Editor’s note: ATA is hoping to resume tours, like the one described here by Marcia, in 2022. We are working closely with our tour partners in Peru to access the COVID situation and how and when we can conduct ATA tours safely. If you are on the waiting list for tours, we’ll be sending you a questionnaire about potential safety measures. If you are interested in a future tour, contact Pam Art at email@example.com
Three years later, my friends and I are still talking about our Andean Textile Arts (ATA) tour of Peru. In ten short days, our group was exposed to Peruvian culture as expressed in the spinning, weaving, and other fiber arts, as well as the natural and cultural history, geology, and archaeology of the Peruvian Andes.
And what an adventure it was! We started out in Cusco, at 9,600 feet above sea level (the highest capital in the world). With our guides and on our own, we walked the cobbled streets built by the Incas and visited beautiful churches and museums, many built on Inca foundations and dating back to the 16th Century when the Spanish conquered the indigenous people.
It was—and still is—amazing to see the high level of skill of the Inca stonemasons who, using unknown primitive technology, managed to create roads, foundations, and buildings that are so skillfully constructed they are still in excellent condition today. On our entire adventure, we saw examples of this incredible work as we toured sites dating back well before the Spanish conquest.
Our first day in Cusco we met Nilda Callañaupa at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC). The founder and guiding light of CTTC, she is a dynamo and was a presence at most of the fiber-related portions of the tour, meeting us as we visited each of the villages on our itinerary. I can’t say enough about our outstanding, knowledgeable guides Raoul and Alvaro, and our tour leaders Anita Osterhaug and Jennifer Moore. All of them made sure our trip was unforgettable.
From the first day in Cusco, when we had the opportunity to learn to weave on a backstrap loom and then visited the colorful mercado, the tour gave us a broad perspective on this part of the Peruvian Andes, its history, people, and culture.
Leaving Cusco, we drove into the Andes and spent a day in Pisac at a gathering of over 300 weavers from ten communities in the Andes. There we saw demonstrations of their various weaving, spinning, dyeing, and knitting techniques, as well as fun-filled competitions related to their common interest in the fiber arts that are characteristic of this part of Peru. The participants were garbed in colorful clothing, adding to the festive air of the event. These colorful garments, unique to each village, are now worn every day.
In subsequent days, we visited three villages high in the mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley and were treated to more demonstrations of the different textile techniques that are characteristic of each community. We also spent a day in Chinchero, the home of CTTC, where we learned to dye yarn using traditional natural dyes and dyeing methods. Throughout these visits, we were treated to delicious indigenous foods, including a feast in Chinchero featuring roasted guinea pig, a national delicacy.
In between our fiber experiences, we visited Inca sites that included, of course, Machu Picchu, but also Ollantaytambo, Sachsawayaman and several lesser-known sites, many high in the mountains. Throughout, the mountains themselves—the abrupt peaks like ancient snow-covered sentinels surrounding the Sacred Valley—were breathtaking! And as we journeyed, we learned much of the history, geology, and natural wonders of this magical land.
On our final day in Peru, we visited the capital city of Lima, situated on the Pacific coast. Our day included touring the fabulous Larco Museum, followed by lunch at an oceanside restaurant where we enjoyed our last pisco sours (a popular local drink) and a fantastic lunch. We said our reluctant goodbyes at the airport, and each headed back to our homes in the US, staying in touch, hoping for a future tour, perhaps to Bolivia and its fiber community.
Leading photo: Our tour group in front of a gigantic stone construction at Sacsayhuaman on the next to last day of the tour.
All photos courtesy of Marcia Matthieu.
Marcia Matthieu is a retired geologist and environmental scientist, who learned to weave in 1982 when she and her husband relocated to Alaska. After being advised that she needed a hobby for the long winter nights, she signed up for a weaving class and has never looked back! Having visited Peru previously during which she attended a program presented by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, she was thrilled to join the ATA tour of Peru in 2018 for a more in-depth experience of the country and its fiber artists.