Chapter 2Quality

“It's baby alpaca. You like?”

No me gusta.” (I don't like it.)

“But it's very fine cloth. Very soft…come feeeeeel!” There's nothing like having dusty alpaca thrust in your face, seconds after you've summarily rejected it. I sprang from my crouched position in the market stall, narrowly escaping the blow.

No necessitoooo!” (No, I don't need it!)

Que buscas, papi?” (What are you looking for?)

Buscando por algo mas antigua.” (I'm looking for something older…)

Temuco, Chile. No, no one was trying to sell me a baby alpaca, but I was in yet another street-side mercado (market) perusing textiles and trinkets amid cloistered, canopied stalls. The vendors were Mapuche, an Andean people famed for, among other things, the intricate textiles they've meticulously produced for more than a millennium. With my broken Spanish and their broken English, we bartered through the afternoon as I was shown one manta (Andean Spanish for poncho) after another, each woven from alpaca, wool, or cotton. To the Mapuche, baby alpaca is code for quality but, to me, it means only you're going to pay a lot for this manta!

Ay otras mas antiguas, con diseños o figuras?” (Anything older, with designs or figures?) As I disapprovingly rolled my eyes, thumbing over and pulling at the poor stitching of the last manta I'd been handed, Maria realized she wasn't dealing with the average tourist. You see, I'm the manta ringer…

I'd been backpacking for months throughout Central and South America, touring ...

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