Around 4000 metres above sea level, Patacancha is a traditional Quechua community about an hour’s drive from Ollantaytambo on a dirt road. The small town is remote so people in Patacancha live much as they have for centuries, weaving, farming, and raising animals.
I had the incredible opportunity to visit this town with my guide, Juan Yupanqui who is part of that community. The community is mostly Quechua speaking so it´s not easy to visit it alone. My visit was aimed at learning about natural fibers, the dyeing materials and techniques used by an Andean community of weavers and to learn the basics of weaving. I had previously met Elena, Juan´s wife and an incredible weaving artist who would be my teacher in the community at Apu Lodge where I was staying while in the valley. Every week, Elena travels to the lodge to sell some of her wonderful pieces.
The journey to Patacancha is hard to describe because of the breathtaking beauty of the landscapes and the immensity of the valley. We passed several small towns and archaeological sites, stopping at Pumamarca to buy chicha de jora, a popular local beverage made with corn.
Altitude sickness had barely touched me in Ollantaytambo as it is does not even reach 3,000 metres above sea level but Patacancha is about 1000 metres higher up so once we arrived I found it hard to do even basic things such as walking (in the rain!) to the Yupanqui home. Their home is a typical Patacancha one, the family is close knit and was very welcoming and friendly to me. Most of the time Quechua was spoken; since I don´t speak or understand it, I also turned it into an opportunity to learn the sounds and a few words that I´ve now mostly forgot.
The visit turned out to not only provide me with opportunities to learn about traditional weaving, but it also gave me insight into a culture different to mine and learn directly what life is like in an Andean community.
Even though I had brought a boxed lunch with me, the Yupanqui´s were really generous and cooked a delicious meal for me. They cooked a delicious quinoa soup and there were tons of the most gorgeous and tasty potatoes I've ever had on my life, straight from their crop! Of course we also had cups and cups of coca tea.
After lunch came weaving class; I was first introduced to spinning by Juan and then Elena and her friend Felícita took over. They then showed me the different materials used for dyeing the yarn.
Weaving class was done outside the house, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by nature. I was given a really cool alpaca mat to sit on.
Weaving takes time and is an intricate process, Felícita taught me how to weave a bracelet and right after time was up. I really cherish this experience and am hoping I can visit again and spend more time weaving with these ladies.
As an extra treat, before we went back to Ollantaytambo, Juan drove me to an area higher up where his alpaca herd was grazing. I was extremely happy to spend some time watching them so peaceful, far from the world I inhabit. This visit made me reflect so much on how incredibly rich Andean culture is; it's one thing to read about it and another to immerse yourself in it. I can´t wait to come back, maybe even move here for a while...