The Women’s Co-op and Pottery Making [August 30, 2011 – Tuesday]

How surreal is it, that you wake up early and do yoga in the hostel’s studio above the dining area?  A few of the group also went running through the city, and I was jealous I didn’t pack any shorts or exercise-y pants so I could join them (mostly rainforest/mountain clothes in my luggage).

I forgot what we were doing here, but isn't the hostel's 2nd floor studio lovely? -- Photo by Sang C.

The visit to the women’s co-op was absolutely fascinating to me, because it revealed the intricacy behind traditional wool dyeing, weaving, and knitting.  In contrast to the machine prodcued goods that often populate the tourist markets here, this co-op sought to emulate ancestral textile creation, which not only decreases reliance on harmful chemicals, substances, and substitutes, but also preserves their cultural history and practices.  I was also impressed at how this co-op focused greatly on empowerment (mainly of women, but there were some guys working there too), and utilized only natural-based dyes to color their textiles.  I mean that right there, adds another element to your work — not only do you have to create a product, you have to obtain all the ingredients and prepare them (bugs and vegetation don’t come prepped for dyeing from nature, and they most certainly are not laid out for you in one place).

There was a great deal of participation from the younger children, which surprised me, considering the younger generations can get lost in modern culture quite easily.  I always wondered if similar cultural revival programs could be implemented in larger cities, where modernity has a large impact, but culture is still plays an integral role.  The benefits of doing so could foster community empowerment, encourage the growth of a different type of economy (one that does not result in the saturation of goods that are massed produced), or break away from the reliance on environmentally destructive ways of producing crafts.

They first broke us up into groups, and then introduced the different colors we would be making.  For some reason everybody scuffled a little to be the one to make the turquoise-colored dye (made from fungus-afflicted asters), which ended up having the most annoying and stickiest prep work.  Our group ended up making a lovely and vibrant red color, which came from crushed insects.  Among the other colors were peach (obtained from knotty vines), a mustard yellow (yellow flowers, that when boiled smelled deliciously like tea that I wanted to drink), and purple (also made from crushed insects).

Vines used to make the peach dye.

Fungus for the turquoise color.

This is how you prep the vines... lots of whacking and trying to make them small.

He brought in the bags of fungus and starting going at them with a machete. Definitely much more effective than our switchblades.

We set to work prepping for about an hour (which continued as some groups boiled the dye)  which involved stripping vines and chopping/tearing greenery.  When our group was called, we went to a covered area where giant pots sat on wood-burning fire and deposited our ingredients into the boiling water.  Once properly mixed, we submerged skeins of alpaca wool (some white, some brown, some tan… giving different depths of color to the finished products).  And then we set to work with a long staff, constantly stirring to even out the color.  This proved quite difficult, as the skeins were difficult to move at times (20-35 skeins in one pot at a time), but the clear challenge was the ever pervasive smoke that eventually got into your nose and eyes.  The area where all the pots were stewing didn’t have ventilation, and thus, the smoke was everywhere in the area.  Constant switch-offs with others in your group proved to be the solution.

Pre-dyed skeins of alpaca wool.

Aww yeah, stirring in our crushed bugs.

Diligently stirring the skeins!

Tim battles the smoky haze to stir their yellow dye.

Tim's invention for dealing with the smoke. So Macgyver

Checking in on our pot o' wool.

Future vet, Dr. Marshall and a pups. It is crazy how much this dog looks like my dog now.

Next, was removing the skeins from the pot.  A couple of staffs were angled underneath the mass of skeins on all sides, and on “3”, everyone holding a staff levered upwards, pulling the bulk of them out.  These were then placed in a bin to cool, and would later be draped over the wooden railings to dry.  I will probably never forget the smell of the dye and wool, a slightly sour, yet comforting smell of hot cloth.  It’s really difficult to describe, but even as I am writing this with my stuffy nose, I can smell it.

Getting our skeins out of the pots -- Photo by Sang C.

Why am I so excited to take out our wool?

The fruits of our labor.

We were one of the first groups to finish, so we helped others prep and take out their skeins from the pot.  We broke for lunch and had delicious Peruvian cuisine.  I got to try the fabled cuy (guinea pig), which perhaps wasn’t for me, as they have tons of little bones and the skin is thin and rubbery.  I could eat it in a pinch though.  Ok, so the ONE single  food in Peru that I absolutely could not stomach was the preserved rehydrated potatoes, and I’m a pretty adventurous eater.  Essentially, the potato is dried and preserved over time until they become these little white/dry/light balls.  They last for a long time, and can be rehydrated later.  OH but they were a bit sour and bitter, and horribly textured — I just could not make it past a whole one.  I think I already had these before on Ausangate, but Paulina put them in soup, which tasted infinitely better.

Roasted maize for appetizer, extremely tasty and addictive. -- Photo by Taylor B.

Before plate, sans the cuy.

See how hard I tried to eat that white dehydrated potato. It didn't happen. I got pretty far though!

After lunch, everyone rested a bit, and we finished up taking out all the dyed wool.  And then, out of nowhere, out of a sunny sky, it started to hail.  Cooling skeins were quickly pulled under awnings, and luckily by then, everyone was done with prepping their materials out in the courtyard.

Hiding from the hail -- Photo by Sang C.

Yup, people tried to see if they could handle the brute force of the hail. They would.

Look at Jessica in the back! Making the hailstorm très chic.

After that brief (well, about 40 mins) bout of hail we were ushered into a large room where the women had set up a massive weaving shuttle (presumably for area rugs and things like that, requiring two people to operate) and some backstrap weaving stations.  We were also given the warmest alpaca blankets, and I was sharing it with the two people closest to me.  They preceded to show us how to weave on such a massive scale — Two people on either length rolled the shuttle to each other.  Once again, I have no idea how intricate patterns were created, even as they were doing it right in front of us.

The giant 2-person loom.

Backstrap apparatus for weaving.

After the demonstrations, we went to see the ladies’ crafts.  I bought a hat, but truthfully, I had already bought most of my presents on Ausangate and was low on funds.  Everything was absolutely beautiful though, and definitely unique from the goods in Cusco and most of the markets we had seen thus far.

Our colors, out to dry.

Megan modeling the hats. Love the designs!

After bidding adios and ciao to the ladies, we boarded the bus and headed to a pottery-making business.  It was quite interesting, as apparently also doubled as a wildlife rescue, what with the free-range parrots and tiny primate that I wanted to steal.  They also had three huge German Shepherds roaming around, which is what I always have envisioned how my own workplace environment would have.  Their ethos also strove to use natural dyes and to mimic ancient Incan practices of making and coloring pottery.  The owner’s son gave us a tour of the workshop and their facilities, after we watched a video in their “Incan museum” on how their pottery was made.

Ahhhh want him so bad! I love primates, I need to figure out what kind he is.

Photo by Sang C.

Photo by Sang C.

Some of their finished pottery laying out to dry after being colored.

What's that? A turtle enclosure next to the pottery? The three turtles the workshop/animal haven had were rescued from the market. They often endured harsh conditions, and sellers would bore holes into their shells so a line could be looped through it.

Big turtle... little turtle.

Alpaca (or perhaps Llama, I cannot tell from this picture) looking peeved at the Andean goose

Is he kissing that llama? Yes sir/ma'am, he is.

Back to the parrots!

An array of dyes used -- Photo by Megan E.

Once we left, some of us ended up walking the 45mins or so to the hostel… what better way to explore a town than to walk through it with only a general direction in mind?  We passed the town’s huge market, which was closing down for the day and saw all the old meat being sold (it seemed truly inedible as the had been sitting outside without refrigeration for the whole day).    Tomorrow was going to be a long day for us, and at the end of it, we would head to Aguas Calientes (on to Machu Picchu!).

Walking back to the hostel.

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  • "To those who stay put, the world is but an imaginary place. But to the movers, the makers, the shakers, the world is all around them, an endless invitation."
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