Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Alpaca museum and weaving in loose ends

I know I've been kind of lagging in the knitting section of this blog... in my defense, I've been quite busy (writing, having Christmas in summer, going to parties and barbecues, drinking Fernet and Coke in Buenos Aires which apparently I'm the only foreigner in the world who actually thinks is delicious,) and plus the temperature in Argentina and Chile was around 40 degrees and humid - not exactly propitious for knitting woolly mittens.

After a harrowing 42 hours of transit by bus and colectivo from Valaraiso to Santiago, Arica, Tacna, and finally Arequipa, I found myself back in the heartland of alpaca wool culling clothes left and right to make more room in my backpack for yarn.  For anyone interested in purchasing good quality alpaca wool, I got mine from a tiny alleyway filled with touristy restaurants and little artisan shops, just off of Calle Alvarez Tomas and to the north of Plaza de Armas.  One particular shop had a little bit more upscale, hand-knitted sweaters, hats, and gloves rather than the generic manufactured things you see everywhere, and if you ask the surly woman at the front desk she'll take you into the back room and show you a stash of alpaca skeins - 50 grams for 5 soles.  Any Sol Alpaca boutique you find will also sell skeins of baby alpaca, but you may end up paying an arm and a leg for them.

So I was staying up in San Lazaro, a tiny historic district filled with cobblestones and lantern-lined alley ways, and right around the corner from my hostel I discovered Mundo Alpaca, a museum of all things alpaca.  For anyone interested in textiles, it's sheer paradise because you get to wander through, learn about different types of alpacas, run your hands through a giant pile of raw wool, and watch it go through the combing, carding, spinning, and weaving process.

For anyone not interested in textiles, it's worth a look-see because a) it's free, and b) you get to see these guys!

But really, anyone curious about traditional artisan crafts in South America should set aside half an hour for this museum.  There are crazy machines with giant wheels and cogs reminiscent of Modern Times, (the knitting machine made me feel depressingly superfluous,) a dyeing station, and women demonstrating their mad weaving skills.  It really gives you an insider's perspective on all the work that goes into the alpaca industry, and just how important it is to the culture and economy of the area - of the estimated 4 million alpacas in South America, 95% of them are in central and southern Peru.  Plus, there's a gift shop at the end filled with gorgeous luxury alpaca garments, but I had no money left at this point and couldn't let myself go in because I would just get sad.

Overall, it made me really want to try spinning my own yarn, and I came close to buying one of those dreidel-shaped drop spindles you see women spinning with on street corners.  But, realistically, I would have no way of buying raw wool and then no patience for actually sitting down and spinning it.  Some day, though, when I actually have an overabundance of free time.