Recently, Andeana Hats hosted it's first Women's Retreat on March 8th-15th to celebrate International Women's Day. With the help of Pleiades Peru Tours, we led 8 incredible women across the Sacred Valley and Amazon in Peru to visit the origin of both Andeana Hats and Glossy Paradise. Both businesses create sustainable products and income opportunities for remote indigenous communities in Peru. On this tour, we curated an incredible journey to meet the communities behind these businesses, see how they create their products from scratch, and get a bit of relaxation and exploration in while taking in the incredible beauty of these two completely different worlds that both exist within Peru. We focused our itinerary on spirituality and intention setting while in the Andes Mountains and self-care and wellness while in the Amazon.
We asked a few of the women that attended our retreat to guest blog about their experience in their own words. Both Pats and I feel so at home in the Sacred Valley of Peru and have been so many times that we wanted the perspective from the women who had never been to Peru before. Thank you ladies for your contribution and your infectious energy on this retreat. The magic that you experienced is why we created Andeana Hats and the idea behind hosting this retreat. I feel very lucky that we were able to enjoy this adventure together just before all borders to Peru were closed the day after our retreat ended. Our world may never be the same again post-Covid 19, but the lessons still remain the same. What we need more than ever now in our world is to connect with each other and tap back into the beautiful, universal energy of Mother Earth. The Quechua people have always understood this and continue to live their life in reverence to the Earth and I think this retreat could not have come at a better time to inspire us on how we need to be better as human beings on this planet.
The Sacred Valley is indescribable. The intentions that the women in the weaving communities of the Sacred Valley still resonate with me every day since the retreat and my return to the United States.
Laura Grier is one of the Co-founders of Andeana Hats and one of the most compassionate, giving, caring, and bravest women I’ve ever come into contact with. I have been working with Laura and Andeana Hats from Los Angeles for the past 8 months and I fell in love with the impact that Laura has and still wants to make on the world, making it and its occupants the best version of itself. She in turn has given me a chance to help in any way I can. She has educated me on the uniqueness and authenticity of the Sacred Valley, who they are, and what they have to offer. Laura explained the Andeana Women’s Retreat to me. It included meeting, staying with, learning, eating, and experiencing their way of spiritual and physical day-to-day life. I was immediately overcome with the thought of finally meeting the woman of weaving communities that I had been learning about and working with for the past 8 months.
When I stepped out of our tour van and saw the ancient ruins leading to the weaving community at Chincheros, my breath was taken away. Words like beautiful, gorgeous, and colorful were all I could think about. Although, the feeling you get is more from within. Spiritual, soulful, and in awe of all the natural beauty that is surrounding you.
Just when my eyes were getting into focus and sending these images manifesting in my mind, we hopped back in the van for what I was really waiting for… to meet the woman who make the Alpaca hats and intention bands I work with on the daily! I thought I was prepared and had a pretty good knowledge of the Quechua people. I did not. They work with fully sustainable and environmentally safe textiles that help each other prosper without hurting humans or the earth. Something we can all learn from. They are still centered on these ancient ruins, ancient ways, and morals that lead with peace, tranquility, religious practices, teamwork, family, hard work, love and loyalty. I am already in love with the Sacred Valley.
We met and dined with and experienced the ways of 3 communities. Each had their own unique way of doing things. Every community loved, lived, and laughed with each other and us. These communities shared, taught, and let us in to their lives. Living life without the materialistic aspect of the world is absolutely breathtakingly refreshing. They bring the intentions that they are weaving from their past and from the Sacred Valley as they weave. This way the intention that they weave can now be channeled through the wearer. It’s something so special that every person should have the opportunity to own something woven by these communities in the Sacred Valley.
This Andeana Woman’s retreat has changed my life for the better. Enlightened me to corners of the world with such sparkle that I will do whatever it takes to help sprinkle that sparkle wherever and however I can.
After arriving in Cusco, our first stop was Chincheros where we visited their magnificent archaeological site and colorful market with a variety of Andean products from communities all over the Sacred Valley. Then it was on to Misminay, located at the outskirts of Cusco, where we were welcomed by a parade of music and song. Our new Quechua friends dressed us in traditional Quechua clothing and fed us a yummy lunch made with fresh produce from the garden. After our lesson in the Quechua language, we were escorted to a field with breathtaking views of the Andes to experience the Pachamama ceremony, an ancient offerings ceremony where one gives thanks to Mother Earth, and connects the material world to the spiritual world.
We made our goodbyes and headed to the enchanting city of Ollantaytambo where we’d stay for two nights. After a quick lunch at the Parwa Guesthouse, it was time to visit the weavers of the Misminay Community where the intention bands for Andeana hats are woven. These beautiful women weavers gave us a demonstration of their ancient weaving traditions - from cleaning the alpaca wool, to hand spinning it, preparing the dyes, dying the wool, and finally - their magical weaving techniques. Who knew that red dye comes from beetles that live on cactus? Even more fun was learning their secrets to folding fabric into the backpacks so distinctly associated with the women of Peru. Even babies are swaddled up inside the colorful cloth and toted around on mother’s back. We had to fight the urge to over-shop, knowing we had eight more days ahead of us… But the products were so lovely, so uniquely special, some of us lost that battle.It was a full day, our minds buzzed as did the eagerness for day number two.
On Day 2, after an early morning breakfast, our velvety-voiced guide, Maria, picked us up and off we went to visit the Willoq community, all happily wearing our colorful Andeana hats, looking like a living Vogue photo shoot....
What an ADVENTURE this was! The story about this trip just might be more fun than the images.
Hi everyone! Kelli Hayden of Kelli Bee Photography here, semi guest blogging about this Andeana Women's Retreat, created by Pleiades Peru Tours! I've known Laura for years and years...like about 6 years, but feels like 13. She's been EVERYWHERE. The furthest I had traveled with her was to Mexico to help her shoot a wedding in Playa Del Carmen a few years back, so I always felt ridiculous that I've never been able to go on one of her group retreats due to me having other events scheduled, or whatever other reason. A friend of mine, writer-extraordinaire, Kathleen, that was going on this Peru trip who also went on her Uganda trip last year really really wanted me to go as well. I had a potential wedding booked and a few other shoots so I wasn't thinking it would happen, which was a huge bummer, because Peru was on my top 10 places that I really wanted to travel to.
On the night of March 7th, covered head to toe in paint because I was painting the walls of my hallway, I see several missed calls and “CALL ME NOW” texts from Laura. I'm thinking “Oh crap, this can't be good, she's leaving for Peru tonight!” Someone had to regretfully back out of the trip last min and there was a pre-paid, open spot available. Laura, while on her flight to Cusco, demanded I jump on the next plane and fly to Lima. As I'm standing there, covered in paint and un-showered, communicating with her about this, I'm like “....ok! I guess I'm going to Peru” And the next thing I knew, I was ferociously looking at flights to Lima that leave in the next few hours. I didn't even have enough time to pack according to the itinerary for the whole trip because I didn't have any time to read through it! I literally scooped clothing off my rack in my closet and threw them into a suitcase. While doing this, I'm also snickering at the thought of not telling my friend Kathleen, who's already been in Peru for a week, surfing in Huanchaco, that I'd end up joining everyone on this trip after all. I'd just randomly show up and surprise her.
After about 24-hours of non-stop travel which included one layover in Mexico City, landing in Lima, then hopping on another flight to Cusco, then a two-hour drive into the Sacred Valley, I finally made it to our adorable little hotel, the Parway Guest House. This town is really dark and dimly-lit at night, so I couldn't really see how it looked. All I knew at this point so far was that I'm somewhere in the Andes, bumping up and down in a car on cobblestone roads, and through some translation app, the driver was reassuring me that I was in a safe car (haha). Through my broken Spanish, I assured him that I was comfortable and I trusted him. Though I know enough Spanish to get by, I wish I had knew more so I could talk with him since we were in a car together for over two hours.
Once I arrived to the hotel, after walking up lots of cobblestone stairs with my heavy carry-on bag with all my gear (photographers, never ever check your gear! ALWAYS carry it!), I was greeted by the VERY high altitude and friendly hotel staff. Laura pointed me to the room I'd be sharing with Kathleen (who still had NO idea I was coming!) and I walked in, not realizing she was inside, Kathleen was bent over her suitcase with her back turned. I very swiftly grabbed my phone to record my surprise entry and got her completely shocked expression as I'm standing there, IN PERU, in her room, with all my luggage! Best surprise ever!
The next morning, we all sat down in the common area to breakfast the hotel staff made for us - best papaya I've ever had! Our tour van was picking us up at 9am to take us over to the Willoq community that consists of women Andean artisans who are experts in weaving and manufacturing all their clothing. They still use the ancient Incan techniques to weave everything from bracelets, scarves, to the most intricate details in their skirts! The patterns tell stories and all have meanings. It's literally a unique language of its own: Quechua. It's only spoken and woven, not written. This makes my visual artist heart skip beats. Perhaps I knew this language in a past life? We spent the morning learning how the Quechua women of this community use 100% of the natural elements around them to create everything they have. Starting from the alpaca wool that they spin themselves onto a spool, all by hand, to how they create the different colored dyes by using plants, florals, and even beetle blood (seriously)! This an ancient art form, perfected and still going strong in the Andes Mountains by these wonderful women in the Willoq village in the Sacred Valley.
As we thanked the community for the the gift of their time and the beautiful woven bracelets they made for us, we hopped back on the bus toward the Wayra Ranch resort for a delicious al fresco lunch by the pool. Their menu is created by using all organic ingredients, harvested on-site. Followed by our delicious meal, we were treated to an entertaining Caballo de Paso show with their resident horses who pranced around for us in perfect unison. After our visit to the ranch, we all piled into the air conditioned van and headed to the other side of the sacred valley to Pisaq. We enjoyed over an hour or so of mesmerizing landscapes and extraordinary views of the colorful and vibrant mountains. Our first stop was the archeological site of Pisaq, which offered an incredible view of the valley down below. After that, we stopped in at the artisan market in Pisac to squeeze some shopping in. Most of the vendors were beginning to close for the day as there was a storm rolling in soon. Our journey continued as we headed back to the Urubamba Valley for dinner at Pakaritampu, a buffet-style restaurant that was walking distance to our hotel. By the time we got back to our hotel and got settled in our rooms, in came the storm. Being from southern California, we never get to see thunder and lightning, or even rain for that matter, so I had to open the window and listen to the sounds of thunder and rain while drifting off to a very pleasant sleep.
The next morning, we were off to the Ollantaytambo Fortress, which was conveniently walking distance from our hotel. It's an archeological citadel made up of several stone terraces, almost comparable to Machu Picchu, but smaller. In the Incan days of the Spanish conquest, it was used a retreat for the Incans and it's one of the last remaining stronghold in the Inca kingdom. The way the Incans have constructed these fortresses throughout the cities is absolutely mind-blowing. They basically invented Legos. These ruins aren't really ruins so-to-speak. They're still standing and are still in immaculate condition. They've survived many large earthquakes. Photos don't really capture the details of how these stone blocks were cut and designed to create precise and intricate walls that you couldn't even squeeze a credit card through. If you aren't fitting Machu Picchu into your trip to Peru (it's totally fine if you don't, Peru has so much more to offer), this offers a very similar experience!
For lunch, we walked over to Pachamanca at El Albergue, which sits inside of a farm in the middle of Ollantaytambo. They're known for cooking heavily spiced meat and vegetables buried in the ground amidst hot stones. Think of it as a Peruvian “luau” - like how they traditionally roast a suckling pig in the ground in Hawaii. While lunch was cooking, we we treated to a welcome cocktail, a tour of their on-site distillery where they make their own coffee and liquor, and had the opportunity to get up close and personal for some “selfie time” with their resident alpacas.
After our lunch at the farm, we hopped in our van and made our way to the Moray ruins and then the ancient salt flats of Maras. It's very surreal to see hundreds of feet - up and down, far and wide - of salt terraces that have been there for centuries, still in use today! Gives new meaning to the phrase “salt of the earth”. I kept everyone waiting when the group was trying to leave because I was buying so many bags of different types of salts! Smoked BBQ black salt; come on! I could almost eat that with a spoon!
From there, we drove to our hotel, the El Retablo in Cusco and had dinner at Limo Restaurant. After that, Kathleen and I somehow got separated from the group and found ourselves sort of lost, in pouring rain, trying to find our way back to our hotel, even though it was only 900ft away! I'm going to be real honest here; I LOVE being lost in cities I'm unfamiliar with. It's the best way to experience being somewhere and tapping into having to use your own devices on finding your way around without relying on a tour guide or a local. It doesn't go without saying of course that you need make sure you're in a relatively safe city and not one of those make a wrong turn down a dark corner and you're in hot water kind of places. Cusco isn't a dangerous place, but that still doesn't mean we don't need to have eyes in the back of our heads and keep our wits about us. Luckily, we did find our hotel and once I realized where we were, the area became instantly familiar and after that, I felt comfortable with the idea of breaking away from the group if I wanted to.
Cusco is definitely one of those cities I wish we had more time to stay in. The best way to explore and and experience a place is to WALK around in it. The sacred valley wasn't the best place to walk around, you definitely need a car for that, but Cusco is for sure an on-foot-friendly place. *Pro-tip: you want flat, slip-proof shoes with traction for Cusco; the sidewalks and roads are made of smooth, ancient polished stone and cobblestones and you could find yourself slipping on the steep sidewalks if you're not careful.
Our first visit of the day was Coricancha, the Temple of the Sun and Cusco's Cathedral. It's one of the most sacred temples in the entire Inca Empire. The walls and floors used to be covered in pure gold! Nearly all of the gold Baroque art and vigils are still preserved inside today, where absolutely no photos of the artwork are allowed, not even cell phone photos! It's also home of the black Jesus, who they believe has special “powers” and they take out for large current and local events. That day, it was rumoured he'd be making an appearance in wake of the current Coronavirus outbreak, even though it hadn't made its way into Cusco at the time.
After the cathedrals, we explored the San Pedro Marketplace for some shopping. Kathleen and I had to buy another bag to bring home because of the amount of stuff we bought! After shopping, we sat down for lunch at Pachapapa Restaurant where I tried alpaca meat that Laura ordered for the first and last time in my life! When in Peru, I suppose! After a delicious meal and mucho Pisco Sours, we headed to the Sacsayhuaman fortress, which is almost jokingly pronounced “sexy women” ...so naturally, we had to compose a sexy women Vanity Fair-esque shot of all of us. Nailed it! We also made stops to Tambomachay and Qenqo Temple just outside of Cusco which offered a gorgeous view of the city of Cusco from the top.
For our farewell dinner, we dined like kings at Calle de Medio, where I finally got my hands on mezcal cocktails, rimmed with the same salt I purchased at the salt mines and finally got to taste it! Delicioso! Cristobel and Maria gave us farewell gifts and we would then head back to our hotels for one last night at our hotel and then get ready for our second leg of our trip; four days in the AMAZON!