Peru and Alpaca
Last month my husband and I took a 12 day journey to Peru for our 25th anniversary and traveled from Lima, to Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley and back to Lima. It was more an adventure than a relaxing vacation but a very interesting one!
For someone like me who is a crafts and textiles lover, Peru was an ultimate destination. Of course our primary reason for visiting was Machu Picchu and the other archeological sites but good crafts shopping ranks a close second in my book.
Weaving, knitting, embroidery and gourd carving are the main crafts. The styles of embroidery and weaving varies from region to region. In another article I will write about the different crafts in the regions that we visited.
The primary fiber that they promote in Peru is alpaca. All over the country you see cameloids. There are llamas in the city streets and in the rural areas where they are used as pack animals and dinner! Also very rare but used for their very fine fur are vicunas. Said to have the world’s softest and warmest fur, the fiber is exorbitant because they only produce a small amount of fur and can only be shorn every three years. I was told that sweaters start at $1000 ! I was on the hunt for a good quality alpaca sweater. I got educated between fake and quality. We had private tour guides in each location and I questioned all of them.
Everywhere you go, there are people selling “alpaca” shawls, scarves, blankets and sweaters….not just at every tourist site but in the halls of your hotel and on the sides of streets and even on the church steps! All the goods are laid out so nicely and look beautiful. I have an alpaca sweater so I know that they are soft and when I felt some of these goods they were soft. They had labels on them in English and the word ‘Alpaca’ in big letters. But when I asked the price of a shawl or scarf, the price was so low ($20 or less) that it couldn’t be genuine alpaca. I asked my guide and he verified that they are fake labels added for unwitting tourists who want a bargain.
The other confusing factor that all the Peruvian vendors shouted was ‘baby alpaca’. That was to mean that it is the finest, softest but not that it is from a young animal. It is the first shearing of the alpaca and is supposed to be the softest.
Our dilemma was that we wanted to pay the money to the artisans who make the goods and that was difficult to do. The guides said that all the quality alpaca sweaters are made in factories and sold in boutiques in the cities and hotel lobbies etc.
Our guide took us to two crafts cooperatives where women from 12-20 communities bring their wares to sell. The first one was fascinating as they showed how the alpaca fleece is spun into yarn and then dyed with natural plants and animals before it is woven or knitted. We saw women weaving with back strap looms here and all over the country.
I bought this table runner that is made of alpaca but must be the second shearing because it feels like wool. It is 4 feet and was $85 and took her over a month to weave.
At the end of day 11, after going to a giant commercial sweater store without finding anything, our nice guide said that there was one more shop in Cusco on the way to our hotel and we stopped at La Vicunita which is a small factory that makes their own designs. It was beautiful and packed to the ceiling with alpaca items. The saleswoman gave me samples to feel. One was acrylic, one was wool, one was alpaca and the softest was baby alpaca. They also make Peruvian pashmina which is a silk/alpaca blend and lightweight. I definitely wanted baby alpaca and she helped me find this sweater ($120). Also I bought this purple shawl ($80) with a border of stylized alpacas woven in.
I just love alpaca and llama faces!
Then in one of the boutiques in town we bought this contemporary men’s baby alpaca sweater for our son for Christmas. He’ll be a very fashionable student on campus!