A Trip to Peru (part 1 of 2)

In September, we were lucky enough to go to Peru!  Well, Alex and the kids stayed home to take care of the farm. But my sister and I got to go to Peru and experience alpacas in their native environment and learn about the long tradition of alpaca-based textiles there.  Thanks, Alex and kids!

Today’s post will take a look at the incredible land alpacas call home and the alpacas themselves. A post next week will feature our visits to two different cultural heritage centers/museums.

The Land

So. Peru. We spent most of our time in various towns in the Sacred Valley, in the Cusco Region.  In this landscape, the Andes dominate, and are absolutely gorgeous.  We “oooooh”-ed and “aaaahhh”-ed enough during one drive that our blessed driver finally just laughed and pulled over so that we could get out and take some pictures.  How can you not be awestruck with views like this?

View of Sacred Valley

Looking down into the Sacred Valley

View of Sacred Valley

Just gorgeous!

Or, from the other direction, as it were, views like this?

Mountains

Looking out and up from the Sacred Valley

Do you see all of those lines going across the mountain in front?  Those, it turns out, are worn and ancient remains of stepped terraces cut into the mountainside by the Inca peoples of the region.  In fact, when we were at the pulloff spot taking the pictures from above the valley, there were ruins right behind us that were in better shape.

Ruins

There are ruins just about everywhere you turn, and it’s humbling to think how ingeniously (and how far up the mountains!) the people indigenous to this land worked with their environment to develop a thriving society.

The Alpacas

We were fortunate enough to meet up with an alpaca rancher in the area, Feliz, who agreed to take us to the land where he keeps his herds.  It wasn’t quite seeing alpacas in the wild, but the grazing lands he shares with his community are vast enough that they don’t fence alpacas in the way we have to keep them here in the states!  Feliz wasn’t quite sure how much land their community had for grazing, but he thought it was probably over 1,000 acres.

He and his son drove us out of town, then out of the smaller town, and then up, up, up into the mountains, where there were small villages that dotted the landscape.  Eventually the paved road gave way to packed gravel, and before it was over we were just literally driving up the side of a mountain where no road at all led the way.  It was not a trip for a person with a tendency to get car sick!

As we rode along, it seemed like Feliz was looking for the herds – not too surprising given how much land they have for wandering.  It turns out, that’s exactly what was happening, except technically he was looking for his aunt, who stays with the herd to keep an eye on them, and passes the time spinning fiber and weaving in the field.  When he spotted her, we all got out of the car and hiked our way down to where she was sitting with her weaving, and Feliz let us look around while he visited with her.

Rancher and Tia

Feliz and his aunt. He’s holding a slingshot, which he uses to throw rocks at predators that get too close to the herd. His aunt is spinning fleece with a drop spindle.

Our alpacas in Maryland have a pretty sweet life, but we couldn’t help but think they would be jealous of the space their cousins in Peru get to enjoy.

Grazing herd

Alpacas (and their sheep friends) have LOTS of room to roam in Peru.

It turns out that Feliz has three different herds of alpaca, and we were visiting one of them.  The other two herds had moved too far from the road for us to get to – it was looking for the second that we ended up driving up the roadless mountain!  Fortunately, while we were wandering around this first herd, we thought to ask Feliz if it might be possible to actually get a good look at the fleece on the animals. The herd isn’t what you’d want to call tame, but Feliz managed to sneak up behind one of the alpacas and grabbed a leg, which was impressive to watch.  Once he had the alpaca in hand, it was quite calm, and we got to go up and investigate.

Alpaca closeup

This beauty is the alpaca Feliz caught. Look at that fleece!

Because of the altitude and climate, they shear the alpacas every two years instead of annually.  The fleece gets unbelievably thick, and we were wondering just how long it was on these Huacaya that are due to get their shearing in March.  The density and crimp of the fiber was incredible.

Fleece closeup

No wonder they stay so toasty warm in the mountains!

How lucky to be able to visit Feliz’s herd!  It was kind of him to take the time to pick us up, drive us out there, and show us around, not to mention catching an alpaca!  It’s hard to imagine ranching on the scale that he does – both in terms of the number of animals and the expanse of land.

One thing is for sure, though: no matter where you find them, alpacas are just about the sweetest animals around.

Alpaca hug

Feliz and his aunt with Heather and her new best alpaca friend.

Also, just because they were the happiest piggies I’ve ever seen, here’s a picture of some pigs, who were happily rooting around in the mountains with the alpacas and sheep.

Piggies

Happy pigs! The amount of earth they can throw around while they root is impressive.