Thursday, April 5, 2012
After two lovely days in Machu Picchu, it was time to head back to Cuzco. But when my train arrived at Ollantaytambo station in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, I still had one thing left to do: meet one of the town’s most important organizations.
Or rather, they met me. As soon as my train pulled into the station, I was welcomed by Layla, a volunteer with Awamaki, an NGO in the Sacred Valley that promotes women’s fair trade weaving and knitting projects as well as education, health, and sustainable tourism.
As we walked up the hill from the train station to the town, Layla told me about Awamaki’s goal of empowering impoverished indigenous communities by promoting traditional Quechua weaving. The craft provides women with a sustainable income stream while promoting an important aspect of their culture.
Once we reached Ollantaytambo, Layla took me to the Awamaki shop. In it a myriad of woven goods ranging from belts to bags was on display. There was also a binder full of photos and stories about the local Quechua women that weaved the pieces for sale.
After admiring the weaving, we walked through the local market. Layla’s host family had a stall there, as did many others in the community. Above us towered stunning Inca ruins. A zig-zagging wall crawling up the hillside resembled the fortifications of a medieval European castle, while the terraced walls beneath it were all Inca.
As we meandered over to the town’s main square, Layla told me that Awamaki offers visitors to Ollantaytambo opportunities to do home stays with local families. It also runs tours and workshops where people traveling through Peru can learn woodcarving, traditional cooking, basket weaving, pottery, and traditional loom weaving.
At the end of our walk, we settled in for tea at Le Esquina, a cafe and bakery run by some of the Awamaki staff as a separate enterprise. The place was busy with people sipping tea and eating pastries while catching up with friends or taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi on their laptops.
After tea I said good-bye to Layla and hopped in a combi (mini-bus) to Urubamba. From there I took a shared taxi to Cuzco. My accommodation for the night was the Libertador Palacio Del Inka Hotel, a large luxury hotel by the Iglesia de Santo Domingo that had offered me a room for the evening.
The hotel had a grand lobby and intimate restaurant on the ground floor. The check-in staff was friendly and helpful, and one of its members escorted me to my suite above. It was huge, and featured a large bed, sitting area, desk, and spacious ensuite bathroom. Some of the furniture was a bit small for the size of the room, but it was comfortable and provided more than enough places for me to spread out.
I got settled in and went to dinner at a local restaurant that had come highly recommended by people I met in the Peruvian Amazon. My dinner at MAP Cafe was good, and after eating there I knew why it was considered one of the best restaurants in Cuzco. However, the terrible food poisoning that ensued put a damper on my enthusiasm for the place and its cuisine.
But it didn’t dent my excitement for the land of the Incas. My time in Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley had been one of the highlights of my trip to Peru, and I departed for Lake Titicaca the next morning knowing that I would be back someday. If nothing else, I would love to catch up with my welcoming hosts at Awamaki and visit their local weavers to see the traditional techniques in practice.