Earthship and Sound and Light Festival

This morning I rather regretted my arrangement with Laura to go and view the Earthship. I had had a message from Bobbie to say that she was coming to Cusco for the procession this morning and Sound and Light Festival this evening. I arranged to meet her later on but would have liked to have stayed in town. There was also a festival in Calca, however, and I was hoping to see that.

The garden of Viva Peru cafe
The garden of Viva Peru cafe

As it happened, the day turned out totally unexpectedly and, once I left Cusco, was out of my control. Laura and Valentino had a yoga class at the Viva Peru Cafe in Huaran, which is on the way to Urubamba from Calca, that was scheduled to finish at 11.30am, so I had promised to be there then. I thought I was going to be late as the collectivo driver was very reluctant to leave Cusco without a full van, which meant sitting there for some time. Then, after driving up the road a little way, he stopped to pick up a lady, who had a baby on her back and a toddler by her side. Of course, there wasn’t a seat and, after the driver told someone to move so she could sit down (interestingly, none of the men did), one of the ladies in the seat behind the driver offered her her seat. The poor woman had to clamber over three large paint buckets, of what I assumed was chicha, and a gas cylinder that were parked in the door well, to get to the seat, whilst the other woman manoeuvred around the lady with the children and the other obstacles. This caused another delay but eventually, we were on our way and I arrived right on time.

Walking between Huaran and Arin
Walking between Huaran and Arin

The cafe was in an entirely unexpected place, off the main road and up a rough track. Inside, it was completely modern, had excellent coffee and a very tempting array of food. Outside, was a beautiful garden with a view of the mountains. As the yoga class hadn’t finished, I decided to have coffee and a muffin whilst I waited. I was then joined by Laura, Valentino, Shalloney and David, another guest at the house in Calca whom I hadn’t met. The latter two were also interested in looking at the Earthship. We stayed chatting for a while and then I found out that Valentino had another class at 1pm so they suggested going to see the Earthship after that. Consequently, I stayed 3 hours at the cafe and didn’t end up seeing any of the festival in Calca but I just had to go with the flow….!

Wall of the Earthship showing the construction using old tyres
Wall of the Earthship showing the construction using old tyres

We set off to walk to Orin at about 2pm. This was where the Earthship is located. It is owned by one of Valentino’s Mexican friends (Carlos) and he has created a place where artists can rent small houses and work at their leisure and without distractions. There is also a communal area where they can relax or cook together. Some of the place is still under construction although Carlos is hoping to open the complex in August. The Earthship is next to his own house (also under construction!) and comprises a bedroom and bathroom. The exterior walls are built of tyres and glass bottles are utilised on the interior. The purpose is to use as many recycled materials as possible.

By this stage, I was becoming a little anxious that Bobbie would be waiting for me in Cusco so we walked back to the main road, via the village of Orin, and caught a collectivo back to Calca from where I was able to get a van to Cusco almost immediately. Consequently, I was back in the city just after 5pm and made my way to the Plaza in the hope of finding Bobbie. After a quick circuit around, I went up to my favourite cafe, which I had told her about, thinking, if she wasn’t there, I could use the wifi to message her but, there she was, patiently waiting! (Our arrangement had been a little vague.)

A wall constructed from old bottles in the Earthship
A wall constructed from old bottles in the Earthship

We had a coffee and then a pisco sour before going back to my room so that I could collect my jacket and put on some socks and shoes. We then had dinner at a local cafe where the only choice was what was on the menu, after which we went off to investigate the happenings in the Plaza.

We arrived there just in time to see a wonderful firework display, which lasted quite some time. The whole area was packed. A stage had been set up in front of the Cathedral and there was music going continuously throughout the evening. After the fireworks, we ventured into the middle of it. However, in trying to get out, we were pushed from all sides by Peruvians. I’m not sure how they thought this was going to get them anywhere any quicker, as there were just too many people for progress. We made it out and didn’t return!

Food stalls
Food stalls
Bobbie admiring the dessert table!
Bobbie admiring the dessert table!

Outside of the Plaza de Armas, it appeared to be one giant street party with food stalls everywhere. There were also people selling rum and coke (bottles, not just individual drinks) and, in one plaza, a VW combi van had been converted into a bar. There were thousands of people sitting around eating, drinking and chatting. Whilst this particular evening was classified as a Sound and Light Festival, it is also the Inti Raymi Festival this week, which celebrates the start of the Andean calendar, which begins on 21st June with the Winter Solstice. In effect, then, this was like one giant New Year’s Eve party.

We walked around for quite some time, sampling odd food and drink before I decided at about 10pm that I had had enough of the crowds and said goodbye to Bobbie, who was going to wander a bit more before returning to her hostel.

(Apologies for the quality of the night photos. My camera doesn’t seem to cope well with low light.)

Inkariy Museum and return to Cusco

Bread and log deliveries
Bread and log deliveries

I was reluctantly on the move back to Cusco today. Calca has been a very interesting place to stay and one where I have had to learn to ‘go with the flow’ as things just seemed to happen. I would have liked to have stayed longer but had already booked some accommodation in Cusco.

Teachers encouraging small children to practise their marching
Teachers encouraging small children to practise their marching (not very successfully!)

First, though, I had to say goodbye to Mabel and David, who were going to Cusco, and then I had a yoga class to go to. Like the last one, it was very relaxed and enjoyable. Whilst there, I arranged with Laura to meet up with her and Valentino tomorrow to go and see the Earthship. Afterwards, although I had had breakfast before the class, I decided I needed another one, so walked back via the bakery.

The entrance of Inkariy Museum
The entrance of Inkariy Museum

Having packed my bag, I left it in the room, whilst I visited the Inkariy Museum, which is a little way out of town (in the middle of nowhere, in fact) and had been recommended to me by several people. It was an excellent museum, with information about each of the pre-Colombian cultures in various parts of the country, most of which I had visited, with a tableau of each one at the end. It was time and money well spent.


I had a bit of difficulty getting a collectivo to stop to take me back to town, so walked along the road a little way until I came to a bus stop. A couple of other people were waiting too and, after, I had put my hand out a couple of times to flag down a van without success, the man told me which one to flag. I have no idea why one would stop and not another except that maybe they were full (although this does not usually prevent them from stopping!) The Peruvian transport system still remains a mystery.

Waiting for a collectivo to stop
Waiting for a collectivo to stop
Quinoa growing in the Sacred Valley
Quinoa growing in the Sacred Valley

Once I had collected my bag, I walked back to the collectivo station and found a very comfortable van, which then took about an hour to reach Cusco. Once there, I got a taxi, which was supposed to take me to the hostel but ended up dropping me at the Plaza de Armas, as this was closed to traffic for yet another festival and it was too hard to navigate round the streets given the volume of traffic. This meant I had a much longer walk than I would have liked with my too heavy pack but I didn’t have a great deal of choice.

They have finished painting the zebra crossings and have now started on the white lines in the Plaza
They have finished painting the zebra crossings and have now started on the white lines in the Plaza

I wondered what I had booked when I arrived at the address, which was down an alleyway and looked decidedly dubious. However, (and I should know this by now) outside appearances are deceptive and the hostel is very clean and welcoming. The people running it couldn’t be more helpful, I have my own bathroom (bliss!), with hot water, I was brought a cup of coca tea straight away and a flask of hot water for tea later on. What more could I want?

Once I had settled in, I went to look at what was happening in town. In one of the streets, there were a large number of floats being prepared ready for a procession tomorrow. I found out later that they were created by Fine Arts students and they all had a political theme, although I have no idea what they all represented. I didn’t walk around for long, though, as I was feeling quite tired, so retired to my room after buying the essentials for the evening (bread, cheese, wine and water!!).

A coffee festival and an international dinner

Coffee beans and other organic produce for sale at the Coffee Festival
Coffee beans and other organic produce for sale at the Coffee Festival

I got up exceptionally early (by my current standards but a normal time in my old life) as I had arranged to meet Bobbie for a walk up the mountain. She normally runs at 6am but made a concession for me and waited until 6.30 and walked instead of ran. It was a bit of a grey morning, unfortunately, so we didn’t see the sun come up over the mountain but it was a good walk anyway and we chatted the whole way. Unusually, my legs were aching, a problem I haven’t had for a while, so the climb up was a bit more of a struggle than it should have been.

Afterwards, I left Bobbie at her house and walked in to town for supplies for breakfast, which I bought at the bakery. On the way back, I stopped at the small market next to the plaza and had a huge, very cheap, freshly liquidised pineapple, orange and papaya juice, which was served in a glass, accompanied by an additional jug that held the equivalent of another 2 glasses. Not bad for 4 soles or $1! (A glass alone would have cost 6 soles in Cusco.) When having juice in Peru, though, you have to be very specific about the amount of sugar you want and whether you would like water, milk or neither of the latter added. Otherwise, it could be extremely sweet and you could end up with digestive problems with the water. I have no extras just to be on the safe side.

Local ladies twisting wool whilst waiting for customers
Local ladies twisting wool whilst waiting for customers

On my walk back to the house, I briefly watched the setting up for the Coffee Festival that was taking place in the Plaza today. Judging by the fruit and vegetable stalls, it seemed to me that it was more like a Harvest Festival but no doubt there is also coffee involved somewhere!

The rest of the morning was spent sitting and chatting in the garden with Jill and Tim. They were supposed to be leaving today but decided to stay an extra day. They have been travelling by car in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia for 6 months and have another 5 to spend in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Apparently, Chile is the only place that foreigners can buy a car and then cross the borders of other South American countries. Even so, they haven’t got the correct papers and have problems on every border, the resolution of which involves bribes of varying amounts. At the moment, they also have something wrong with the car itself and are just hoping it makes it to Ecuador!

Dyed wool for sale at the Coffee Festival
Dyed wool for sale at the Coffee Festival

In the early afternoon, I decided that I ought to do something more with the day so strolled down to the Plaza de Armas to check out the proceedings, which were in full swing when I arrived. I was puzzled for a little while by the row of concrete blocks that had been set up, with accompanying earthenware pots and firewood. It transpired that there was a coffee bean roasting competition! This was a most entertaining and, to me, hilarious, event. There were several rounds of competitors and everyone was smoked out by the fires. I have got no idea who won.

I wandered around, sampling the free coffee (excellent) as well as the cake made by the catering students and some sort of homemade Baileys. There were lots of stalls with produce, including the biggest avocados I think I have ever seen, and, of course, sacks of coffee beans. It was all organically grown and Peru, apparently, produces excellent coffee that is not generally known by the rest of the world. It is just a pity they don’t usually know how to make a cup of the drinkable variety! There were also a few stalls with ladies selling weavings, which I was naturally drawn to and ended up buying one or two things. They may be for presents or I may end up keeping them…….

A rainbow over the mountains
A rainbow over the mountains

When I had had enough of the Festival, I had a walk to the main market before heading back to the house.

I had been invited to dinner again tonight as Shalloney (a Canadian of Indian origin) was cooking one of her grandmother’s curry recipes. It turned into an excellent evening lubricated by a fair amount of wine and beer. Apart from the guests staying at the house, Mabel and David and their children, the yoga teacher, Laura and her husband, Valentino, also a yoga teacher, joined us. It was a very international gathering with someone from Mexico, the Netherlands, America, Canada, Ethiopia, Peru and, of course, me. Peru was playing another soccer game on the television and actually won, which is, apparently, very unusual, so the residents were happy!

Shoes made of rubber tyres for sale in the market
Shoes made of rubber tyres for sale in the market

In chatting to Laura and Valentino, I discovered they were working on an Earthship project and had undertaken an internship in New Mexico, where it had started. This was quite coincidental as one of my son’s had also been working on an Earthship in NZ and it is not a concept that most people would know about. I was very interested to see one in progress.

The party broke up just after 10pm when it was decided that it was about time the children went to bed!

The intricate art of backstrap weaving

I had another workshop at Apulaya today. This was to learn the art (or at least attempt to learn the basics) of backstrap Andean weaving. The backstrap is a woven strap that is tied around your waist to which the loom is attached, with the other end being tied to a pole across the window (in our case) although I presume the Andean weavers tie it to a chair or something!

Mamacha helping me to set up the loom
Mamacha helping me to set up the loom

Margaret and I were both doing the weaving whilst Terfay was sometimes occupied by Emerita with painting or sewing. We were taught by Valerio’s mother whom we called Mamacha, the meaning of which is Little Mother, in Quechua. All I can say is that she is an unbelievably patient lady! She set up my loom and demonstrated about three hundred times how to move the hecho (which is like the shuttle in Western weaving but, in this case, it is made out of wool). I was almost at a point of giving up when, suddenly, the penny dropped and I worked out how to do it. If I hadn’t mastered the technique, there was no hope for further progress. Once I knew what to do, I spent the remainder of the morning doing some very basic weaving and feeling quite pleased with myself.

It was Emerita’s birthday today and Bobbie had brought a very large cake for her. Peruvians like their iced cakes! This one had a lot of synthetic sweet cream icing but the cake itself was very tasty. We had this at morning tea time and there was still half a cake left for us to finish in the afternoon, even after we had all had very big first pieces!

The birthday cake
The birthday cake

It didn’t seem very long after this that we stopped for lunch. Once again, the food was excellent and we all sat down to eat together. On both days, we had a delicious mixed salad to start with and not of the lettuce variety. It was wonderful to have fresh vegetables, which have been a little lacking in my diet recently.

After lunch, Bobbie and Emerita started to help me set up a loom for a different weaving pattern. Mamacha appeared from her house and took over! She is most definitely the expert. We did this using three sticks banged into the ground, around which we wound the wool in a specific way to create the pattern. Once completed, we moved upstairs to the lovely light room that we had been using for the last couple of days, to start the weaving. Margaret and I both struggled and Mamacha had to attend to both of us in turn as we attempted to do the pattern. The Andean weaving is quite incredible as there is nothing written down, no patterns to follow and the women (and men, in fact), create the patterns in their heads. It probably helps that they have been weaving since they were children though! All the patterns are symbolic of some part of their culture, whether it is the mountains, the land or animals.

Me with Mamacha
Me with Mamacha

I felt exhausted by the end of the day. I haven’t had to concentrate so hard for a long time and, using a backstrap, means that you are placing a strain on your back, leaning over all the time. Mamacha also showed us how to twist the wool as this makes it stronger for weaving. This is done using something like a spinning top and is undertaken after the fleece has been spun. It is common to see people walking in the streets or sitting on stalls in markets either twisting the wool or knitting. They never have idle hands!

Mabel had told us of a yoga class that took place at 5pm so I left early to try and get to that. Margaret and Terfay followed and we were a little late for the class (as I ended up waiting for them and then walking very slowly with them to the venue) but it was very enjoyable and good to stretch out after bending over the loom all day.

In the evening, Tim and Jill cooked a meal for everyone, so we all crowded round David and Mabel’s big table to eat burritos, whilst some people watched a Colombia v Brazil soccer game. It was the same competition that Peru had been playing in the other night and there seems to be a game most nights on the television at the moment. I didn’t stay until the end but went to bed about 9.

Andean philosophy and music

Today I had my first day at Apulaya, the Andean cultural centre I had visited yesterday, so, after breakfast, I walked up with Tim and Jill, who were also going to do the workshop. Margaret and her adopted Ethiopian daughter, Terfay, weren’t ready so followed a bit later. It was only a short walk to Emerita and Valerio’s beautiful property, which is surrounded by mountains and has sheep, lambs, dogs, chickens and rabbits, all at home in the garden.

Valerio teaching me, Tim and Jill how to play the panpipes
Valerio teaching me, Tim and Jill how to play the panpipes

The whole of the morning was spent with Emerita, who explained a lot about the Andean culture and their beliefs in parallel worlds, these being Kaipacha (the objective or physical world of time and space), Pachamama (Mother earth and her cycle) and Ukhupacha (the subjective and invisible world that relates to ideas and creation). They also believe in the upper and lower world of Hanna and Nurin, with the upper world being masculine and the lower world feminine, and in a left and right world. Everything has to have duality or a counterpart. It is such a completely different approach to life that it is very hard to understand, especially for someone brought up in the Western World. It also requires a lot more than a morning to learn about the intricacies of the concept and the symbolism that is represented in all their art and textiles.

At about 12.30pm, we adjourned to the house for an excellent lunch together, after which, there was a little bit of relaxation time before the afternoon music class started. This I took with Tim and Jill, whilst Margaret and Terfay did weaving and other crafts. I learned how to blow the panpipes, as well as having a short session on the Andean flute. The class was taken by Valerio who taught us three songs, which he wanted us to play without music. Mine and Tim’s parts were the same and very basic (and when I say basic, I mean basic!). Valerio and Jill, who had played panpipes already for several years, played the more difficult part. I managed to play it for a while but then we had a break. Absolutely fatal as I could not then remember anything, including the words to one of the songs. I really sometimes wonder about my memory…!

Playing the panpipes in the garden
Playing the panpipes in the garden

At the end of the afternoon, everyone joined in playing percussion, flutes or panpipes so the noise was quite loud. The whole day was most enjoyable. I walked back with Bobbie, who had also been doing some weaving during the day. We decided to have dinner together and went to one of the roast chicken cafes in town. These types of restaurants (Polleria or Pollo Brasserias) are everywhere in Peru and you can order 1/8th, 1/4, 1/2 or whole chicken. The meal comes with soup (of course), help yourself salad and chips. We both ordered an 1/8th, which was more than enough and was excellent. We were surrounded by locals (there really are very few tourists in Calca!) and there was a spit going all the time behind us on which the chickens were roasting.

At the end of the meal, Bobby went to the Internet cafe and I walked home, observing the busy night life in the plaza as I passed by.