Morning comes early on the farm, and I woke up around 4am to the donkey horn... Eee-ahhhhh... Checked my alarm and went back to sleep. Finally, after a few hours of donkey alarm, I got up around 6:30 and laid under my 5 llama blankets til 7am. Got dressed quickly (it was freezing!! No heat in our house!) and went down the stairs to head to the bathroom. On the way I noticed what looked like sheep droppings along the pathway to the bathroom. One note on the bathroom - we apparently were lucky enough to have an actual toilet, albeit without a seat, but it was more than just a hole in the ground.
On the way back from the bathroom I was almost run over by a herd of sheep. Victor had taken the sheep out to pasture and was bringing them back. As we walked back to our room Hilia joined us and explained with lots of miming that there was water available for us to wash our faces and brush our teeth. We stood in front of two bowls of water unsure of exactly how to use them to brush our teeth. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to spit in the water, or down the sink (which ultimately just drained onto the ground) or where exactly. After brushing our teeth for a solid 4 minutes I took the initiative and just spit in one of the bowls.
We went to the dining room and sat down. Awaiting us was a bowl of popcorn (breakfast of champions!) and a plate of either cake or bread, we weren't sure which, cut into triangles. We sat for just a few moments before Victor came in with mugs with some kind of liquid inside with what looked like potatoes floating in them. I brought the cup up to my nose and sniffed it.. it smelled sort of like porridge. Erin and I looked at each other. Do we drink this or do we use spoons? An executive decision was made to wait until Victor came in with his to see what he did. He used his spoon. We tried the bread/cake, which was actually very good. It was dense and a little bit sweet. Finished breakfast off with some tea and headed down to the square to meet the group.
The women of the community all joined us in the square with giant packs of their handmade items on their backs. We helped our respective homestay moms lay out their wares in anticipation of the arriving busses of other GAP tour participants. (GAP brings many of their tours to the community for demonstrations on how the wool is produced and to allow the passengers to purchase handmade goods from the people from the community).
I definitely felt that we were getting a much more authentic experience at the community by staying with the families and being part of their lives. The people that arrived on the bus only got to see a small part of what made this community work but we got to LIVE the experience (which had it's ups and downs but overall was really amazing)
After the other groups started to leave, we were given a demo of how the women got the yarn that they made the crafts with. Originally, when GAP came to the community, they gave the people a few alpacas. Since then, as nature seems to do, the alpacas have increased and there are at least 12. Once a year the women shear the alpacas (or llamas or sheep, though alpaca wool is the softest of all 3) and spin the wool into thin threads. They do this by stretching a wad of fluff into a thin string, twisting it and then attaching it to what looks like a top. They then spin the top and let it hang down, which causes the fluff to be spun into a long thread. Once this is done, they dye the yarn.
All of the dyes that they use to colour the yarn are made naturally. Some are made from plants, like eucalyptus plants (which make a greenish blue colour) and others like red/purple are made from insects like the cochineal (see the wiki article here). The yarn is boiled over a fire in a clay pot for a few hours to get it's hue and then hung out to dry.
After the yarn is coloured and dried, it may be spun a few more times - one strand yarn is often used for woven articles, and 2 strand yarn (spinning 2 strands of the same colour together) or 3 strand yarn is used for knitting/crocheting hats and sweaters and scarves. The incredible part of the process is that it becomes second nature for these women to be spinning wool while walking around the community, selling their crafts etc. We had the opportunity to try to spin the yarn ourselves and let me tell you, it was impossible!
Watching the women weave was so amazing. They start as young girls, around the age of 7, making things like belts and small purses etc. They use intricate patterns to depict things like suns and trees and other things that fit into a story. When they start out making things they use a guide to tell them what threads go up and which go down, but after a few years they just know how to make the pattern.
After the weaving demo, we were supposed to go help out at the local school. We walked over to the school only to find that the ministry of education was currently there testing the students and so we couldn't interrupt. So, instead we went over to the preschool and visited the kids. All of the kids were between 3 and 5, and were absolutely adorable!! They got all excited to see us and sang us a song. Once finished, they looked at us, crossed their arms and demanded we sing them a song back. The only song we all knew and could sing with any accuracy was Oh Canada, which we did. The kids didn't know what to think - it's not exactly the most entertaining song to listen to! Our presence wasn't very conducive to a proper learning environment, and the kids were all distracted, so only a couple people from the group stayed back.
From the preschool we were given a tour of the guinea pig farm (cuy is the spanish name, for the sound they make) and then started off on a hike around the area. Theodora, Rose and Heather's homestay mom, showed us where the farmers went out into the fields, as well as showed us a lot of the plants that are used in the dying of the wool and what they look in the wild. She explained that a typical day for the members of the community consists of the men getting up and heading out to the fields around 8am. The women meet in the square, weave til around 11 or so and then go back to their homes. Once home, they start to prepare lunch, which they then put into their clay pots and put on their back and take it out to their husbands in the fields. They eat lunch together, and then head back home. Around 6pm everyone (husbands, children etc) all meet back at home for dinner. I can't imagine how they possibly do this, hiking back and forth through the fields with the stuff on their backs like that!! These people are crazy in shape!
Because we were planning on meeting for lunch and our volunteering projects for the day weren't happening the way we intended, we all went back to our respective homestays. Erin and I hiked up the massive hill for what would likely be the last time. Once there, Hilia suggested we nap, but we weren't really in the mood. I decided I wanted to go talk to my sheep (since my sheep talking skills were more effective than my spanish skills). When I walked down to their enclosure, I found that one of Hilia's daughters had a couple of the lambs out and was holding it down while she picked bugs off it's wool. I crouched down and convinced the other one to come over to me so I could hug it. That's right, I'm the sheep whisperer.
When I walked back up to the house I found Hilia bringing out a bundle of string and wooden frames. As her daughter helped her stretch it out, I saw that she was making a scarf. There was a main frame that held all the strands and 4 different other frames that held the threads in different heights so that she could hold some up or some down in different combos to create the pattern she was making. It was really ingenious. Erin and I were given chairs and we watched her weave for about 45 min. It was mesmerizing, actually. All the while, a little boy named Marco was showing off to us, pushing the wheelbarrow that his father (I think) was needing to build the house across the way.
We got so caught up in watching the weaving/building that all of a sudden it was time to go for lunch. We grabbed our stuff, Hilia gathered her food containers in her woven blanket and tied to her back and we all trekked down the hill. We all went to one of the other homestays and sat ourselves in a circle. The women of the community opened up their packages. The laid the spread out and it was amazing - quinoa, potato soup type stuff, a chicken/onion mixture, a mutton/onion mixture, some amazing potato pancakes, some cheese (oh man... that cheese is so good!) and some salad... and the kicker - some guinea pig cooked in the oven.
I tried a little of everything, and I have to say the potato mixture and the quinoa and the cheese and the potato pancakes were my favourites. I wish I'd gotten the recipe for the pancake things, I would definitely make those on my own time!
After lunch we all posed for photos with our homestay moms and then had to pack up our stuff. We all headed back towards the tour bus, gave some of the children from the community a hug and got on the bus. We all waved goodbye and headed off down the treacherous hill.
Despite the fact that when we arrived I was pretty apprehensive about the whole experience, it ended up being an amazing and enlightening experience. It's amazing that these people who live up in the hills, growing their own food and living off pretty much just tourists coming to visit (or being porters for the tourists on the trek) still have such fullfilling lives.
I'd love to go back someday.