We are staying in a beautiful hotel in Yucay. There are flowers everywhere. This morning we got to take part in an Offering Ceremony to the Earth in the church that is on the property (pictures 2 – 5). It was conducted by a Andean healer and is an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Pachamamma is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. After the conquest by Spain, which forced conversion to Roman Catholicism, the figure of the Virgin Mary became united with that of the Pachamama.
Before the ceremony, the healer explained how the ancient religion and Catholicism were merged and that the purpose of the ceremony was to offer thanks to Mother Earth/Virgin Mary for all she has provided. We all got 3 coca leaves and he prayed for quite a while in the ancient Incan dialict and we were supposed to pray in thanksgiving and for blessings for ourselves and other people. After that, we all went up front and he made the offering which had all kinds of things all of which had meaning (which we cannot totally remember) – llama fat, sage, food (lima beans, other beans, quinoa), sweets (animal crackers, cake crumbs, sprinkles), and colored wool, then it was surrounded by white cotton to represent the snow and the rain, and then all of the coca leaves that we were holding while we were praying were put in there and then we each sprinkled confetti. Then we took it outside and burned it as an offering. It was pretty cool.
After that, we went to Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region. It is located at 9,120 feet above sea level and we had to walk up all these stairs. We actually did very well so we were proud of ourselves. Machu Picchu should be a breeze – it is 1,200 feet lower. One of the more interesting things the guide told us was about the terraces. Historians believe that the Incas used these for agricultural experiments to allow them to grow different kinds of crops. They would get a crop that grew somewhere else, plant it on the bottom terrace where it was warmer and every year move it up a terrace to try to acclimate it to the colder climate. Pretty ingenious.
We stopped at a beautiful place for lunch in Urubamba, Sol y Luna (pictures 14 – 15). The surrounding mountains and all the flowers looked very much like Hawaii. What did not look like Hawaii was the glacier that was located on a mountain just outside the restaurant. Quite the variety of environments. We were adventurous and tried the marinated beef hearts. Actually if you forgot what you were eating, it was very flavorful and very tender. The owner of the restaurant raises horses and we got a very nice horse show. One of the horses danced with a lady, which was very cool to watch. After lunch they took us to a typical house and we got to see how people live. The people in the area raise guinea pigs as food for special occasions and they are allowed to just run around the house.
Our last stop was Chinchero where we got to see how textiles are made following the ancient Incan practices. It was amazing to learn all the steps. It starts with very dirty alpaca wool. To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant. Once washed, the wool is ready to spin. They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time. The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn. At this stage, it is time for dyeing. All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered. Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors. For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus. The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot. The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.
Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry. Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it. A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven. To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together. Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks. The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero. We had quite the cultural day today and it was a great day.