We all choose ways to remember important things to be savoured in the future. Some take glorious photos or videos that make me feel that I am back in the experience. One of my fellow travelers, Maria, would present us with these great spoken word song/poems that I smile at every time I reread them. Another traveler, Nathan, wrote careful notes of all the details that I could never remember and willingly shared this with all who asked. I was the one trying to capture my memories in fiber because that is my way of mixing the sights, smells, textures and sounds of my adventures in South America.
Although I had a broad vision of what this project would look like, it quickly took the lead and told me where we were going. With a lot of suggestions and creative additions, my memories of South America have become a (very) primitive crazy quilt collage. Technically a quilt (it does have three layers that are sewn together), but in practice it is a series of panels to collect memories of the countries I explored in South America.
My plan was to have a finger woven square (I’m a quilter, I think in terms of squares that come together as a whole) for each country with colours and designs that felt like that country in some way. I also hoped to use yarn from the countries I was passing through, which turned into a series of scavenger hunts. In practice, all the squares have touches of the “just in case” yarns I packed from home. I was determined to use local wool or alpaca (and hopefully some llama) and although South American ladies are definitely knitters and crocheters, they prefer the bright coloured acrylic yarn so easily available in shops. The structure was that each would start with the same number of strands of yarn of the same length, thinking that would make them the same size so they could be sewn together into a crazy afghan sort of thing. Hmm. OK, so they weren’t the same size because of changes in tension, different wools and even the different patterns. That was ok, I’d wait to put them together until I got home and it would somehow come together, which it did. And somehow all the bits of memories would work out too.
Let me introduce you to my memories of South America.
This square was finished before I left home in February. There was a lot of buzz about our 150th birthday year, with the iconic colours of the Hudson’s Bay blankets everywhere. My square has all the right colours in the correct order, and even the four points (the thin black stripes) to let you know it is a double blanket like the one I got for a wedding present in 1975. It’s even decorated with the original label from that blanket. I’ve added a couple of maple leaf pins, but otherwise, this square is elegant in its simplicity. The tension is very loose (I learned on later squares that tighter tension meant a flatter, squarer square) so Canada has a lot of hills and valleys. The white is wool/alpaca yarn I bought in Alberta, but it is from Peruvian highland sheep and alpacas and is the yarn that represents mountains in the other squares.
Settlement of Canada started with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 coming out of England, by way of the Orkney Islands of Scotland, through the north and following the rivers in search of furs. They brought with them, among other things, wool from the Orkneys as well as blankets in the distinctive white with red, green, yellow and navy stripe to trade for furs. Sometime later, the Northwest Company out of Montreal came west along the rivers in the south, bringing their distinctive red with black stripe blankets to trade. Whatever the colour, first nations weavers quickly adopted the British wool to create finger woven straps/belts to be resold to the company workers. It was the Hudson’s Bay Company that settled my area of Northern Alberta (Alexander Mackenzie overwintered here on his way to the Arctic one year and to the Pacific Ocean the next), so the connection of history, home, finger weaving is all wrapped up in this square.
|The label from our original blanket. Well worn but saved for just the right occasion.|
I started Brazil just before I left home, and actually worked on it in Grande Prairie, Calgary and Huston airports on the way to Rio de Janeiro. Green for the Amazon predominates although the yarn is actually lopi yarn from Iceland. Winding through is a dark blue wool from Atlantic Canada for the Amazon itself mixed with some silk sari yarn which in my mind represents all the glorious flamboyant costumes of Carnival. I used openfaced weaving to get the mixture of colours. The weaving was finished and washed and hung to dry at our first campground at Brotas on our way to the Pantanal.
The seashells are from the Flamengo beach near our hotel in Rio. After the bloco at Copacabana (200,000 partying Brazilians) and the crazy crowds of Carnival, it was a delight to just beachcomb on this almost quiet family beach.I watched the key being made at the base of the Selaron stairs in Lapa. Exploring the markets in Paraty and Bonito found some delightful bits of ephemera to add to this square. Of course, there are assorted birds to represent the many, brightly coloured birds I met along the way. At one of the street markets in Bonito, a man was selling earrings of Amazon bird feathers – one makes a lovely accent in a corner along with a sample of pressed flowers laminated to make a bookmark I found in Paraty. Another bit is part of a seed necklace hand made by the street vendor in a quiet parking lot in Bonito. She understood enough of my point and smile Portuguese to be able to write down for me what plants the seeds were from. The larger beads at the bottom right were part of the necklace with the wooden hand carved and painted birds.
Actually, all the beads on this square (and most others on the rest of the quilt) are seeds from a variety of plants. My first thought was that a square would be decorated only with items “from” that country, but over time I realized the power of trade between and within countries and decided to let these seeds/beads flow freely as well. The tiny off white seeds that attach many items on the quilt belong to the necklace with woven basket found in another shop in Bonito. The black seeds are from a bracelet I bought in Arequipa, but probably they came from somewhere in the Amazon.
The single bright green sandal (thong, flip flop, jandal) is actually a Havianna, Brazil’s iconic footwear. I resisted the urge to purchase a pair, as my flip flops from Australia were doing just fine. They broke our almost last day in Bonito, which just goes to show that you need to buy a pair of Haviannas when you visit Brazil. Looped around one of the straps is a hand woven basket similar to baskets we saw everywhere.
Argentina and Chili
We traveled from Buenos Aires to Santiago by way of Ushuaia and then on to Bolivia, crossing the Andes and the borders seven times. It just seemed the way to go that these two long thin countries would be represented by two long thin panels that were made at the same time. I set them up with oceans on the one side, white for the mountains on the other and with slightly different colours of land in between. The lightening pattern, to me, just made perfect mountains and I discovered accidentally that if you are doing the colours in different widths that the repeat is different, making a rugged landscape. I wove from the mountains out on each country, one row in Argentina, then one row in Chili, which made my differences in tension spread over the entire work. Chili’s ocean, a wool from Atlantic Canada, is repeated in the other countries that border the Pacific while Argentina’s wool, a dark teal Icelandic lopi, is the second ocean in Columbia, where they say they are on the Atlantic coast not the Caribbean. Because the lopi wool is so much thicker, Argentina’s coastline is much curvier. After they were both done, I then joined the mountains along the border. I had no luck finding Argentinean wool in Buenos Aires, but did have a skein of hemp (spelled yempe and pronounced Sea-shway) in a lovely red orange mix, and that became the border crossings arranged at random from top to bottom. These squares were washed and hung to dry in El Chalten on a beautiful sunny day when Mount Fitz Roy was smiling at us.
We spent almost seven weeks exploring these countries, with their wealth of different experiences. Capturing my memories from top right (Buenos Aires) to top left (San Pedro de Atacama) by way of Ushuaia:
Buenos Aires is an incredibly cosmopolitan city with artist districts at San Telmo as well as around the Recoleta cemetery. A felted sunshine, hand crafted leather mask, and earrings made of dried fruits start the journey south. Next is the wine cork from my “second grade” organic wine that has dyed the back of the quilt. We had a number of opportunities to taste test the various Argentinian wines. Next is some moss (old man’s beard) and an interesting shell from the Puerto Madryn area of Patagonia. At the southern tip of Argentina is a sample of the lovely hand spun wool that I found by chance in a shop in Ushuaia. Of course the wool was from local sheep, proving that Argentina did have local wool, just not in the big city shops. Moving up through Chili is a bit of felted guanaco fleece with an outline embroidered with my “mend the backpack” thread that had come in handy. This fleece was harvested from fences that we walked past at Torres del Paine while taking a gentle walk (or as gentle as you can get in South America where that means no more than a 300 or so meter elevation gain or loss) the day after the big hike to the lookout. As we walked past families of guanacos, i mentioned that it was too bad there weren’t any bushes to collect fibers from them and wondering if I could walk carefully up to these animals, pat them and harvest their fleece for my quilt. Both Annette and Kate looked at me, reached over to the barbed wire fence, took off some fleece (that I hadn’t been looking at) and handed it to me. Kate even showed her Australian ranch skills and climbed through the fence to collect clumps of fibers from the other side. My quilt might be the only place in the world where you can find guanaco fleece.
|A handful of raw guanaco fleece, |
with a bit of soap and water becomes a felted souvenir
of the wild cousins to the llama and alpaca.
North of Torres del Paine, we spent a few days in Pucon. Whitewater rafting one day and then chilling out and beachcombing on the lake near our hostel found a wine cork as well as some fascinating rocks for the quilt as well as my first connection to the Mapuche – the fierce aboriginal group that were never defeated by the Inka, or the Spanish, or (according to our guide) the Chilean government. Periodically, travel is not recommended to this area because the locals are protesting some directive of the government and blockades and guns are often involved. When things are quiet, Pucon is an outdoor adventure mecca with its own resident artists who were creating some fascinating woven hangings.
In Santiago, we said goodbye to some of our group, changed trucks and crew, and met some new people. A few days on an estancia where we rode some beautiful retired polo ponies, drank wine, had some incredible meals and tried our hand at roping cows. A bit of wood and a braided rope reminds me of the fun times. At Calafate, while testing more wine, we first saw the huge cactuses that are used in this desert area instead of wood for building. I had been tentatively trying to harvest a needle from a cactus at the side of the parking lot at one winery, when Jimmy presented me with a handful that he just happened to find. Last stop before the border was a Quilmes, a pre Inka site, where some of us were a bit naughty and ignored the clock to finish checking out the nooks and crannies. The bits of pottery were “significant” said Autumn as she shared her find.
Bolivia was created with suggestions from some of my fellow travelers. My choices of yarn had multiplied in Santiago, Chili and Sas and Hannah were busily creating friendship bracelets for everybody on our new truck, Amber. I was delighted that my fiber habit was spreading. They were curious about what Bolivia was going to look like, and when I confessed that I really hadn’t thought that far, I got some great suggestions. “It needs to be the colours of the salt flats.” Quickly three bright colours were pulled from my stash by Sas (and agreed to by Hannah) and I added white to make streaks and a band of chunky green from southern Chili with hand spun and dyed yarn from Tierra del Fuego. Completely different from Argentina and Chili, as I hoped. Because all the yarns were thick and bulky, this square is almost square (rather than the thinner longer rectangles of other countries). The salt flats weren’t really these colours, but the yarn decorating the llamas and alpacas (so you knew who they belonged to) was. So to were the bright embroidered colours of the Aymara women’s clothing. This was finished in Uyuni.
|Trying out the tiny llamas I had found in the market|
We spent a little over a week on the altiplano of Bolivia. Uyuni, from where we visited the salt flats, was a rugged frontier town that was a great place to check out traditional markets and where I finally found a pair of llamas small enough to fit on my quilt. These were actually hand made by the lady selling them. Fitting, too, is that my fellow traveler Maria found some llama fleece. I wasn’t sure if it was purchased, or just given to her when she visited one of the museums in La Paz. Something about begging for it for a friend. I used some of it to dry felt a fluffy nest for my Kinder Surprise Amazon bird that took part in photos on the salt flats. The bird actually was given to me by another traveler, Andreas, in Bariloche Argentina as a thanks for fixing his backpack. There’s also a bit of cactus wood and a cactus needle (again from Jimmy because I couldn't seem to harvest one myself) from Incahuasi Island on the salt flats – our first brush with the Inka culture – and some rocks and bits of ephemera from our hike on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. The multicoloured ribbon is actually the Andean flag – visible everywhere in the Andes as a symbol of the fight for recognition by indigenous people. In Bolivia we started to see the traditional dress on everyone as part of their daily life. It is actually the flag of the Inka empire.
|My first Kinder Surprise. Thanks Andreas.|
My idea for Peru was to create two winding paths for the Inca Trails that our group would be hiking. Half of our group took the Classic Trail while the rest of us trekked the Wild Andes along a similar but less traveled route. In fingerweaving, this is a very simple pattern so it finished quickly. I even did a bit while camped above 4000 meters somewhere along the trail. What I found fascinating is that the pattern I chose is actually the traditional Quechua (Inka) pattern that symbolizes the Inka Trail. Peru is much more than just the hike to Machu Picchu, but wherever we went there was an Inka connection. The blue ocean on one side and the white mountains on the other are yarns that traveled from Canada while the gold, green and adobe (my favourite colour but also a nod at how most buildings in South America are built) alpaca is from Chili.
You can clearly see the thin white line (of palm fibers) which my fellow travelers suggested to represent the coca leaves we found everywhere. Coca mate (tea) was at all the restaurants and could be picked from bushes everywhere. Our guides on the trails carried it as a traditional remedy for altitude sickness. The woven llama (thank you Erin) was donated from a lovely tshirt souvenir of Machu Picchu that didn’t want to stay attached to the shirt. Above it is a piece of yarn that I rescued from our last campsite on the Wild Andes Trek. We were camped in one of the village fields and sharing the space with the village animals, and I’m guessing that one of the llamas lost a bit of its identifying earring. The Inka Cross was a gift from our homestay at Raqchi, the soft fleece is alpaca from an Arequipa factory (thanks again Maria) and it is surrounded by a baby’s bracelet of seeds designed to keep away the evil eye. I learned that these seeds actually grew in the Amazon and you could find the bracelets everywhere . The beads/seeds actually were from Salta (Argentina) where I had also found the Andean flag ribbon. The condor is a replica of one of the designs of the Nazca lines and an important part of Inka beliefs. It also is to remind me of the incredible morning in the Colca Canyon watching the condors gliding on the updrafts, and the great story behind one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel songs, El Condor Pasa, which is now the Peruvian national anthem.
The panel for Ecuador looks similar to Argentina/Chili but was created at the same time rather than separately. My thought was that I was actually going to be exploring Ecuador twice, once with Team Amber and then again on my own to visit parts we missed. So, Ecuador has two parts that are similar but not identical. There’s ocean, mountains, bright colours for the birds and flowers and more of the Icelandic green lopi yarn for the Amazon that I knew we were going to visit the edge of with earth of a variegated brown and teal (it is wool and acrylic, but just too soft and pretty to not bring home) to anchor them all.
Our trip through Ecuador was much quicker than I had wished, which is why I came back for another two weeks. Cuenca is represented by the Panama hat (what else), thanks to Annette who also rescued a scrap of the actual weaving for the hats. The thick orange wool is hand spun and dyed with carrots and came from a workshop we visited on our way back from Inkapirca, a joint Inka/Canari site. The seeds are all from a traditional village we visited on the edge of the Ecuadoran Amazon. The wee nest is of fibers growing on the trees and includes cocoa (pronounced CA-cow) seeds from our workshop of how to create the best chocolate in the world. The butterfly earring was my first introduction to Tagua, a seed of a palm tree that is perfect for carving. Ecuador is marketing this as environmentally friendly vegetable ivory – encouraging the care of these trees as a renewable resource rather than burning them down.
|An Inka trail sash in naturally dyed wool and alpaca yarn meanders between the country panels|
When planning my square for Columbia, my choices of yarn were quite limited. My stash of yarn from Chili had been mailed home and the yarn I had found in Peru and Bolivia was very fine alpaca. No problem. Two bands of ocean (yarn that had traveled from Canada), a center of gold (that I had saved from Chili) and twists of bright colours from San Pedro de Atacama and Cuzco (the threads doubled up to make each strand thick enough). By the time I started this, my fellow travelers were full of suggestions that got incorporated in the final crazy quilt. Was the gold for the Inka gold that brought the Spanish conquistadores? Or gold for all the money that Columbia’s drug cartels made from cocaine brought from Bolivia and Peru? (Both probably) Is it possible to make a thin white line to represent the cocaine? So, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia have a thin white line meandering through their squares made of the palm fiber used in the jungle regions to create beaded bracelets. Joining the four countries are some coca (cocaine) leaves created from embroidery thread I found in Popayan in a fascinating embroidery store.
If Ecuador was all about chocolate, then Columbia is about coffee. The beans winding their way along the golden path were from Cafe Jesus Martin in Salento, but there were equally great cups of coffee in Cartagena. I learned to look for “single origin” coffee, rather than “fair trade”. There’s shells from our stay on the Caribbean coast as well as a mussel shell from my birthday dinner, and a pair of shell earrings from the market (hand made by the merchant). Mompos, a tourist town on the Magdalena river, specializes in intricate filigree jewellery of gold and silver, a result of being the treasury for the Spanish who stored their gold far enough from the ocean that those pesky English pirates couldn’t easily steal it! Our journey here brought us from the cool but wet highlands to sea level and the full heat and humidity of the north of Columbia. A great fruit slush hand made by the owner of a cart on the plaza was topped off by this advertisement including email address – a hint that Columbia in many places is trying to keep up with first world expectations. Columbia was finished during our stay at a quirky hostel near San Gil. Peru, Ecuador and Columbia got washed and then hung to dry (with an Inka trail sash that was gifted to my partner in the entire trip from Rio to Cartagena, Hanna) overlooking the valley and being watched by the family goats.
Of course the Galapagos Islands got their own panel because I wanted to have some weaving to do while traveling on our sailing vessel, the Beagle. I chose the colours while still in Columbia – a dark charcoal grey that had traveled from Canada (I’d run out of ocean blue) and doubled strands of bright pink/purple for the birds and flowers I hoped to see. It turns out that the Galapagos are volcanic and the background is a perfect reminder for the sandy beaches and rugged mountains. The pattern is actually identical to the scarf I have around my “go adventuring” Tilley hat.
A pair of blue boobie feet earrings of tagua that I bought at the airport and a wee penguin that Kati had brought back from her trip to Ecuador march up the bright arrowhead path. Mixed in are an assortment of shells from beaches we visited. The strands of fiber at the bottom are actually from the traditional village we visited before we arrived in Quito, but the same trees were on the Galapagos and you could also find bracelets made of seeds threaded on these tough but pliable fibers.
|I smiled when I learned that the English "boobie" comes from the Spanish word meaning "foolish" for their courtship dance.|
When I came home and started putting all these elements together, there were spaces that needed extra bits. At the top is a quirky sheep that I had played with before leaving. Despite all the sheep we saw on our travels it was the alpacas and llamas that were the super stars who got all the attention, so this little fellow is for all the sheep that just quietly give their fleece for export. The shells near by are from the beach at Punta Sal, our last stop in Peru before crossing the border to Ecuador, but they just fit better here than on Peru. At the bottom is a long and winding Inka Trail that uses the very fine wool or alpaca yarn that I found in San Pedro de Atacama and in La Paz and that Maria gifted me with from Cuzco.
|My sheep and a friend waiting at home for a place on the memory quilt|
And the back...
It isn’t a quilt without a back and I find I have as much fun creating the back as the front. The central panel was embroidered at home then dyed my first day in Rio de Janiero with Brazilian coffee. I was carrying a travel filter and bought coffee at the local market, went back to my room, brewed a cup and dipped the fabric in. All of my fellow travelers added their autographs, some very simply and others with a bit of poetry, or art. The next border is dyed with wine from Mendoza – a second grade crushed wine (that the organic winery would sell to competitors to increase their colour) that was perfect to create a dark purple fabric but wasn’t as drinkable as the first grade wine we sampled on our bike trip. The final bits are dyed with Columbian coffee that I brought home to enjoy. There are a number of the small off white beads sprinkled across the back in places where items were sewn to the front after all the areas were together.
|Yes, the Columbian coffee created a darker brown than the Brazilian coffee and the wine dyed fabric still smelled of the wine I had dyed it with in Mendoza.|
|Some of the many autographs of fellow travelers.|
156 days. 7 countries. More than 70 travel companions. Here's a taste of Maria's memory of one of those important overland skills - flapping. (Chant it with a bit of a hip hop beat to it)
We met in Rio 3 months have past
We had to learn the rules real fast
No cloth can be used to dry a pan
You just have to shake it as hard as you can
Flapping, It's called flapping
On the way we've picked up new mates
And we've taught them how to dry their plates
We flap wet dishes with all of our might
And when we're flapping we're real tight
Flapping, we love flapping
And as each of our journey ends
We'll leave behind amazing friends
The truck will have amigos new
Maybe even a different crew
But flapping, we'll always have flapping