I recently went to Ecudador in order to visit Child 1, who spent an exchange year there. But as she decided that she didn’t really have a lot of time for mum (teenagers, ey?! Eye roll…) I went on a combined language course/trip through the Andes and I LOVED it!
I won’t bore you with my stories of the well trodden path of my journey through the Andes, but I went to a tour of a local weaving mill which might interest you.
It started off quite touristy, but when the owner realised I was really interested in their craft rather than seeing the tour as one step on the tourist trail she spent a lot of time with me explaining everything.
This is the llama wool fleece before it’s spun and the plants and berries they use for dying the fleece.
Natural dyes can be a bit gruesome I learned – one picks the fungus off the cactus in order to generate a dye, so an indigenous weaver can’t be too particular about yucky things.
The fleece has to be combed in order to clean and prepare it for spinning. It’s a process that is A LOT of work – so I completely understand why fine wool knitting yarn is so expensive.
I was particularly excited about seeing the looms in action.
This is the fabric she was producing:
The gap in the middle of the fabric between the blue and the beige part, is there on purpose: it helps the resulting ponchos to fold over on itself so it will drape around your body more easily.
This loom is used sitting on the floor. The lady told me that normally this job is only been done by men, but she’s a bit of a feminist, so she has learned the craft do (at least I think that what she said, my Spanish is improving, but it’s a process…)
Normally the weaver know the patterns by heart, especially as they produce traditional pattern over and over again. But this lady decided she wanted to preserve these patterns for her children and grandchildren and therefore she created these charts.
Of course I also went to the indigenous market in Otavalo, the village that is most popular for its Indian crafts
I did buy a few things there, but to be honest most of the fabrics and ponchos, sweaters and cardigans weren’t really to my taste. It’s all very traditional and really a little boring, for me at least. It’s such a shame, given that the crafts people are so talented and work so very hard.
I think if they updated their products a little they could make a fortune on the European or US market, but I also guess they don’t need to, they seem to be doing well enough as is.
This leg of the journey was really exciting: My Spanish teacher Vanessa took me to a local market. This one is not geared to tourists at all, so you really see Ecuatorian life as it is in the Andes.
If you are in the market for a llama …
or some sheep, you are in the right place.
If you don’t want to commit to buying a whole animal, you can buy fleece too:
Mind you, it still needs to be washed…
Alternatively you can buy almost anything else there. And yes, the red hair on the left hand side belongs to Child 1, there are no red haired Ecuatorians, at least not indigenous ones!
I was all excited about the food market as well:
Ecuatorians eat a lot of carbs, mainly in the form or rice, but they eat a lot of pulses as well. In the market you buy them by the pound.
Oh, and bananas! So many bananas!
In Cuenca I also went fabric shopping. I only bought a little bit, much of the fabric was a little too glitzy for my taste, or too sombre (a lot of dark wools)
Most of the prices weren’t great, I could probably get similar fabric at similar prices and Germany and of course a lot cheaper in the right places in the UK. And again, like in Barcelona there wasn’t much that struck my fancy.
Though if you like drama in a wedding dress you’ve come to the right place! Or indeed if you need golden tresses. I should have bought some in order to brighten up the Russian General Coat, but of course I only realised after I’d come back home.
All in all I can say that I loved Ecuador. It’s been my first time to South America and I was really nervous before going, but everybody was so nice and welcoming and I really hope to be back one day.
Well, I’ll leave you with the sight of my behind in the Andes – special treat, you know?!
And if you need to recover now, take heart from these wise words: “Refresh your day with a Pilsener in your hand!”