by Miki Lazowski

Hello blog readers!

Last Sunday morning, we finished packing our bags and had our last meals with our families in Ollantaytambo: a final breakfast. Goodbyes and see you laters were exchanged and everyone met in the square. A few people left their big bags at Awamaki and packed in their day packs while others took their heavy big bags. At 9:00 AM, we loaded into a bus on our way to PATACANCHA! Because we had a private bus, we were able to stop not one time but two times!! Our first stop was looking at the terraces; The second time was to see a part of the town called Maracocha.

On the 45 minute bus ride, Laura taught us about Awamaki. Laura is the volunteer coordinator of the organization. Awamaki is a non-profit social enterprise that works with indigenous communities surrounding Ollantaytambo, helping weaving women earn fair payments for their items and organizing Spanish lessons and tours. Laura helped prepare us for these 3 days by teaching us basic Quechua words. Patacancha is a small indigenous community in Peru. The people who live there wear traditional clothes and speak the language of Quechua. We learned the basic hello, how are you (Alliyanchu) and thank you (Añay). We basically all sounded like pros.

We got to Patacancha and had a beautiful welcoming ceremony. Our group, our weaving teachers and host families gathered in a large circle. We shared our names in Quechua by saying My name is… (Noka sutimi…) and got flower necklaces from our new friends and families. Also, a lovely song was played for us while we walked around in a circle laughing and dancing. Shortly after, we broke into our homestays for our time here.

We all left each other taking two big liters of water, toilet paper and heading off to our new homes. Everyone had lunch with their families while trying to communicate in the best way we knew how; a lot of hand motions! Also, there was a mix of their Quechua and our Spanish which sounds like just a mix of alphabet soup. After a successful, yummy lunch everyone gathered on the soccer field in new clothing. Woah wait? Did I just say new clothing? Yeah, you heard me. Our families gave us traditional clothing to wear during our visit. The men of the group were dressed in ponchos and hats, while the girls got beautiful skirts and lígias (shawls). The clothes were beautiful and in addition helped us stay warm.

From there, we walked through the market that we were told was only open on Sundays, which was a cool experience to see. Walking down the road, we got to our destination which was a beautiful round building filled with a pile of materials; sheep and alpaca fur and yarn in all kinds of different natural colors. We had a lesson with Laura, who taught us about the seven steps of weaving, including choosing fiber, spinning by hand, dying the fiber, and weaving it into a textile.

We also learned about the traditional clothing worn by the people who live here. During this lesson, we got to watch yarn be dyed yellow from a flower called coye and a second ball of yarn turn blue from a beetle that was ground up and mixed with some minerals. We tried spinning some of the yarn, which looked super easy yet we all soon learned it was quite the opposite. We also watched a woman weave a detailed pattern using an Andean back strap loom.

After our lesson, it was our turn to get our hands dirty. Well, not dirty, but using our hands to make bracelets or a headband with our own teacher. Still wearing our traditional clothing along with a few extra pieces of clothing such as pants, we sat outside working as our fingers turned to ice. Once we finished for the day, everyone was invited for tea at Chris, Matt and Cole’s home. Sadly, Josh went home after not feeling too hot but we all wished and hoped that he felt better. The tea was so good and felt warm on our cold, hard working hands. We took oranges and bananas for our hike tomorrow and headed home. We ate dinners alongside our families and went to bed early to prepare for our hike!

On Monday, it was hike day!! We ate breakfast and at 8 we met at the soccer field. We all enjoyed the sun while waiting for everyone to arrive. Once everyone arrived, we were on our way! We started hiking and shortly realized that most of us were wearing too many layers as our bodies started to warm. Slowly shedding layers and making jokes about wearing pants, we continued hiking. Stopping along the way for snacks, water and nature peeing, we all had a fun time chatting and laughing. After hiking for what felt like days we made it to our beautiful destination: A LAKE! Sorry if that sounds boring but I tried to make it sound fun with the capital letters and an exclamation mark. If you aren’t convinced, it was so amazing because of the incredible mountains around, the green marshes that felt like stepping on clouds surrounded by deep water and most importantly an immense amount of llamas and alpacas. Speaking of alpacas, they became our hiking buddies and were scattered along the trail the whole way.

After taking in the view, eating snacks and taking crazy group pictures, we headed down. Walking down was hard on our knees yet really rewarding to realize that we completed the hike. It was especially rewarding for one Inti family member, Dana, who nature peed for the first time! Everyone including Dana was proud of this life milestone. Go Dana, cheers to many more! We made it to the bottom around 2:20 PM for a late lunch with our families. After lunch, we relaxed a little with our families until 5:00 PM.

What did we do at 5? We had a presentation from the current president of the community, Juan Jupanguy. Poor Lauren got sick yet bravely powered through. Juan talked with us about the different associations and the community justice system created in Patacancha over hot cocoa & tea. Most shocking was the punishment for marital cheating. It was described to us that if you are married and caught cheating, there is a 5,000 soles (1,545 dollars) fine, a siren goes off, and the whole community comes to catch the offenders in the act. The community comes to surround the house that the offenders are in, so neither can escape. The offenders are then forced to take off their clothes, are whipped and name-called in front of everyone and dumped into the freezing cold river. If you can’t pay the fine, you are taken out of the community and have to give up your land/animals. The reason for this punishment was because due to marital cheating, there were children who were becoming abandoned. Juan also talked to us more about the rural justice system, the weaving culture and the history of Patacancha.

After our brains were filled with exciting new information, we had a lovely bonfire outside. The fire was nice to sit and hang out around until it was time for dinner. Inti family members started to go home, and some struggled without a headlamp. Luckily for Brian and Christian, Naomi walked them home and made sure they got there safely. In my host home, Naomi, Anya and I had English class with our family which was fun due to the little Spanish they knew. However, it was successful and overall full with laughter. Due to us having a busy day, we all went to bed in our warm beds, some even with hot water bottles between their legs for extra warmth.

Sadly, Tuesday was our last day in Patacancha. We all ate breakfast with our families one last time and met Laura at the weaving building. We got back with our weaving teachers from Sunday and finished our projects. We worked until lunch, and then were able to show off our cool new headbands and bracelets. For lunch we had the coolest lunch ever. Our lunch was called pachamanca, which means earth food. During the process, we watched our food being cooked with hot stones, straw, plastic bags, and a burlap cover all topped with dirt. While our food was cooking, we grabbed our bags and loaded them onto the bus. When we went back, we watched our cooks pull our burning hot chicken, fava beans, and a ton of potatoes, including sweet potatoes! What a treat! Matt, Anya, Claire, Will, Naomi and others enjoyed the aji cream sauce and everyone enjoyed the gluten-free (yeah you heard that Renee) meal prepared for us from the earth. Talk about being one with nature :).

Once our stomachs were satisfied, Chris played the role of photographer and took photos of the girls, minus Renee, in our clothing. We then all gathered inside the building to talk to Laura about the next activity. She explained to us how to shop and buy from the people and to not bargain because of the price of fair trade and how there is no middleman, which means the money goes straight to the women. After participating in the best form of fair trade and returning our loaned clothing, we started to say our goodbyes. Elena, the community president’s wife, said a sweet goodbye to us and each Inti family member got a bracelet from their family.

Shortly after, it was our time to leave. We headed back to Ollantaytambo all sad to leave the wonderful & happy community of Patacancha. We arrived in Ollantaytambo to be told by Kate and Julian that…(drum roll please… IT’S THE START OF SDT (STUDENT DIRECTED TRAVEL)!! Transportation was arranged by Chris & Christian (our fierce captains) and Dana (our outstanding chofer). We loaded up and made our way to Cusco!!

This is where my time writing comes to an end. I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something new! Stay turn to hear about Cusco, SDT and more from the lovely Joshua later this week.

The Inti family is sending hugs and lots of love from Peru and we can’t wait to see you all soon in just two weeks!

With love & A big smile,

Miki Lazowski

P.S. Hi Mom & Dad

Enjoying pachamanca, one of the best meals of the trip!
Our Inti family says goodbye to our Patachancha families at the end of our stay.
Uncovering our lunch, which was cooked in the earth using rocks that had been heated by fire.
A second day of weaving to finish projects.
The group was lead through the mountains by our guide, Juliana, who spent the whole hike simultaneously walking and balling a spool of newly spun yarn.
During the hike we passed the grazing alpacas that are owned by the people of Patachancha village. These alpaca are the source of the wool used for weaving.
Visiting a high alpine lake in the Andean mountains, a three hour hike from the village.
Wrapped warm and learning to weave from the expert women weavers of the village.
The group learns about and helps with dying alpaca and sheep wool with natural dying made from plants, minerals, and insects found in the area.
Chris and the crew learning to spin wool into yarn using the Andean Drop Spindle.
Anya gets her hair expertly braided by the knowledgeable children of the area.
Claire and Kate marvel in the tiny doorway of an old, mud brick steeple.
Miki and some sweet children during our drive to the village.