You ignore the bustling hum of the market around you. You have found the perfect sweater to keep you warm on those chilly Andean nights. â€śOh, yes, itâ€™s wool,â€ť the vendor says with a friendly smile. But the age-old question pops up in your mind: is it the real thingâ€”or synthetic?
You can still rely on touch to tell youâ€”to some degree. Sheep wool is thick and â€śitchy.â€ť Alpaca wool is fine and soft and rolls down compactly, yet springs back to its original density when unrolled. Syntheticsâ€”polyester, nylon and what-notâ€”feel, well, synthetic, right? Well, no, not any more. Increasingly these fibers have become almost equal in touch to their natural competitors.
But there is still one fool-proof way to know for sure whether that sweater you are yearning for is the real deal. The secret is to always carry a pack of matches or a lighter in your pocket when you head out to the market. First, pick a bit of fuzz off the sweater, being careful not to pull the yarns of the garment. Twirl the fuzz to make a strand, then strike a match and burn the strand. Plant fibers-cotton, linen, ramie and even silk-will all turn to a fine, light-colored ash. Animal fibersâ€”whether from lamb, sheep, alpaca, llama or even critters like qiviut and yak (yes, this test will work on any continent)â€”will singe and smell like burnt hair. Synthetics will melt into a small black ball and smell like burnt plastic. If that sweater is a mix of natural animal and synthetic fibers, it will both singe and melt; by how much it does of either, you can pretty much calculate the percentage of blend.
Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Peru: Shopping in Iquitos, Centro Comercial Constitucion, Shopping in Peru and Bargaining.