-What to do in Peru when its most famous site, Machu Picchu is closed? Arguably perhaps, there are LOTS of things to do that equal or surpass the mother of all tourist lures.

- Mudslides during this year's severe rainy season destroyed railways and any expectations of getting to Machu Piccu. Access from Cuzco has been restored since April, but several months later rails from Ollantaytambo were still out. 

-Despite the disappointment of being so near, yet so far from getting to the renowned heritage site, all is not lost.  A web site, Idealist.org, lists volunteer opportunities worldwide. A posted need for writers by an NGO allows you to meet Threads of Peru, a nongovernmental organization (http://www.threadsofperu.com).

- Its aim is to connect indigenous Andean weavers to markets as well as to educate about the aesthetic and cultural significance of Andean textile traditions. Although focus remains on improving weaving skills, efforts are expanding to include life skills: nutrition, hygiene, child care, alcohol use, birth control and domestic violence. 

Getting to Remote Villages:


Meeting with the Weavers And Their Children:

-Unused to the idea of commerce, the women lack understanding of why creative design and quality is important. They have always woven just because they need clothes. The idea of consistent output according to specific dimensions is equally foreign, not to mention deadlines. They are shown examples of excellent work compared to poor work and ensuing price differences. Threads of Peru (ToP) provides a weaver teacher as well as instruction on other subjects.


A Look at Child Care:

-Nutrition is the focus during both a day trip from Cuzco to Rumira Sondormayo and a two-day trip further into Andean communities, Chapuni and Chaullaqocha. Four hours after leaving the van where the road ends, camp is set up on the Chapuni school grounds, surrounded by the community's stone and adobe houses, most with thatch roofs. The next day is spent weighing and measuring the children who are often stunted by malnutrition.


A Cooking Demonstration and a Look at Nutrition:

-A cooking demonstration in Ramira drew avid onlookers. Threads of Peru trek chef, Martn introduced basics such as sautéing onions and garlic. He demonstrated how to diversify their diet from the ubiquitous potato, combining quinoa with sausage and cheese bits, peppers, chives, onions, garlic and beans topped with a pureed pumpkin sauce. In this village there is access to a variety of vegetables, but affording them is the problem.


-Most of the husbands are porters for treks and the sole source of income (other than weaving, which is in its beginning stages. One possibility is organizing a food coop where quantity purchases could benefit individual familes. Mothers eagerly bring their children, data is gathered, and plans are made for the next visit.

A Fascinating Side Trip to Lake Titicaca:

-A trip to Lake Titicaca also offers opportunities to stay with local people. A typical tour spends a morning on the floating islands of Uros accessed by boat from Puno. These islands are created by harvesting reeds from the lake, drying them and adding them on top of those already there, an ongoing process since the layers under water decompose.


Taquile Island:


-Then it's on to Taquile Island, where the night is spent with local families. Taquile houses are far more substantial than the Uros reed huts, and families with an extra room offer homestays. The island could also be called Tranquil, since there are no automobiles, no barking dogs and tourism is managed so as to allow the locals to benefit from the income without totally changing their way of life.

-Taquile is one of few places that can still give a glimpse of a traditional Andean community, unless you go far off the beaten track into the Andes with a group like Threads of Peru and its travel branch, Apus Peru.

Last Stop: Amantani Island


-The next day takes in Amantani island. Be prepared for huffing and puffing on the way up to the Pacha-tata monument on top of the island. Air is thin up there. However, the mountainous views of the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca are well worth the effort.  


Peru is a fabulous experience. .. with Macchu Pichu or without.

-Photo Credits: Linda Quinet

For Additional Information: Threads of Peru Tours http://www.threadsofperu.com/get-involved/visit-communities

– as published in Romar Traveler online magazine