Peru, Part 7 – Alejandro Flores

Alejandro Flores – ©Deidre AdamsAlejandro Flores shows local plant he uses for natural dyeing


In 2005, Taquile was added to the UNESCO Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, a list that recognizes the function and values of living cultural expressions and practices, and seeks to raise awareness of the need to safeguard them. The criteria for inclusion on the list includes “proof of excellence in the application of the skill and technical qualities displayed” as well as demonstrated “outstanding value as masterpiece of the human creative genius.” Taquile was selected for its “cultural space … and its textile art, which is produced as an everyday activity by both men and women, regardless of their age, and worn by all community members” (Taquile and its Textile Art).

Alejandro Flores Huatta is one of the more well-known textile artists on Taquile. He was selected by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to assist with curating the “All Roads Are Good: Native Voices on Life and Culture” exhibition in 1994. We didn’t know any of this before our visit, but during our boat trip over, Susan talked with another passenger who happened to have one of his weavings with him, which Susan admired, and thus began the quest to find him.

Although it seems that Alejandro gets the credit, the weaving business is a family endeavor. During our visit, Alejandro set up the loom, but then it was his wife who proceeded to sit down to do the actual weaving for the demonstration. Another family member finishes the fringe on the ends of the woven pieces and handles the money when a visitor makes a purchase.

The traditional process of weaving is low-tech and labor-intensive, involving solid color stripes with an intricately patterned center strip that makes the addition of each row of weft very time-consuming. It can take many days to complete one piece.

As is typical on this island where it’s the men who are known for knitting, Alejandro himself is a knitter. The Taquilean technique is different from the usual I’ve seen. The men feed the yarn from around their necks and instead of their fingers, they use their thumbs to wrap the yarn around the needle to create the stitch. They are amazingly fast in the execution of their complicated patterns. After putting on his glasses, Alejandro proceeded to demonstrate the technique for us.

Alejandro Flores knitting – ©Deidre Adams


Textile Arts of Taquile Island, Peru explains the traditions of the caps worn by the men:

During the latter part of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, unmarried men wore a finely-knit cap (ch’ullu soltero) with a colored base and white top, without earflaps. Married men, especially those who had completed community service, wore a red and navy blue striped knit cap (pintay ch’ullu), filled with design motifs along its length. Some men wore a ch’ullu oreja (also called ninri ch’ullu), an Aymara- or Lake Titicaca–style knit cap that has earflaps, which usually includes numerous multicolored rainbow-like rows.

The Flores family is unique on Taquile because their weavings are done with fibers colored only with natural dyes. Alejandro showed us the materials used to make the dyes, along with samples of the dyed wool. This one is cochinilla (cochineal), which comes from an insect that lives and feeds on the prickly pear cactus.

Alejandro demonstrates the color by crushing one of the dried insects


Starbucks Coffee recently stepped into a big controversy by using cochineal to color their strawberry Frappuchinos, but what people didn’t know is that it’s been used for centuries to add red coloring to textiles, cosmetics, and yes, even food. This great article from Business Insider has more on the process.

Unfortunately, our memories didn’t serve as I’d hoped, and I haven’t been able to discover the name of the small orange-flowered plant at the top of this post or the green-leaved one (below, in the image gallery). If anyone reading this happens to know, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment.

The naturally-dyed woven pieces made by the Flores family have a distinctive color palette. This is the one I decided I had to have:


(click for full image)


The family doesn’t sell their work in the local cooperative store in the plaza, and neither do they export it as far as we could tell. They don’t label the pieces, either, so it would seem they don’t make a huge effort to promote it anywhere. We thought that they must do a very nice business simply through word of mouth, but in researching for this post, I discovered that Alejandro Flores is just as well known for his hospedaje (lodging house) as for his textiles.

2017-10-15T16:15:27+00:00 November 24th, 2012|Travel|2 Comments

Peru, Part 6 – Taquile


Taquile – ©Deidre Adams

Our visit to Taquile Island was without a doubt one of the standout highlights of the trip. This small island has a population of about 2,200 people – fewer than our local high school. They are an indigenous people, marrying almost completely within the community, and the entire population shares nine surnames(1). Family and community are very important. The lifestyle is simple, consisting mostly of farming, with production of handmade textiles and tourism as sources of income. Most of the residents speak mainly Quechua, with Spanish being secondary. Electricity is somewhat of a luxury, but it’s becoming more common now with the availability of solar panels. Many of the residents don’t have running water in their homes and have to go each day to public spigots to fill large containers.

(NOTE: This is not the place to come if you aren’t open to doing without a few of your accustomed creature comforts or if you don’t like hiking.)

Boats at Taquile shore – ©Deidre Adams

The island is a series of hills, and there are no roads or motorized vehicles. All people, animals, and goods that come or go do so via boats which dock at one of two main areas. (I never saw any boats larger than this one.) Anything that doesn’t walk must be carried up or down the steep hillside between the docks and the populated areas.

Heavy burden – ©Deidre AdamsThis man is carrying about 4 cases of beer in bottles, presumably to be consumed by tourists in one of the small restaurants.


When we first arrived, the walk up the hill with our belongings was done very slowly, as the high altitude can make things difficult for those who are not fully acclimatized. Although it wasn’t far at all, it probably took us 20-30 minutes to walk to our destination.


Most of the accommodations consist of homestays, in which you are lodging with a family. In our case, it turned out to be more like a boarding house, in a complex which at one time was used as a prison but is now owned by a local family. The accommodations include breakfast, and we also had our dinners there at a very reasonable price. The rooms are very basic, no frills, and no heat. Baños are out back behind the kitchen, but you do get a chamber pot in your room in case you don’t want to take a walk at night. Do bring a flashlight! Nights can get pretty cold, so each bed is made up with several very heavy blankets. (Note: Be sure to watch your head when going in or out of the room!)


The family didn’t really interact with us much other than serving meals, but there were a couple of members who made themselves a little more visible:


The island has a central square with a couple of restaurants, some small convenience stores, a municipal office or two, and a large two-story warehouse where you can shop for local hand-woven and hand-knitted items. Late morning and afternoon, this plaza is full of tourists who come just for the day, as well as people visiting from other islands nearby. Each local area has its own style of dress, and with enough experience, a person could learn to identify someone’s place of origin just by how they are dressed. While women from other areas wear distinctive types of hats, Taquile women’s headwear consists of long black shawls, and they wear several layers of heavy gathered skirts that make them look larger than they actually are.


If you consider visiting, I would recommend at least one overnight, as it’s not worth doing it as a day trip. (See this entertaining review from travelj60, who would no doubt concur with my assessment.) We spent two nights, giving us one full and two partial days for exploring. You can walk all over the island on meandering, interconnecting pathways and trails, and some of it does get rather strenuous. The first day, we set out for a high point of the island in search of one of their famous beautiful sunsets. In the end, the clouds defeated our plans, but we did get to see some spectacular skies and some Inca ruins.

In the doorway of one ancient structure, César demonstrates the proper burial position for a deceased Inca VIP


For detailed information on Taquile textile traditions and dress, I recommend this informative article from Berg Fashion Library. But I will just briefly mention the sandals worn by most of the residents, which are made from recycled rubber tires and are purchased off the island – usually in Puno. For those who are into recycling and sustainability, you’ll like this method of making a utilitarian gate hinge, which I saw in use more than once on the island:


Now for anyone who’s still with me at this point, I shall leave you with a couple of abstractions, just because that’s kinda’ my thing.

(1) Textile Arts of Taquile Island, Peru

2017-10-15T16:15:28+00:00 November 19th, 2012|Travel|2 Comments

Peru, Part 5 – Puno & Lake Titicaca

Puno is a city of about 100,000 people at the edge of Lake Titicaca, which is the reason most tourists have for visiting it. We arrived there in the late afternoon, so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time exploring, but what we did see of it was lovely.

Our hotel was near the central plaza with its cathedral, and when we went inside, we saw they were in the midst of preparing for something, with lots of flowers next to the pews – we thought maybe a wedding. There was also lots of activity out front, with people setting up speakers and some kind of display. We later learned that it was preparation for the festivities to be held that evening for the Lord of the Miracles festival. This is a very big deal in Lima but is celebrated in other Peruvian cities and towns as well.

[El Señor de los Milagros festival] celebrates a 350-year-old mural of the Lord of Miracles (Christ). Painted by a freed slave, the fresco has survived vindictive authorities, bumbling workmen and three earthquakes. The first procession took place in 1687, when an earthquake obliterated the chapel that housed the portrait, leaving only the altar and the miraculous mural. (Lonely Planet)

Walking the narrow, busy streets in Puno can be a challenge, as the sidewalks are often too narrow for two people to pass. Be sure to look for traffic before stepping out into the street!


We woke early the next day for our ride to the marina via bicycle taxi (trishaw?), one of the more fun ways to get around in Puno. The rider-drivers are quite resourceful and can get you to your destination quickly even if they have to find a way around a traffic jam.

Susan and Joann enjoy the ride.

We were headed this day for Taquile Island, a small (3.5 x 1.4 miles) island in Lake Titicaca, which is accessed via a 2.5-hour boat ride. It’s not the most exciting ride you’ll ever take, but sitting on top does give you some magnificent views of the lake and surrounding shoreline.

Puno recedes in the distance as the boat heads away:

Lake Titicaca (a name that gave rise to endless hysterics when we were kids) straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. A local joke has it that “The Titi is for Peru, the caca is for Bolivia.” The Bolivians, of course, reverse it. The lake is 120 miles long X 50 miles wide, and at an elevation of 12,500 feet (3,800 meters), it is the highest lake of this size in the world.


On the way to Taquile, the boat stopped for a visit to the Islas Uros, a group of more than 40 manmade floating islands first developed centuries ago by the Uros people to escape hostile cultures on the mainland. Their way of life is still very traditional, involving heavy use of the reeds for food, fuel, and building materials. They make a living from fishing and tourism, and our visit included an educational session to learn how the islands are made from the reeds as well as other details of day-to-day life on the islands. Plus, of course, an opportunity to purchase the locally made artwork and handicrafts.

2017-10-15T16:15:29+00:00 November 11th, 2012|Travel|Comments Off on Peru, Part 5 – Puno & Lake Titicaca