This week, volunteer Claire Heath joins the Threads of Peru team to visit remote Quechua weavers who live in the shadow of the great mountain Ausangate. She describes the process for placing an order of weavings in Upis.
We missed the early bus that leaves Cusco around 6 am, and had to wait almost an hour for the next one. Once we escaped the conurbation of Cusco, the air cleared and we wound through the narrow Valle Sur, bounded by craggy-topped hills, before we climbed over the mountains, each bend offering a vista, to arrive in Tinq’i three hours later. Most westerners know the town as the starting point for a popular trek around the mountain Ausangate. However for Threads of Peru its the where some of their Quechua weavers live.
The journey wasn’t over. Lourdes, the Quechua-speaking staff member of Threads, negotiated a taxi to take us to the village of Upis, up the valley along a rough gravel road.
The women gather with Ausangate mountain in the background.
The Quechua people here live beneath the imposing presence of Ausangate, which, like many high, glacier-covered peaks, is sacred to the them.
We were late, so when we pull up a large group of women was already seated outside a cluster of houses, waiting patiently. Ausangate reared up behind them, and alpacas grazed, heads bobbing up from time to time to observe us.
Greetings and apologies over, Dana and Lourdes spread out bags full of baby alpaca wool, and order sheets, which contained photos of the colours and patterns needed, and technical information such as width and length, and the proportions of different parts of the design.
Dana and Lourdes discussing the order and reviewing the designs.
They settled down to business immediately, and within two hours, they had discussed the complete order, divided up the work, and agreed on a delivery date.
These remote Quechua weavers might live in a remote place so high in the Andes that the only crop they can grow is potatoes, and they may spend more time in the company of their alpacas than with other people, but they are professional with a keen business sense: they know the weaving side of their business, and they know what makes for happy customers.
Dividing up the yarn.
The business of the day concluded, they invited us to share lunch. We moved inside the protection of a stone wall, and sat in a circle. In the centre, someone had spread two large sacks of woven plastic, and piled onto them several varieties of freshly boiled potatoes. We were treated as guests of honour, and a plate containing a few portions of cuy (guinea pig) was placed in front of us. Everyone tucked in, skinning potatoes, eating with our fingers, sharing desultory conversation between mouthfuls. Someone took a plate of food to the taxi driver, who was waiting on the road with his car.
The only other sound was of the wind across the grass.
Lunch eaten, we retraced our route back to Cusco. It was a long day, but a pleasure working with these weavers.
Lourdes and the weavers tucking into potatoes at the end of the day!