The best travel experiences are always well-balanced, multi-sensory and leave you with a positive lasting impression. During a recent visit to the humble abode of Aracari’s longtime friend Charo Leon, Simon, James and I had the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating life and selfless work of this Peruvian entrepreneur. Oh, and she just happens to be a master of jams, jellies, chutneys and marmalades as well :).
I came to be acquainted with Charo when she came into the Aracari office one day to showcase the most recent collection of textiles and crafts produced by the hands of women from Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Chincha, Apurimac, Puno, Shipibo, and other locations across Peru. Her business is quite multifaceted, as she travels to various locations throughout the country, seeking out and working with under-educated women of all ages and teaching them how to produce a variety of traditional Peruvian handicrafts. She then helps to promote their work to vendors, acting as a facilitator between the two parties.
Yet her goal is simple and pure: provide women with varied opportunities to become educated. Through the reintroduction of traditional textile- and craft-making techniques, Charo provides local woman with an opportunity to preserve their identities and to improve the quality of their lives. Each woman dedicates a countless number of hours to technical training to master their skills, to produce high-quality goods, and to take pride in their work. Once these skills have been mastered, she helps her artisans to understand modern business models in which trends in fashion become a guideline for creating profitable yet authentic products.
Beyond the skills necessary for creating beautiful handicrafts, Charo teaches practical, lifelong lessons and encourages them to reach their long-term goals by furthering their education. Knowledge, she noted, is a catalyst for positive change, and by showing them how to use the internet, explaining how to invest and manage money, and by encouraging them to take English classes, Charo helps open up a realm of possibilities, from which many of the women pursue fruitful and fulfilling careers.
Speaking of fruitful, Charo also had an assortment of jams, jellies, chutneys, and honeys with her, many of which she makes herself with the help of some of these wonderful ladies that she has come to know. Fortunately for Simon, James, and me, Charo invited us to come and enjoy a tasting session, which, after much deliberation, we wholeheartedly accepted.
When we arrived at her house, a variety of fragrant jars were nestled on the table beckoning us to taste. Charo’s first attempt at jam making was inspired by her father’s love for the flavorful condiment, and he would often bring back several jars when he traveled to London. Jam producing was at the time an unsaturated, if not non-existent market, providing Charo with a unique opportunity to produce and sell her delicious goods. Over 15 years and thousands of jars later, Charo’s jams and jellies have attracted the attention of several different embassies in Peru, and she has built an extensive network of repeat customers. The Indian embassy, for example, cannot serve up a proper curry spread without some of Charo’s homemade mango chutney, while the orange marmalade goes down a treat at the British embassy.
One taste, and you’ll understand why. Like a proper wine tasting, we made our way through the assortment of flavors beginning with the mildest and finishing with the most pronounced. Each type of jam, served on a crispy yet delicate cracker, was a burst of flavor that left me closing my eyes, trying to define each taste and texture that composed it. Major factors that aid in yielding such richness is her ability to source the majority of the ingredients from within Peru and to utilize what is in season. From Pears and Pisco, Burgundy Grape (which is only ripe for 1 week in Peru), and Rocoto and Pineapple jams to Aguaymanto Chutney, we tasted our way through her sample jars of jams and jellies, followed by four different types of honey, one of which she purchases from nomadic honey-pickers who source from the wildflowers in the Andes Mountains.
Between each mesmerizing bite, we asked Charo about how she became associated with Aracari and what led her to begin working with the artisan women, and she informed us of new projects she aims to take on. Enraptured by the flavors and storytelling, we didn’t depart until late into the evening. In our hands we held an assortment of goodies, including chutneys and jams, a handmade beaded necklace, and contact information for future purchase. In our minds, we carried the optimistic feeling that the people connected with Aracari were in fact making a difference in the lives of Peruvians, that our common goal of facilitating a more sustainable future while preserving the rich history was even stronger with friends and connections like Charo.
If you are interested in purchasing traditional Peruvian handicrafts or sampling some of Charo’s unique preserves while travelling with Aracari in Peru, please let us know!