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Chronicles of Peru

A Yarn Lover’s Guide to Fine Fiber and Food in Four Areas of Peru

Cheryl has been back from Peru for three weeks now and her 10 part photo essay The Chronicles of Peru is ready for you to enjoy.
The series is called “A Yarn Lover’s Guide to Fine Fiber and Food in Four Areas of Peru” and focuses on 10 days of fun, fiber and gastronomic delight in South America. Stay tuned for more amazing pictures and stories from Cheryl’s trip to Peru.
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Chronicles of Peru Day One

With all of our papers in order, we drove to Burlington and dropped the car with Tim’s friend Gail to save 10 nights of airport parking. There was a lot of road construction and coincidentally an accident in front of Gail’s farm.

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We flew to Newark and took the train to the International terminal and bought about $100 worth of Soles—right now a dollar is worth about 2.5 Soles down from the 2.75 Soles it was worth when I went to Peru in 2010.

The flight was crowded with everyone pushing to get on or off. We got seats near the front with movies and electrical outlets for the flight. The free food was horrible. We had to pay for drinks.

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We sat with a Peruvian American from New Jersey on his way to Lima to see his sick father. He recommended a few brands of Pisco, the national drink of Peru, and places that would be fun if it was not winter and off season. We were amused that so many passengers wore winter coats in June. Even though the seasons are opposite ours, it was 55 when we got off the plane in Lima.

Once again, my phone had no signal, though I have a Blackberry with an international SIM card. Is it time to be done with Blackberry devices? In Europe last year I had to buy another phone, and before that my previous Blackberry died in British Columbia.

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Our hotel was the Costa Del Sol where I’d stayed once before, connected to the airport so that you can stay indoors and avoid the smog. Outside was smoky and loud so we went to the bar for Pisco Sours. The bar was full of Americans with long layovers having drinks and late night snacks. Although our room was spacious with all of the amenities, airport traffic kept waking us up.

Tomorrow we are flying into Arequipa to spend a few days looking at yarns with my friend Raul from Michell. I do not know yet if I will bother to buy another phone.

Chronicles of Peru Day Two

After several cups of wonderful Peruvian coffee, we took a flight from Lima to Arequipa where a driver was waiting. His sign read Cherry Potter which made us laugh. My yarn company is Cherry Tree Hill and my first name is Cheryl, but almost everyone I’ve met in Peru calls me Cherry.

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Our hotel is Posada del Puete, downtown just a few blocks from Michell, where we will pick yarns and fibers. It is my favorite hotel, a hidden gem nestled in the river bank, renovated in the three years I’ve been gone. There are terraces and part of the hotel restaurant is underground, opening up to a riverside grotto, leading me to believe the resort is built on top of a ruin. From the bridge spanning the river, you can see the grounds, otherwise hidden from the smoke, noise and crowded streets above.

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Raul found us a suite over looking the river with a private terrace—the perfect place to write. We went to the bar for a Pisco and found we had missed Raul for lunch. We took a table on the terrace, where cages of songbirds hung in the gardens and alpacas tied to stakes cropped the grass, but peacocks roamed free.

Tim coaxed a large male with full plumage to eat raisins from his hand as we had a lunch of local fish and pork. The fish was corvina—a tasty sea bass ubiquitous in Peru, accompanied by white asparagus and capers. Tim tried pan seared pork with potatoes. As an appetizer, we shared a stuffed avocado drizzled with chipotle mayonnaise. We could not begin to eat it all.

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Afterwards, we walked around the city. At dusk, day workers swarmed the bus stops, where they herded into mini vans destined for the outskirts of town and hung out of the windows and off the sides of the impossibly full buses. Other vans trolled the streets, calling out names of the districts they serviced while potential passengers trotted along side, waiting for the others to somehow make room to pull them on.

At dark, we returned to our hotel to descend the steep steps down the riverbank. Peruvians tend to eat late and the restaurant was deserted. We talked to the bartender who remembered us from three years ago. As dinner patrons began to straggle in, we crossed the terraces to our room beside the thundering river, too tired for food. IMG_0721

Chronicles of Peru Day Three

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Today we walked to the city center to see Raul Rivera, a long time friend who is a sales manager at Michell, a mill that employs 1100 people. We went through sample cones of mill end and over stock alpaca, silk and wool blends for Discontinued Brand Name Yarn and then went to an appointment at Calicampo, a fair trade yarn co-op that specializes in self striping handpainted yarn.

I met Calicampo’s new manager Andrea at the co-op’s new location, a former private school whose classrooms have been renovated into studio space. In addition to the twenty colorways we have developed in the past, we put together ten new color combinations from which I hope to get five that work well together.

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Andrea and I discussed the future of self striping handpaints, whose yards per color are increasing. I call these kinds of yarn “broad bands,” because the colors are going to stack higher and higher until the shades actually seem to shift down a garment.

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Raul took us to lunch at a wonderful restaurant downtown where I had been once before called Chi Cha. I had swordfish ceviche salad and Tim and Raul had beef heart skewers. For dessert there was red corn crème brulee and artisan ice cream. Too bad Anthony Bordain who was in Arequipa last week wasn’t here for this culinary experience.

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In the afternoon, we toured Michell’s spinning mill to see their new machinery which turns combed top turn into boucle, brushed wool and chained yarn. We saw other yarns dyed and plied for an artisan look. In the finishing room, workers were prepping yarns for Mirasol and Misti Alpaca. Raul introduced us to the man in charge of spinning our Cherry Tree Hill Supersock. What an honor to shake his hand!

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On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the new Super Mercado to buy a bottle of Pisco, not knowing there were so many different kinds to choose from. There was even an aisle of powdered Pisco Sour drink mixes. What will they think of next?

Chronicles of Peru Day Four

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Our next day with Raul was devoted to teaching new handpaint techniques to a hand dye co-op exclusive to Michell called Andes Yarn.

Andes recently purchased a facility at the outskirts of the city and employs 24 women from the Socabaya district of Arequipa, which means a short ride to work, but a long commute for our visit!

Andes uses two hand dye techniques: kettle dye and handpaint, but does not self-stripe the co-op does not have the specialized equipment needed. No matter, I came here to teach a new kind of handpaint I call Broad Band, which combines self striping handpaints into broader bands of shifting shades.

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Unlike other contractors, Andes hires workers based on “formal” or traditional employment, meaning that jobs are not seasonal, but full time. Employees are selected for artistic talent and training can take months.

Typically, Andes invites hand dye companies down to teach technique, in effect making their co-op an extension of their client. Five years ago, I showed all 33 standard Cherry Tree Hill colorways to Andes, and they have never failed to reproduce the colors exactly as I demonstrated.

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Unlike other dye studios, Andes has no secret methods or fancy machinery but does offer custom work and exclusivity when it comes to color. My partnership with Andes has been wonderful and reciprocal. The time they spend on my yarn allows me freedom to concentrate on writing my Potluck Yarn fantasy series. Because I am down here teaching, some of these women have viable jobs.

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I spent a few hours showing my Broad Band method to three lead dyers. The owners filmed me dyeing a sample hank with a translator and when we were done everyone understood the process and we had produced a good sample hank. I can’t wait to see more.

On the way back to the city center, traffic was horrendous as it was the lunch hour of 1 o’clock. Raul parked the car in an alley and took us to a crepe shop where we had crepes and caprese salad in an open courtyard near one of the four churches on the square.

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Then we went back to our hotel to pack. Tomorrow we fly to Cusco and Tim is anxious to see the colonial city and the ruins of the Sacred Valley, but I am certainly going to miss the mills and yarn co-ops of Arequipa.

Chronicles of Peru Day Five

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We left wonderful La Posada del Puente for an early morning flight to Cusco, where we were met by our driver and taken to Rumi Punku, a small and charming hotel up a steep cobbled road above the city center. It once was an old government building and features a warren of small rooms set around interior open air court yards with fountains and benches. The hotel has daily breakfast in a lounge with a fireplace. I loved the thick Peruvian coffee and coca tea.

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The two mile high altitude typically bothers me here, and I was short of breath on several occasions while walking around the city. Today is a religious holiday and the churches in town were parading all of their saints through the streets with marching bands and showers of flowers. There was every kind of street fare food imaginable.

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We saw but were afraid to eat smoked guinea pigs, roasted corn tamales and plastic cups of jello and meringue confections sold by street vendors. We walked past hostels, eateries, open air markets and hole in the wall convenience stores jammed into alleys. I found Casa Andina, the hotel where I had stayed on a past visit and also my favorite restaurant Inka Grill.

We had a lunch of beef risotto and curried chicken ravioli at a restaurant on a corner in the city center, where we could watch the never ending parade of painted plaster saints festooned with flowers. Marching bands urged on those who struggled to bear the heavy statues from the Catholic churches along the parade route.

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In the afternoon, we explored the Inca Temple of the Sun, destroyed by the Spaniards in 1532 when they stripped it of gold and built a catholic mission and church on its ruins. The Incas had built the temple in the 1400’s in honor of their calendar which began on the solstice.

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Then we drove above the city to walk around four archeological sites: the Red Fort, which was really a signal site, Tambomachay, which has the hidden aqueducts and is a temple dedicated to water, Anku, which has a sacrificial site and is dedicated to birth and rebirth in the forms of the snake, the puma and the condor, and Sacsayhuaman a large zig zagged temple with four towers over looking Cusco in the shape of the Puma.

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It was after dark when we got back to Cusco and Umberto dropped us off at a favorite restaurant of his Nuna Raym, on a side street on the second floor near the cathedral. We met a Mexican American couple from San Diego who owned a restaurant in Mexico. They ordered the guinea pig entrée and we had alpaca and trout. The Pisco drinks were especially nice. Tim had his with lemon grass.