Making Friends

I know my posting frequency is low, so it may seem that we based out of Písac for months. At times, it really felt like it. We loved out hostel, and we loved going to eat at Ulrike’s, and had our favorites daily stops in the local market. One of my strong desires for this trip was to take a weaving lesson. One vendor in particular had beautiful wares, and we spent some time chatting with her to learn about the craft—her husband designed most of the patterns, and the work was done by nieces and nephews, from wool that came from her family’s alpaca herds. The wool was all hand dyed with natural materials. I mentioned that I would like to learn to do this, and she invited us to come and stay at her family’s house, in the tiny weaving village of Chahuatire, located high in the mountains above the town, where her husband could teach me to weave.

My partner, being the fluent Spanish speaker, chatted with her about the details of when and how to get to her home, and we made a plan. We headed up a few days later, bearing gifts of fresh fruit from the market. We took a colectívo up endlessly windy mountain roads and got off at their house, where their teenage daughter took us for a walk up to see some casual cave paintings, since her parents had gone to the city for the day. When we returned we were fed an amazing lunch and had a rest out in the yard, where they taught us the traditional Quechua way to offer coca leaves to each other. It was pretty cold by now at this high altitude and I had left my camera up in our room. So I don’t have many pictures to share, but I feel like the story is still worth telling.

Then they started dying wool. Boiling huge pots of water over a fire in the back yard, they first added some ground up freeze-dried worms--that makes red. They dunked the white wool in the pot, swirled it around, and hung it up to dry. Then they added some plants to the water, making a rich burnt sienna, dyed the wool, and hung it, steaming, from the clothesline. Then they added some minerals, which can only be gathered during a hoarfrost, and made yellow. The process continued until there were several skeins of wool handing from the line, in rich colors from red to yellow, a couple shades of green, blue and purple. They never changed the water—they just kept adding more ingredients to change the colors.

While this dying was happening we each got to take a turn at the looms, stumbling through the steps that this family does with such deftness. We both gained immense respect for the effort that goes into these beautiful textiles.

We ate dinner with the family that night, watched some Spanish-dubbed movies (Finding Nemo! Mad Max!) on their tiny TV, and then climbed the stairs to crawl under the pile of blankets on our bed—huddling close to get warm as the temperature had dropped close to freezing.

The family was up early the next morning to head down for the big Sunday market. We left after they did, taking another colectívo back down to Písac. We wandered, for the millionth time, through our “home” market. We went back and forth, stopping each time at our friends’ stall, and ended up making all of our purchases with them. They live in a home with a dirt floor and no running water inside. Their girls are dreaming of going to college. They create beautiful things with their own hands, and carry them to town each week to peddle in the market. They were so generous—they offered us hospitality, giving us the best room, the best food, the biggest servings, and refusing every offer of compensation. We all shed tears when we finally said goodbye at the market.

We headed back to our hostel to plan our next move, preparing to leave from Cusco to head south to Arequipa. Leaving Písac was bittersweet; it had become home in a short time. We left so much richer than we’d arrived.