One of the great things about being in the fashion industry for so long is that I have the pleasure and privilege of meeting extraordinary people and as a result, end up having the most interesting experiences.
I recently returned from a fascinating trip to Peru as an invited guest of the United Nations. Why the United Nations? This trip came about through a presentation I did for MAGIC International. In the audience was a Peruvian lady who is also a representative for the United Nations. The UN has grant funds for projects to assist underdeveloped countries and Peru is one.
Among the many things Peru produces are alpaca and alpaca products. Many of the companies producing these alpaca products are small micro, women owned businesses. Some farms care for the alpaca animals and sheer their fleece that is then sent away for processing into yarn. Other entrepreneurial women purchase the finished yarn which is often organic and then they either hand knit or machine knit garments. They may have as many as 20 other women working for them to produce the alpaca products. The grant is to be used to assist these micro businesses to operate more efficiently and to develop products that would be suitable for export.
According to Wikipedia: “Alpaca fleece is a lustrous and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and bears no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Without lanolin, it does not repel water. It is also soft and luxurious. In physical structure, alpaca fiber is somewhat akin to hair, being very glossy. The preparing, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing process of alpaca is very similar to the process used for wool. Alpaca fiber is also flame-resistant, and meets the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standards.” I should add that the natural colors of the fleece are wonderful and often left in their soft organic state.
The first leg of my trip was to fly to Lima. I was picked up from the airport late in the evening and was driven to a secure area of Lima that housed my hotel. Security seems to be an important issue in Peru due to the poverty. It first became obvious to me from the number of guards I saw on street corners on the drive to my hotel. The next morning I had a friendly half day guided tour of Lima arranged by my UN contact with her friends. I then flew onto Arequipa where I was to meet up with the rest of the official party who were there to discuss this and other projects. Four nights in Arequipa with a heavy agenda of tours of factories, meetings and eating was exhausting but interesting. A few of us then flew to Puno that sits on the edge of Lake Titicaca the highest lake in the world at 14,000 plus feet! I found this part of my trip to Peru to be the most interesting and enjoyable. For those who don’t know me, I am a total animal lover! So having an opportunity to see firsthand and up close the alpaca was a treat, which the little girl in me was very excited to experience. Little did I know what was waiting for me!
Upon our arrival in Puno and on our way to our hotel we stopped at some ruins and visited some indigenous Indian’s primitive home, Guinea pigs and all! But first a couple of us wanted to take a walk to see the ruins which required us to walk a good half mile up a hill to get to them. It was here that I had my first up close encounter with an alpaca who happened to be leashed to a post by the side of the road. For me this was my opportunity to pet my first alpaca. All seemed well until I made the mistake of giving an affectionate stroke behind the ears. Not a good move! Luckily I just happened to look away when the alpaca aimed and fired at me! It was a silent attack so I was unaware until I felt something hit the back of my head! It wasn’t much and upon inspection seemed to be mostly air. No harm done but another experience to add to my long list!
I had to refer back to Wikipedia about this spitting thing! “Not all alpacas spit, but all are capable of doing so. “Spit” is somewhat euphemistic; occasionally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva, although alpacas commonly bring up acidic stomach contents (generally a green, grassy mix) and project it onto their chosen targets. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but an alpaca will occasionally spit at a human.” Who knew?!
The rest of my visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca was humbling and very interesting. The Peruvian people are truly delightful. From the hotel manager to the small business owners we met with, to our visit to the famous floating islands that housed many primitive families without electricity or running water. They all seemed to possess a charm and inner beauty that was so very refreshing!