Neither of us had ever seen anything like this furry sheep slash camel slash giraffe? It has been far too long for me to remember precisely what it was about the alpaca that struck me so acutely as the funniest animal I had encountered, but the laughing has stuck with me. Instead of studying the words on our list we hunkered closer to the dictionary to figure out what this alpaca thing was.
For whatever reason, to my 9-year old brain, the defintion contributed to the hilarity of this furry beast. I disctinctly remember it saying something about alpacas being used to make coats as well which led both of us to envision a person walking around with the same woolen coat as the tiny-headed alpaca in the picture. After ignoring a couple of shushings from our teacher and a few more comments about the ridiculousness of this muppet-like mammal, I had tears streaming down my face and I could not stop laughing. Needless to say, Eric B. and I were never allowed to work as a team again. And after that all he had to do was look at me and say "alpaca" and I would be lost in a fit of giggles.
I still love the word alpaca, it is especially fun to say when one lingers on the first syllable and quickly and sharply bite off the last two in a slightly higher tone. Try it, you will laugh. Over the intervening years the memory of that first introduction to the alpaca has stayed with me and my ears perk up anytime the alpaca, or its friend the llama is mentioned. I was entranced.
I met my first llama about ten years after the alpaca dictionary encounter. I was in college and my roommate and a couple of friends and I were visiting Las Vegas for the weekend. Just outside Vegas, near Red Rocks is a farm for unwanted animals. I, and my friends - oh, so thoughtfully - referred to the place as the retarded animal farm. All of the animals had something wrong with them - missing a limb or ducks with wings that wouldn't fold in. As we wandered around the farm it became a sort of quest to discover what was wrong with each animal even though not all of the animals had visible physical deformities. When I first spotted the llama I was a bit taken aback. Again, I had never seen a llama in real life and my alpaca love was buried just under the surface so you can imagine my joy at meeting its cousin for the first time . . . only, I feared his deformity was that he was a quadraplegic. Observe:For years I wondered about that sad legless llama in Las Vegas. I wondered how he came to be there and whether he was born legless or had some sort of packing accident. So imagine my surprise to discover at some time far removed from that date that llamas do not sit (as I assumed) like dogs or horses or other four-legged creatures with their legs sprawled out on one side of their body or the other. No, llamas daintily tuck their legs neatly under their body and hide them beneath their lengthy fur. All this time I was feeling sorry for the legless llama when he was simply hiding them from me!
My latent alpaca/llama love grew even stronger when I finally attended the Utah Kirshna's llama fest in Spanish Fork, Utah after another handful of years passed by. I had been wanting to go for several years but hadn't matched up my timing until the summer of 1999. At Llama Fest I met this cute baby llama (note the bonnet):
And this lovely llama (please note that although it appears that I am threatening the llama with a stick of some sort in the photo, I am not, it is a broom propped up against the barn in the background):
He was very obliging in posing for a photo:
I believe llama fest is where I picked up this little guy, who hung on the rear view mirror of my car until I moved to NYC, you know, for good karma:
I also picked up this great postcard of a llama hanging out of a taxi which I meant to mail to my sister once but couldn't bring myself to part with it so it hangs on the bulletin board in my office: (please note that I could swear I uploaded a photo of just the postcard last night but this is all that was here so it will have to do)
So, what I am telling you is I love llamas. And alpacas. Which is why my brother was so excited to tell me about these commercials when he moved to the east coast:
But none of that is quite what I set out to tell you in my so-called "big reveal." This is just background so you will understand why I am so excited to tell you about where I am going on my next vacation . . .
Because I would love nothing more than to see this:A llama calmly overlooking Machu Picchu.
And, possibly this:A Bolivian man with the most adorable alpaca! How can you not love that face? When my sister and I booked the trip a week ago our intent was to spend a short time in Peru (Cusco and Machu Picchu) and then go on to Bolivia for a volunteer project with Choice Humanitarian. However, due to recent events in Bolivia - civil unrest, mandatory evacuation by military airlift of Americans by the U.S. Embassy - we may have to settle on just touring around Peru instead if Bolivia doesn't pull itself together in time. We're going at the end of December. If you have any tips or must-see, must-do sites, please let me know! (You know I'm looking at you Michele!)
p.s. the last two photos are from wikipedia: here and, they have other great photos of llamas and here alpacas and their beautiful eyes as well.