Friday, May 26, 2017

Learning about Llamas

In Browntown, off a country road, and then down a dusty beaten track is a little piece of paradise called Twin Creeks, where Tim and Donna Parkman, and their 5 llamas live. We had been invited to spend a couple of hours with the llamas, learning about them and then joining them on a hike. Tim and Donna welcomed us as we arrived and explained how we'd spend the afternoon. As I listened I could see the llamas in their pen staring at us inquisitively. There were 4 that we'd be spending time with, Pete, the youngest at 16 years, all black and sporting a shaggy fringe. Prince is the oldest at 18 years, black and grey with some white points, notably a white crown on top of his head. Santiago and Coffee Bean are brothers at 17 years, both a rich chestnut brown with black markings. There was one at 17 years in the field next to us who has been retired due to knee problems, and who spent much of his time laying down and grazing, slowly moving to another patch once he was dome with the grass within his reach.
What a greeting! Sweet smiles and big toothy grins! After a while I noticed that these gentle beasts seem to have two expressions, a deep frown or a full on beaming smile. Santiago was the only one I caught frowning a couple of times. The others were very mellow, placid and had plenty of patience. Santiago was patient too yet seemed a little haughtier than the others but this was because he's The Big Boss, Leader of the Pack. I was surprised to hear that llamas aren't particularly affectionate, I had assumed that because they were so attractive, that they would welcome lots of fuss, but they don't like their faces being touched, although the neck is OK. Santiago seemed to enjoy a gentle scratch on his back when I stood next to him, but I expect he was simply just putting up with me.
 Beautiful big brown eyes, and look at those cute feet! I did notice that llamas were much more surefooted than horses. Despite the close confines of the pen we were all in, that's 4 llamas and 16 people, not once did I get bumped into or stepped on by these placid creatures. Even when they were backing away, it seemed they knew exactly where they were going. I observed this quite a few times while we were with them. The history of llamas is here; they're related to camels along with alpacas and were crucial to the Inca civilization, providing them with food, wool and transport.
We learned how to put on their harnesses and their saddles, everyone able to have a go. The llamas also carried saddlebags, loaded with treats for them and us. With so many of us in the pen, it was a little crowded, giving Pete the opportunity to flick Santiago's backside, a definite no go area in LlamaLand. We heard Santiago click a warning with his ears back and if he'd been further provoked we would have seen the famous spit that these animals are known for, but for today Santiago was going to let Pete off with just a warning.
They all posed very nicely for the camera, smiling demurely as I clicked the shutter, evidently very proud of their colorful harnesses, decorated with bling and name tags that had been crafted by Donna in keeping with their culture.
Pete always looked at my camera, if not directly at it, then peering at me sideways to ensure I captured his beautiful profile. I adored this chap and found it very hard not to throw my arms about him and give him a cuddle, but wanting to stay on the right side of him, I simply chatted to him and stroked his back.
This was one of the few direct looks I received from Santiago. Complete and utter disdain, I thought. My chuckling at him likely didn't help the situation, but he tolerated us minions with a quiet nobility that only a regal leader could display. As Chief of the Pack, it was very obvious in the way he stands so upright, not slouching like the rest of the llamas or us human visitors. He will make clicking noises at the other llamas if they step out of line, and at us people too. Another noise they make is a humming sound, which Coffee Bean made before leaving on our trek, she was getting impatient in the pen and wanted to get going. Tim told us it was because she didn't know the words...
Their teeth fascinated me, large bottom teeth which need filing until they are gelded, and used along with their top hard palette to grasp and tug at foliage. They have no upper front teeth, only the hard palette so the vegetation once picked is chewed by their back teeth. They also have a tendency to put on weight since they won't stop eating, so they have measured hay twice a day with a couple of hours to graze freely in the field.
We were soon ready to leave, the llamas all anxious to get started and then we were off! Santiago usually leads but for a while was happy to relinquish the first spot to Prince for a while. Pete doesn't like being last so he was in the middle.
Santiago looking very upright and stately as he sauntered along the trail. Tim and Donna have lots of grassy paths throughout their countryside and the scenery was beautiful. We walked along with mushrooms and wild strawberries growing amidst dense bright green vegetation. Birds trilled and Gooney Creek, named after Lord Fairfax's hunting dog, tinkled alongside us as we strolled.
We stopped by some picnic tables, Donna unpacked cookies and drinks for us humans and containers of treats for the llamas. Santiago allowed me to hold down the branch of a tree so he could strip and munch all the leaves from it. Obviously no gratitude was shown by his kingly self but I made sure to let him know that it had been an honor to help him with his snack.
Coffee Bean had been very studious as a youngster and quickly realized that tricks meant treats, so had taught herself to kiss her visitors, knowing full well that each soft kiss would result in a handful of goodies for her. She was intent on getting plenty of kisses until the treat stash had been completely consumed.
Pete quickly became my favorite. the guy's a dude. With his bangs casually draped across his face and his chilled expression paired with many cheesy grins, he was a definite hipster. I teamed up with him for some selfies, (well Tim actually took the photos for me) and Pete was a star, evidently finding the situation as comical as I did.
After our break we started back to the barn, Santiago firmly in the lead this time. Halters and saddles were taken off then we were shown beautiful products made from the llamas' wool. The scarves, made by Donna, were all decorated with wooden brooches, turned by Tim. They have many items for sale on their Etsy page, the link is on their website.
Thanks to Tim and Donna, this had been a wonderful learning experience, close up and personal, and extremely enjoyable. These beautiful creatures had always been animals that I'd admired before from a distance. Either stopping at a field on a bicycle ride, or while exploring in the car, I had admired llamas and alpacas but never really known anything about them. Today I had not only had a lesson on their history, upkeep and behaviors, I had also got to know their extraordinary personalities, enjoying their gentleness and a remarkable combination of friendly aloofness.I now feel that I understand them a little better, and shall be talking about this day for a long time.

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