On our bus journeys through dry high antiplano country and nature preserves it has been exciting to see both wild and domesticated herds of South American camelids: llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, and the cutest little alpacas.
The Peruvians say the softest, finest fiber in the world comes from the vicuña and guanaco – the wild camels of South America – and not cashmere goats as many believe.
The vicuña is the smallest and rarest of the South American camelids. Historically, vicuña textiles were used exclusively by Incan royalty – worn once and then burned. Because of the strong demand for this fur, the vicuña was on the verge of extinction by 1960. Strong conservationist policies have helped rebuild the herds. Today, 80% of existing vicuñas live in Peru.
The alpaca has been domesticated from the vicuña and raised for its silky soft hair which is also durable, non-flammable and has microscopic air pockets which retain warmth in the cold temperatures yet breathe in the hot. Alpacas thrive at 10,000 – 15,000 feet above sea level where temperatures can range from minus 5 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit in a single day. 95% of the 4 million alpacas live in Peru.
Guanacos are a protected species as well; the majority of them live in Argentina.
The llama (pronounced YAH-ma) is the largest of the South American camels, and has been domesticated from the guanaco. It has been employed as a beast of burden since pre-Incan times. Its hair is coarser than the alpaca, yet once dehaired can be as soft as alpaca hair. 65% of the llama population live in the highlands of Bolivia.
Llamas live approximately 17 years.
Llama and alpaca meat appear on many Peruvian restaurant menus.
From classy boutiques to market stalls and street vendors, there is a huge variety of products claiming to be made of the soft alpaca fibers: sweaters, shawls, ponchos, scarves, muffs, slippers, wall hangings and weavings. They are all attractive and soft. They catch my eye and cause me to gently caress their silkiness. So far I have overcome temptation and not bought any.
I hope you enjoyed llearning about llamas. Thanks for reading.
Meet You in the Morning…with more Inca stonework.