son) made for me and the little Turkish spindle I have. They are impressed with Ben’s spindle and intrigued with how the Turkish spindle automatically makes a pull-skein.

I worked on the yarn for about 2 hours sometimes talking with Graciela. She has 30 alpacas and lives near Puno. She is at the Acora market every Sunday in the same place. Occasionally, while we were working a woman would drop by and purchase some fleece from her. My half-kilo cost 7 soles and the spindle was 2. When I was ready to leave, I paid Graciela and added 3 soles, “por su ayuda” (for your help) and she was delighted.

Before I left the alpaca ladies (for, by now, there were six or seven of them) I strolled by the other vendors and one gestured that she had seen me spinning, so I dropped down and showed her what I had done and my other spindles. Her husband and teen-aged son were there and they, too, were intrigued with my spindles and smiled broadly as they examined them.  Her husband makes spindles. She took the one that Ben made and spun a little yarn with it using it as a drop spindle, the way I do.

I will be back next Sunday, after having practiced—turning the spindle the correct way and maybe trying again with opposite hands. I have my eyes on some jet black fleece to go with this gray. Hmmm, I think I will need another suitcase when I return to the US!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fiber: Chapter 3: Sometimes You Just Have to ASK!

I have been needing a simple shoulder bag that is more practical than my daypack for going about town or to the market. I saw a stall in the Artisan's Market in Puno that had some bolsas (purses) that I liked, so I let the man take some down for me. They were what I had in mind and only S/20 (about $7), so I finally have a bag to pack my knitting, journal, snacks, and water in. It has come in very handy!

I have also been wanting some lana de alpaca (alpaca yarn), but as stated in previous posts, the only thing I have found has been acrylic in yarn shops in Arequipa. I thought I would find some at the handicrafts market, but none was to be seen on the tables. Finally, I told this vendor, “Estoy buscando lana de alpaca.” (“I am looking for alpaca yarn.”) He indicated that they had none, but to check with other stalls. Well, there were really no other buyers at the market at the time, so all the vendors in the vicinity had their eyes and ears on me, which, in this case, turned out to be fortunate! As I turned to leave, the woman in the stall across the way held out a ball of yarn and asked “Lana de alpaca?” JACKPOT!! She showed me her collection of handspun and I picked out a ball large enough for a lace scarf or small shawl for S/30 (about $10.50). I could probably bargain, but that is a difficult process for me, especially when I truly feel that the prices here for everything are so low, and I know how much work goes into hand spinning! The spinner’s name is Catalina and we laughed that we have the same name. I am called Caty (short "a") by the Peruvians, since they don’t have a “th” sound in their vocabulary. She is called Katy (long "a"). She is from Puno and part of the San Jose Primero Artisans.

The ball  is wound very tightly and the three plies are a bit loose for knitting—I am afraid the yarn will keep splitting. Luckily, I brought two drop spindles with me, so I am adding some twist to the plies before I knit it into a chalina (scarf), an original pattern I am designing and which I hope to publish soon. 

Pattern charts for the  scarf above, soon to be published!

In the combi on the way home, I decided to collect the names of all the women I buy handicrafts from and attach their names to the items I purchase. This will make the finished products even more special.