“Hola ladron.” Nothing like being called a thief to feel right at home! On a small dusty mountain road outside of Cuenca we were on the hunt for the small village of San Bartolome, home to guitar and charango (a small Andean string instrument) makers. However, the local government website had given us a rather incorrect location and so, we apparently looked a little shady to the little girl standing in front of her house.
The villages around Cuenca are renowned for their unique artisanal skills, be they instruments, silver and gold filigree jewelry, or dyed shawls painstakingly made by hand. Each one is nestled amongst the river valleys of the region, with twisting country roads, dirt tracks, sweeping vistas, cattle and local villagers working in the fields.
Our first, and most fruitful stop, was at a famous Ikat weaver. This style of weaving is done by hand on wood looms and creates wonderfully soft and delicate shawls and scarfs. The colours are vibrant and some of the designs are meticulously produced. Jose Jimenez has been doing this all his life and he is rightfully considered one of the very best.
We were led through the process that included an in depth description and demonstration of how the colours are produced. It is all natural, with rocks, seeds, flowers, and other items used to create the dye colouring. We watched as the colours changed in his hand as he added new ingredients.
Before our ill-fated venture to locate San Bartolome, we stopped in Chordeleg, which is famous for its finely produced filigree jewelry. Predominately in silver and all strangely similar in design and size, we wandered from location to location searching for the right piece. We were unable to find it and so we bought some black pottery pieces instead! The jewelry was exquisitely made and you could easily see the skill involved, but it didn’t quite do it for us.
Our incorrect directions which landed us at the home of a little girl did afford us a lovely little cultural experience as what looked to be an entire village paraded past us on horses and in very ornate traditional clothing. They were heading to a fiesta at the town across the valley and we were able to sit on the side of the track and watch them stream past us – music playing the whole way.
We did finally find the village with the guitar makers, but most shops were closed. We went into one to see the final produced, polished pieces. Once more we didn’t make a purchase, but the experience of seeing these finely crafted items in these small, basic workshops, was inspiring. It is an amazing thing to give yourself into a craft, and the people in these villages have been doing that for generations and continue to produce stunning products.