Paddle Boarder’s Unique Approach to Product Research
Cultural Threads is an organization that produces handmade goods created by women of the Andes. As an owner, my pursuit has been to help sustain the ancient traditions of hand-spinning alpaca yarn and hand-knitting finery. By making these products attainable in other parts of the world, it allows for an expanded audience to enjoy the love and energy rooted in the Peruvian culture. This also offers an opportunity, in a growing world economy, for these individuals to maintain a cultural tradition and provide an income for their families and communities.
Now with four years in business and thirteen years of annual travel to Peru, I set out to further explore the Peruvian life on a remarkable five-day adventure. My purpose was to further develop Cultural Threads and gather pertinent information to help more women enjoy an income based on their tradition.My trek was focused around Ausangate, a mountain of the Vilcanota Mountain Range surrounded by high elevation valleys. For this expedition I brought the essentials: Tahoe SUP Alpine Explorer Inflatable paddle board and Travel Board Backpack, Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger, Goal Zero Venture 30 Recharger, GoPro Hero 6, Nikon DSLR Camera, iPhone, and GoPro Audio-Video accessories. It was important to me to capture the life of different pastoral people who tended to alpaca and llama for their livelihood. I decided it was best to visit the remote rural areas outside of Ocongate where villagers were undisturbed by the influence of the rest of the world.
The indigenous Andean hold a belief that life depends on a balanced relationship with nature; they call this belief Pachamama, which translates to Mother Earth. High in the Andes mountains, artisans work directly with materials from the Earth, fostering this relationship to create quality textiles. Cultural Threads shares these unique products with the world, so it was important on this trip that I recognize the symbiotic relationship with Pachamama as the locals did. Each morning in the Andes we would make an offering to Pachamama of three coca leaves. This represented the three worlds of traditional Peruvian belief: the lower world of Uhu Pacha, middle world of Kay Pacha, and upper world of Hanaq Pacha.
Outside of Cusco was a brilliant place to prepare for the multi-day trek around Ausangate mountain.. I set up the Goal Zero charging devices and made sure the GoPro, iPhone, and camera batteries were receiving solar charge while I went for a paddle. The Alpine Explorer was the perfect board for the job; at only 20 pounds and compatible with a carrying backpack, it was easy to transport my inflatable paddle board. Huaypo lake sits at 3,515 meters in elevation and is surrounded by a patchwork of agricultural land, growing crops of quinoa, barley, maze, and many more Peruvian necessities.
From the water I was able to observe the everyday life of a farmer furrowing the dirt with a cow drawn plow. On the other side of the lake was a mamacha, or traditional female Shepard, who was herding her band of sheep from the lake over to graze the green pastures nearby. I felt a great satisfaction while watching the simplicity of their lives; they hold a symbiotic connection with the earth and its creatures. My morning paddle served as a sterling reminder of why I worked so passionately to help preserve this culture. The paddle was refreshing and the Nomad 7 and the Venture 30 did a great job charging my equipment, even though it was an overcast day.
After assembling a team, we packed everything appropriately. Setting off to circumnavigate the Ausangate mountain was me, Tacho (my friend), Jeronimo (the horseman), and Macho (a very useful horse). Macho had much of the gear loaded on his back, including my Tahoe SUP inflatable paddle board, iSUP pump, filming equipment, and Goal Zero solar rechargers. The start of the hike was at 4,397 meters in elevation and extremely remote, so it was important that we were well prepared. The landscape was stunning; we could behold beautiful panoramic views in all directions. We passed by many glacial lakes, surrounded by tussock grasses over rocky terrain. The team and I had many experiences that far exceeded my own expectations, and we met some extraordinary individuals along the way.
That first day we moved with ambition, ascending 160 meters in elevation along the way. Night one was spent at a beautiful sapphire lake called, Azul Qocha, and still in view of the Ausangate mountain. I inflated the board to 20 psi that night with plans for an early morning paddle; paddling an Alpine lake at nearly 4,575 meters is an incredible experience and ultimately became a helpful icebreaker in approaching locals along the way. I had to discern the reality that I could go out on this trip and not gather the information I needed, and may not meet the people who could give me insight into other unknown phases of Culture Threads’ production. My paddleboard helped me separate the work aspect and grounded me to stay present in each moment. Nonetheless, I knew I would have many notable experiences on this journey, and I did.
One such experience was on Lake Pucacocha, where I had the pleasure of paddling with alpacas right at the water’s edge. I could see a mamacha overlooking us with curiosity while grazing her alpacas. When I came off the water, she came down to show me the beautiful woven pieces she had created. They were bracelets made from the fiber of the incredibly elusive vicuña, a high altitudes dwelling mammal; I bought all of her bracelets.
Next, we hiked most of the remaining day until we got to our second camp, la casa demamacha Florencia (4649 meters). We were invited to camp in a stone animal pen she had built and experienced an alpaca farm firsthand. To show our gratitude for this invitation, we offered her dinner and left her with non-perishable foods. Before dinner we watched our new mamacha friend walk out and whistle a few times. This was followed by large herds of alpaca and sheep who came down from the hills and into their stone round pens, each knowing where they belonged. This was a rugged place to make home, but it was an amazing experience to see how this woman lived and raised her alpacas all by herself.
After another long day of hiking up the side of Ausangate, we climbed to our tallest peak at 5,129 meters. The descent on the other side was filled with large echoes of glaciers crashing down, as the temperature was hotter than previous days. I met a mamacha named Marie watching over her alpacas. This resolute woman lived lower down in Pacchanta and climbed a great distance every day to let her animals graze. In awe of her dedication, I took this opportunity to set up the Goal Zero solar recharger equipment and observe Marie with her herd.
One night we camped at Lake Ausangate, where there were a few other campers. Quickly we set up as the weather was changing rapidly. A downpour of rain came just as we got our tents up. After over an hour of rain, the sky began to open; there was just enough time in the day for a much-needed paddle. This peaceful paddle was met with a great deal of interest from everyone at the camp. That night it became the topic of conversation around camp since nobody imagined they would see a girl paddleboarding at 4,575 meters elevation in the middle of the Andes.
The last day was a serious day of reflection. We stayed at a tiny camp called Upis, it was built around thermals and overlooked a large valley on the backside of Ausangate. While soaking in the nearby hot springs my thoughts were clear. I had just lived an amazing cultural experience in remote areas of the Andes. Seemingly to me, there were no resources in these parts. Meanwhile, indigenous people are happily carrying out their daily task, while living in simplistic solitu
My Goal Zero products and my Tahoe SUP inflatable paddle board helped me realize the next steps in my business, Cultural Threads: I can help mamacha women who live alone in these desolate areas by buying the alpaca fibers directly from them. These would be transported down the mountain and brought to the women who spin yarn and create our beautiful textiles. This was a worthwhile and unforgettable journey, coupled with the continuation of a mission to preserve a cultural tradition.