Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ropa bordada

The Colca Canyon. At 3,800 meters above sea level, the place leaves you gasping for breath. Drinking lots of coca tea helps, as does chewing coca leaves with a piece of volcanic stone to soften the leaves. The whole endeavor leaves your mouth numb and gives you a bit of a buzz. I am here now and continuing on my fiber adventure in Peru.

I have bought some amazing hats from the ladies in the markets/mercados we passed along the way. And there are the little children who, for one sole, which is about 30 cents will let you take their picture. I saw a baby alpaca about 2 months old taking it easy on a table of tapestries that the woman was selling. I really do feel like I am part of a National Geographic special, it is all so different from what I am used to back home. What a turista I am!

This is the place where some of the world’s finest fibre comes from -- alpaca, llama and vicuna. There seems to be a debate about which is a finer fibre, vicuna or cashmere. All I know is the adorable animals, with their giraffe like necks, long spindly legs and their huge brown eyes, are very strange to look at and part of an endangered species. One vicuna scarf costs $500, so it is out of my price range. Then there are the three alpacas who are cutting the lawn at the guest house where we are staying. Much prettier than our regular lawn mower from Canadian Tire! I want them to come home with me.

I have seen so many beautiful fabics, all machine embroidered in motifs called ropa bordada. Most women wear these traditonal outfits to show that they are part of a group and have been doing so for the past 500 years or so. These outfits form their identity. They started using sewing machines to embroider the fabric the last 50 years or so. Who can say no to the modern convenience?

The full skirts of this outfit look cumbersome to me but apparently the skirt can be quite functional to their daily lives and looped up around the waistband, it can serve as a large pocket, that is handy to carry lunch to your husband in the field, taking groceries from market or sowing quinoa seeds.

These outfits cost a lot to produce and they also seem to be a form of status, much like designer jeans would be to me. There seem to be a lot of turistas buying the hats, passport, cell phone and digital camera holders with the ropa bordata on them so I suppose that is a good source of income for the folks from the Colca Canyon. It is all very interesting, this blending of traditions and cultures. I think the Peruvians have a lot of ingenuity -- selling us rich North Americans stuff for our technology toys!


  1. Hi Cathy

    your trip sounds like such an amazing experience!! ( keep chewing those coca leaves!)
    can't wait to hear and see more!
    xo sheila

  2. Cathy, your photos are brilliant. I am enjoying your commentaries so much! Wishing you a wonderful conclusion to your epic journey, and thank you for sharing it with us!