Throughout September and October I was lucky enough to embark on a trip of a lifetime travelling around South America.
As well as following the stereotypical backpacker trail around the continent, I also planned to delve into the hidden nooks and crannies, often clouded by the generic tourist market that solely amplifies their country’s not so hidden gems.
I aimed to discover a genuine way of life removed from the passionate and sophisticated existence we naïve tourists instinctively conjure up in our minds.
Table of Contents
My first stop brought me to the fascinating Peruvian city of Cusco. Previously the capital of the Incan world, the streets and squares are littered with historical charm. Today, however, I would be journeying away from the romanticism of Cusco towards the Sacred Valley – a remote region home to endless indigenous villages and communities, the majority of which possess no electricity and no running water. The idiom ‘the other side of the coin’ immediately springs to mind.
I am visiting a charity set in the isolated village of Rumira Sondormayo. The charity is called Threads of Peru. The project was begun in 2008 by Ariana Svenson, an Aussie girl who arrived in Peru during a gap year trip; she hasn’t been able to bring herself to leave ever since!
Threads of Peru is based in three different villages located in the Cusco region and its goal is to restore indigenous women’s knowledge of ancient weaving and dying traditions. The long term aim is to ensure that the women’s weaving associations become self-sustained and self-directed whilst capturing an international market to provide household income.
They are tutored by Daniel Sonqo, addressed by his title of ‘master weaver’, a man who travels on three different buses just to access the remote villages.
The women gather locally grown plants and products used to produce mixes and combination dyes for their fabric – usually the wool of alpacas and llamas.
I arrive in Rumira Sondormayo the morning of this month’s workshop. Ariana and her Quechan translator (the majority of the ladies speak only Quechua) lead me into large field sitting behind a line of mud block houses. As I enter the field a group of young puppies greet me, running past a herd of piglets sleeping in the shade. A river runs alongside the field, some of the small children are playing around in the mud whilst their mothers begin to empty there bags of fabric and tools onto the dry ground. The colours of the garments worn by the ladies is instantly striking; reds, oranges and pinks dominate the area as Daniel, the master weaver, begins to examine this months homework.
The workshops last half a day, enough time to develop some new projects and be congratulated or ticked off for their previous efforts. The women seem happy, very social with one another; a sense of community togetherness accompanies the programme.
But this is not Threads of Peru’s only success; the women appear incredibly skilled.
Throwing their spool back and forth in unison, a choreographed affair almost, a new-fangled Salsa perhaps? The accuracy and delicacy of their work is immaculate, well it has to be, the women have their own joint EBay account accessible to the entire globe; not bad for a village without electricity!
Threads of Peru’s appeal
Ariana hopes to transform Threads of Peru from a charity in an unknown corner of Peru, to a charity in the Peruvian tourist books. You’ll be stumped to try and discover a more traditional and cultural phenomenon than an indigenous community engaging in indigenous traditions. And this one does not feel staged. It isn’t painted by that ‘touristy’ brush. This is genuine.
Threads of Peru survives on the donations of others. They have significant and consistent support from the UK, which needs to be maintained and greatened in order for the project to achieve its prospected end date in 2016.
I arrive back at my room after a fantastic insight to what felt like a portion of the real Peru. No tourist traps, no nagging punters, no exaggeration. Just a legitimate dose of Peruvian culture all to myself.
More information about Threads of Peru can be found at their website: www.threadsofperu.com.