Three New Experiential Eco-Fashion Trips Taking Off This Summer

This summer, three new eco-fashion-oriented package tours will offer the chance for ethical designers, makers and consumers to meet artisan communities, take workshops in craft production and see the impact of their conscious purchasing decisions.

While different in structure, these trips all offer the chance to travel along an artisan product’s supply chain, from visiting farming communities in Ecuador, to knitting with naturally dyed alpaca yarn in Peru, to shopping finished products in Guatemalan boutiques.

Even for people who don’t geek out on beautiful textiles and hand looms, these trips offer a different way to travel, one that emphasizes connections with the people behind your souvenirs.

Awamaki-Kollabora Collaborative Crafting Workshop

When: May 25 to June 2, 2013
Where: Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
Perfect for: Students, or travelers who seek an authentic off-the-beaten-path experience
What: “A cross-cultural tour pairing you with a Rumira knitter to develop a Kollabora knit item using local, hand-spun alpaca yarn. We trace the entire creation of your project through hands-on engagement: visiting alpaca farms high in the Andes to source fleece, learning to spin fleece into soft yarns, dyeing yarn skeins with native plant dyes alongside Quecha weavers, and studying the local backstrap loom.”
Accommodations: Home-stays with Awamaki’s host families.
Side trips: Incan ruins, markets in Cusco, Machu Picchu.
Organized by: Kollabora, an online community for DIY inspiration, projects, skills and supplies, in partnership with Awamaki, a non-profit that supports artisan groups in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Price: $1,799, which includes home-stay accommodations, most meals, day trips, guides and crafting materials. Fee does not cover international airfare to/from Cusco, visas, travel or health insurance, tips and personal purchases.
For more information: Visit the trip description page or email Global Insight Trip: Community Empowerment

When: June 30 to July 4, 2013
Where: Lake Atitlan and Antigua, Guatemala
Perfect for: People who are curious about social enterprise models and their impact on communities. Mercado Global also offers a Women Helping Women trip for women interested in mentoring and a Financial Empowerment trip for people interested in the entrepreneurial side of rural artisan businesses.
What: “An exclusive week-long journey that fuses service, leadership, and once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange. Attendees will meet the indigenous Maya women we partner with in the Guatemalan highlands and learn about how their transformation into leaders has impacted their families and their communities.”
Accommodations: Four-star lodging in Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
Side trips: Boat trip to Santiago Atitlan, tours of colonial Antigua.
Organized by: Mercado Global, a social enterprise that links rural indigenous artisans to international markets in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Price: $1900, which includes accommodations, all meals, local transportation, guides and translation and staff support. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Leah Vinton at

Fashion Designers Without Borders Immersive Sourcing Safari

When: July 22 to 28, 2013
Where: Quito, Tena and Otavalo, Ecuador
Perfect for: Fashion industry professionals who want to explore opportunities to collaborate with developing world artisans. Other sourcing safaris have taken place in Kenya and Guatemala.
What: “Climb volcanoes, trek the Amazon and get lost in cloud forests. Ecuador’s atmospheric landscapes, resources and people will enchant you. Recognize new opportunities in accessories development. Appreciate the unique resources of this truly magical place.”
Accommodations: Four- to five-star hotels in Otavalo (in the Andes), Quito and Tena (in the Amazon).
Side trips: Activities at an Amazon jungle lodge, trip to the Inga Alpaca Farm, tour of colonial Quito.
Organized by: The Supply Change, a consultancy that connects the fashion industry with global artisan communities, in partnership with The Andean Collection, a line of handcrafted accessories with a social mission.
Price: $4000, including accommodations, meals, day trips and local transportation. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Chrissie Lam at

[Photo Credit: Mercado Global]

A pilgrim in Peru: Part Three, arriving in Machu Picchu

On my third day in the Sacred Valley, I awoke at 5:40 to bird trills and wood smoke-scented air. I could hardly contain my excitement: Today was a day I’d been waiting for most of my traveling life: We were going to Machu Picchu!

We hit the highway at 6 am, passing sheep, pigs and cows being herded into pens and villagers in brightly woven capes and great hats walking along the side of the road. After 25 minutes we arrived in Ollantaytambo, where porters in bright red ponchos waited for Inca trail trekkers; too pressed for time to make the four-day trek, we were taking the quick route: a storybook blue train to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu, where a bus would wend to the base of the site.

On the 30-minute train ride, Manuel pointed out where bridges had been washed out or railroad tracks twisted and tossed into the river by the raging floods of a few months before: stark reminders of nature’s raw power. This train, he said, had restarted operations only three months earlier. I thought of the Inca temples we’d seen and of Manuel’s words from two days before: “The Spaniards called them idolators and maybe they were — but I think they did very well; they had a big respect for nature.”

Then we reached booming, ragtag, pizzeria-and-hostel Aguas Calientes, where we walked through a maze of market stalls and boarded the bus for the 30-minute back-and-forth bounce up the dusty road to the ruins.Here’s the thing about Machu Picchu: No matter how many photographs you’ve seen, stories you’ve read or posters you’ve absorbed, nothing can prepare you for the surreal whoosh of actually being there. From the spot where the bus drops you, you walk up some narrow stairs and some winding paths, the sun beating on you, the sweat starting to trickle down your back, and then you reach a level area and take a few more steps and – whoosh! – suddenly there it is, spreading out before you, the gray granite walls and poky roof remains and green open lawns and jungly green rock-thrusts just beyond. Suddenly it hits you: Machu Picchu – I’ve arrived!

For a while you just stand and stare, absorbing it, letting it seep into you. Then eventually you become aware of the other travelers, some as stunned as you, and you decide it’s time to head into the ruins. And then time suspends, and you spend two, three, four – you don’t know how many – hours wandering, letting your hands trail along the rock, smelling the grass and the granite baking in the high-altitude sun. You visit the agricultural sector and the industrial zone, the Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple of the Condor, the Sacred Square and the priests’ chamber, the House of the Virgins of the Sun, the Watchman’s Hut, the cemetery, the Temple of the Sun and the sun dial. But what you are really doing is walking through time.

You’re imagining what it was like 500 years ago when a thousand people lived here – their woven clothes, the potatoes and maize they grew, the grain they stored, the granite they dragged laboriously from the quarry and the gold and silver and chisels, the wood and water, they used to break down and shape the stone. You imagine the runners arriving from Cusco, the robed priests, the weavers and warriors, the singers and teachers and pottery-makers.

And then you’re imagining what it was like 99 years ago, when a 12-year-old boy brought a discouraged Hiram Bingham to this rocky revelation. What must it have felt like to gaze on this tumble-jumble of intricately wrought walls and plazas, trees and vines? You imagine the crescendo of emotion and astonishment, the arc of enlightenment, as Bingham gradually realized what he’d found, what he called the Lost City of the Incas.

And then you think about what this discovery set off, a succession of events every bit as tangled and dramatic as those ruins: A foreigner recognizes the significance of this remote site, clears and plunders it, and in so doing creates a global icon that is responsible for sustaining as much as 80% of the local economy today, and that has literally put Peru on the international tourist map. This eventually encourages the Peruvian government to reallocate significant resources to study and preserve other ancient sites and artifacts in the area. The ever-swelling procession of Machu Picchu pilgrims, even as it underpins and integrates the local economy, threatens to undermine and disintegrate the site itself.

You recall what Manuel said on the train, how the torrential rain and floods of earlier this year dramatically demonstrated just how economically fragile the economy of the Sacred Valley is, how much it depends on this one site: From February to April, when floods took out those tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, 78% of visitors to the region canceled their trips.

So visiting Machu Picchu is, like the site itself, multi-layered: There’s the historical backstory, the cultural backstory, and the economic backstory. And then there’s the pure human experience of being present at Machu Picchu. All of this roiled inside me as we roamed the ruins. I felt a pulsing presence there, but something wasn’t quite connecting, somehow it wasn’t getting through to me. Before the thought formed in my mind, I knew it in the pit of my stomach: I had to come back at dawn.

Manuel and I returned to Aguas Calientes late in the afternoon and I settled into the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a glorious world of its own at the far end of town, all gracious adobe-walled rooms set among lush gardens with an outdoor sauna, pool and hot tub perfect for a post-Machu Picchu muscle-soothing soak. After a pisco sour welcome in the main lobby, I repaired to the dining room overlooking the Urubamba River; in a grand setting of exposed wood beams and flagstone floor tiles, with exquisite ceramic figurines decorating the walls, I slowly savored every bite of grilled Creole chicken with cassava croquette, washed down with an excellent Argentinian Malbec. The food was tasty, the setting artful, the service attentive and enthusiastic, and Machu Picchu soared in my head: All was aligned in my Inca cosmology. I looked at my watch. The sun god was approaching: Time for bed.

A pilgrim in Peru: Part One, Arriving in Peru
A pilgrim in Peru: Part Two, visiting Moray, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo
Tomorrow: A pilgrim in Peru: Part Four, visiting Machu Picchu at sunrise
Related: How to hike the Inca Trail

This trip was hosted by both LAN and Geographic Expeditions, but the opinions, joy, and amazement concerning the people and ruins in Peru are purely my own.

A pilgrim in Peru: Part Two, visiting Moray, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo

On my second day in the Sacred Valley, I awoke to clear mountain air, the faint sweet scent of distant smoke and the green and bright-blossoming grounds of the Hotel Sol & Luna. Manuel met me over cafés con leche in the hotel’s breakfast room, unfurled a map and traced our itinerary for the day: The Sacred Valley is a swath of level land bordered by the Urubamba and Vilcabamba mountain ranges and threaded by the Urubamba River; the distance from the endpoints of Ollantaytambo in the northwest to Pisaq in the southeast is about 70 miles. Strung throughout this valley are some two dozen towns and villages, as well as the grand capital, Cusco. On our first full day here we would travel the length of the valley and visit three ancient sites: Moray, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo.

A couple of what would become recurring themes emerged on our morning visit to Moray. The first was that archaeological tourism and archaeological stewardship are still very new in Peru. As we gazed over the site’s mesmerizing sunken circular terraces, Manuel said, “No one is sure when it was built, but many people believe it goes back to 1420s, 1430s. And it was no more than five years ago that the government really started paying attention to what had been done here. Farmers had been using this as a corral before that. And if the government doesn’t pay attention, people will just take these stones and use them for themselves.”

The second was just how technologically sophisticated the ancient settlers here were. Moray’s multi-tiered amphitheater was a laboratory where agricultural experiments were performed to see what kinds of crops would grow best at what altitudes and under what climatic and meteorological conditions. Each terrace represented a different temperature and ecological level. “The Incas were trying to domesticate crops that didn’t grow naturally here,” Manuel said. “For example, cotton seeds have been found on the site. This shows that the Incas were not only expert building engineers and hydraulic engineers; they were also great genetic engineers. Some people think this is where potatoes were domesticated. Think of it. The potato is probably the number one crop all over the world, and it may have been introduced here.” He shaded his eyes from the sun and stared at the grassy circles. “Five grains that are now used all around the world also came from here – who knows, maybe they did that work right in these terraces before us.”
Pisac, 60 miles to the southeast of Moray, had even more impressive terracing – ribboning up a towering slope crowned by a complex of reddish rock ruins. As we huffed and puffed up in the afternoon sun, the view of golden valley expanses and distant brown mountains became more and more impressive. The panorama from the top was breathtaking: Terraces descended like waves below, with the modern town of Pisac to the right, behind us a lush green gorge and across it a cliff wall pocked with ancient tombs. The site’s significance as a strategic watchpoint and easily defensible fortress was clear, but as we poked around its walls, windows, entranceways and alleys, its everyday significance came to life as well: A family had cooked and slept here, stored their grain and housed their livestock there; we could identify courtyards where religious ceremonies had been performed and guardhouses where lookouts were posted.

As the day cooled in the waning afternoon light, the thin sound of an Andean flute floated up from below; a little shiver – the breath of an Inca messenger? – fluted along my spine.

Moray and Pisac were illuminating and impressive, but the highlight of the day was Ollantaytambo, 60 miles northwest of Cusco and the last big town before Machu Picchu. As we bumped along its cobbled streets, Manuel said, “Ollantaytambo was very important because of its location – the way the valley narrows, anyone traveling to Machu Picchu or beyond had to go through here. So Ollantaytambo was important economically and strategically. We call it a living museum – many people here are descendants of the original Quechua settlers and are living in houses with Inca foundations that were built at least 500 years ago.”

An impressive fortress-like pile of rockwork that ranged from rough-hewn to astonishingly smooth, the ancient temple-fortress of Ollantaytambo rises like a juggernaut out of the valley floor. “Look at this!” Manuel exclaimed after we’d ascended a stony stairway to the main temple area. The rockwork here was so smooth and perfectly pieced together it almost defied comprehension. “How did they cut these rocks so smooth?” Manuel said, echoing my own thoughts. “Maybe they had a wire made of gold or silver and they used stone chisels – but it’s amazing that they could make such quality. And look at the sizes of the stones!” The biggest stones were easily 12 feet high by 8 feet long. “Some of them weigh 80-100 tons. The quarries were over there,” Manuel pointed to a hillside across the Urubamba River, perhaps two miles away. “They had to move the stones downhill, get them across the river, then bring them uphill. Yes, they had stone tools, but you know, the best tool they had was men. They must have had thousands of men working here.”

Manuel turned to me. “I believe the Incas must have had a writing system to do this work. We know they had a counting system, and I’m sure they had a system of measurement and a writing system too. How else can you explain this perfection?” The Incas must have written down their methods of transporting heavy stones and piecing together the intricate picture-puzzles of their massive, masterful monuments; surely such a sophisticated civilization had developed an efficient way to transport information as well as materials all along the Inca trail. As we walked around the site, Manuel gazed over the valley. “You know, people today feel more safe to build houses on Inca terraces than on plains built by modern engineers.”

Later we walked through the cobbled streets of the endearing town, past 21st-century dwellings built on 15th-century foundations, 15th-century canals irrigating 21st-century crops, past and present interwoven on a Quechua loom.

A final highlight of the day was something much more mundane – a stop at a roadside chicha establishment. Chicha is a fermented beverage made from corn. Manuel took me to a place he favored – signified, as with all such establishments, by a red flag hanging jauntily on a pole outside the shop. After admiring a basket of multi-colored ears of corn which the proprietress brought out to illustrate the source of the brew, we sampled two kinds of chicha: the traditional straw-colored drink, which was a little bitter for my taste, and a pinkish one that had been flavored with strawberry, known as frutillada, which tasted like a mildly alcoholic smoothie.

Manuel said that after a hard day of work in the fields, locals would repair to the neighborhood chicha place, down a few brews, talk and unwind. I cannot imagine a better way to end a hot Peruvian day. As we drank our second round of frutilladas, Manuel introduced me to the traditional game of sapo which often accompanies chicha-quaffing. Sapo involves a somewhat desk-like piece of furniture with about half a dozen holes in its top plane and a golden frog perched with its mouth open. You set the desk about eight feet away, then take a round brass piece about the size of a silver dollar and toss it at the desk. You get points if your piece lands in one of the holes and even more points if you manage to toss it into the frog’s mouth. How did I do? Well, I probably won’t be invited to join the Peruvian national sapo team for a while. But I did hit the desk a couple of times – and as further frutilladas slid smoothily down, even that seemed pretty special. And I managed to avoid hitting Manuel and John. So all in all I considered it a pretty successful chicha stop. And I’m happy to say no frogs – golden or green — were harmed that day.

Manuel and John dropped me at the Sol & Luna, where that night I feasted on mushroom consommé with chicken-filled ravioli and grilled local king fish, all enhanced by the hotel’s handsome, mural-graced circular dining room. Then I retired to my tiled cassita, admired the handicrafts artfully arranged throughout – like lodging in an exquisite handicrafts boutique – and took one last walk through the crisp Andean air, under the star-skeined Inca sky.

Previously: A pilgrim in Peru: Part One, Arriving in Peru
Tomorrow: A pilgrim in Peru: Part Three, arriving in Machu Picchu

This trip was hosted by both LAN and Geographic Expeditions, but the opinions, joy, and amazement concerning the people and archaeology in Peru are purely my own.

NY Times Discovers Peru’s Ollantaytambo

We told you about Ollantaytambo two months ago, and now the New York Times has picked up on the emerging adventure destination as well. This hidden gem in the Andes offers plenty of activities for travelers to Peru’s Sacred Valley, without the crowds found elsewhere.

The ancient mountain village has long been a stop over for those making the trip to Machu Picchu, the quintessential Peruvian monument. Most viisitors spend just a few hours there to take in the sights, but as the Times rightly points out, there is plenty to keep them occupied, including an Inca fortress that rivals Machu Picchu itself. There are plenty of other well preserved ruins throughout the area too, some of which can only be visited by taking a thrilling mountain bike ride through the Andes.

Ollantaytambo is still building amenities for travelers however, so don’t expect the same variety to the night life as you would in Cusco for instance. But, the article does recommend you drop by the Tapas Bar Cactus while you’re in town and grab a bite to eat at the Hearts Cafe, which donates its profits to children projects in the city. If you decide to stay for awhile, then the Hotel Pakaritampu gets the nod for its rustic charm and comfortable setting.

Traveling to Peru already offers plenty to see and do, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, add Ollantaytambo to your itinerary. You’ll get plenty of scenic beauty and adventure, with smaller crowds at most of the other sites.

Step back in time in Peru’s Ollantaytambo

In the heart of the Peru’s Sacred Valley, 60 miles to the northwest of Cusco, sits a city whose history dates back to before the 15th century. Ollantaytambo was built by the Emperor Pachacuti after he conquered the area, and the ruins of his ancient palace still dominate the landscape.

Today, Ollantaytambo is a destination that continues to be a draw to adventure travelers who come to Peru to trek the Inca Trail or visit Machu Picchu. The city offers access to some great trails of its own, and mountain biking, white water rafting, and rock climbing are just a few of the other activities that visitors can enjoy.

But the real draw to the city are the ancient ruins which often serve as a warm up for Machu Picchu. Many travelers make day trips to Ollantaytambo to acclimatize to the altitude, (the city sits at just over 9000 feet) and wander the cobblestone streets past the Fotress on Temple Hill and up the terraced mountainside. They take in the Temple of the Sun, which is impressive despite the fact that it was never completed, and they explore the nearby quarries where the Incans mined the stone that would be used in the construction process of the royal estate.

To find out more about Ollantaytambo, check out this article from The story has more details on the the items I wrote about above, as well as thoughts on where to eat while in town, where to catch the train to Machu Picchu, and more. If you’re heading to Peru, don’t miss out on this gem in the Sacred Valley.