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I was back in the Mapacho River Valley this weekend with some brand new Mosqoy students.

It was their first visit to some of the communities, and their first trip as Quechua interpreters for the weaving meetings. Spending three days together hiking in the mountains is a great way to get to know somebody, and we quickly became friends. They are great fun and we laughed a lot. Raul and Marilyn were in high spirits despite wet feet, blisters, heavy backpacks and cold nights in unfamiliar beds. We awoke one morning to particularly heavy rain and donned our ponchos and rain-pants. The two students had matching green rain ponchos, and cut an orange plastic garbage bag in half to cover their backpacks. They were adorable in their identical uniforms, and we dubbed them “the dwarf twins”. In my all-black raingear, I was “the dark lady”, and we narrated our adventures like a fairytale from that point onwards.

We had some difficulties with transportation this time around and couldn’t get a ride to Parobamba, so we walked for four and half hours instead. It was my first time walking that trail, and we were so lucky to have one of the weavers as our guide. It seems that it always works out that way. Just when we think we are out of options and hopelessly lost, it turns out that a weaver is in the same village as us and going our way! He invited us into his home, served us a much-appreciated hot meal, then led us through the mountains to our weaving meeting. The same thing happened the next day when a weaver from Bombon happened to be walking towards Pitukiska, and escorted us on our way. Although I’ve walked that route before, it’s always comforting to have a knowledgeable guide. The challenge is keeping up with the locals on the trails! The villagers effortlessly race up mountains in their rubber sandals and woven ponchos. I huff and puff along behind them in my hiking boots and raingear.

The rainy season has turned everything green and beautiful in the countryside. We walked through fields of yellow flowers that have blossomed since I was last there in December. The students pointed out some of the flowers and herbs they recognized, and told me their medicinal uses when they could. It became a game for me to identify llamas versus alpacas. I know that llamas are bigger, while alpacas are smaller and more delicate. However, it’s not so easy to tell them apart when you come across a group of long-necked animals by a stream. We watched one baby alpaca wobbling along on his spindly legs. He was heartbreakingly cute as he tried to run but couldn’t quite get his footing. Raul thought he must have been only a couple days old.

Other highlights of the trip included crossing the river barefoot in Pitukiska and having a photo-shoot of Marilyn modeling textiles. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the weavers over steaming bowls of soup in their rustic

kitchens. It is always such an unforgettable experience to stay in the communities, and I am struck every time by our hosts’ incredible hospitality and warmth. We purchased some really nice textiles this time, and I even bought a couple scarves for myself. They are of the softest baby alpaca wool and so warm!

After three days in the Mapacho River Valley, we returned to Cusco and regular city life. We left Pitukiska early in the morning and walked to Amparaes. From there we got a combi to Calca. The difference in temperature from the Mapacho River Valley to Calca is amazing. We arrived at the valley bottom all bundled up for the cold in the mountains above and had to strip off layers in the bright sunshine and heat! I treated the students to lunch at the Calca market and a much-deserved ice-cream in the square. Then it was homeward bound, and we got an express van back to the big city. As Marilyn said when we stepped through the doorway back into Casa Mosqoy, “ then the dwarf twins and the dark lady returned safe and sound, and lived happily ever after…”

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