Ted’s Travels – The South American Camelids
Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas, Guanacos… What are they?
They are camelids that can only be found in South America. Llamas are found in flocks on the Peruvian puno, they used to serve the Indians well as “a domesticated beast of burden, yield wool for clothing, milk, cheese and flesh for nourishment”; while the Alpaca has a long fleece, their fibre is strong and lustrous and is used for making blankets and ponchos, the Vicuña is hunted for its fine and valuable wool, according to my 1924 South America Hand Book. This was written 93 years ago, yet today we see these beautiful animals all over South America along the west coast in the Andes from Ecuador all the way to Patagonia.
They are from the Camelid family and can be traced back to the end of the Pleistocene originated in North America, they migrated to South America where their domestication started around 4,000 B.C. Since then the Llama and Alpaca domestication has been controlled by the Indian groups high in the Andes. Today the camelids have manifested into rich colours of fibre, meat, skin, manure, transportation, fuel, religious rituals, and tools.
There are two varieties of wild camelids, the Vicuña and the Guanaco, and two types of domestic ones, the Llamas and the Alpacas.
Travellers photo opportunities of these unique animals are all over the Andes, the South American camelids range in colours from all shades of brown to white and black. They roam on the high plains in big herds up to 300 or 400 hundred, or even more!
The best woollen garments are scarves woven from baby alpaca wool. When visiting an Andean market be aware of the fake wool garments that are passed off as “baby alpaca” that shop keepers try to sell to the tourist, so one must know their wool very well. The term “baby alpaca” refers to the thickness of the fibre, so the “baby alpaca” tends to be thinner than the regular alpaca fibre.
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Ted Dziadkiewicz is Director and Founder of Contours Travel, Australia’s longest running tour operator to Latin America. He has been more than 100 times to Latin America over the past 40 years and visited over 20 countries. If you want to know more visit www.contourstravel.com.au