I can’t resist them. Those bright, happy eyes veiled by long, thick lashes. That soft, fuzzy fleece. The upturned, perpetually smiling mouths. My love affair with alpacas began decades ago when I read an article in The Smithsonian magazine about their camelid cousins, llamas. According to the article, llamas are awesome and you should have one as a pet! That’s not what the article actually said, but that was my take-home message after reading it. All I know is, since then, I’ve wanted one as a pet. Make that two, as they are pack animals and do much better with a friend.
I have a history of wanting nontraditional pets. Just ask my parents about my obsession with getting a pet monkey when I was 6. As a consolation for not giving in to my wish, I got stuffed monkeys for several subsequent birthdays and Christmases. These plush inanimate primates never quelled my desire for the real thing. What did quell my desire was the realization that a real monkey in the house would have to wear a diaper – and I would have to change it.
Fifty years later, my friends give me stuffed llamas, ceramic llamas, llama cards, and llama necklaces as gifts. It’s not quelling my desire for the real thing. So when my boyfriend Mark called me last Friday afternoon and said, “Do you want to go to an alpaca farm tomorrow? There’s one in Anniston. We could maybe pack a lunch. It’s not that far. I just have to be back by 4:00. And don’t forget, I want to watch the Alabama game tomorrow night”. “Stop talking”, I said, “you had me at ‘alpaca farm’”.
So off we went Saturday morning to Blackberry Hill Alpacas, a little over an hour east of Birmingham. For just $5 a person, you get a tour complete with lots of fun alpaca facts (their poop and fleece are both in demand), alpaca petting (so soft!), and alpaca feeding (they only have teeth on the bottom). You can visit the gift shop where I bought a chic sweater made in Peru from alpaca yarn. You can even rent the space for outdoor events like weddings and parties.
The alpacas were not as affectionate as I had imagined. In fact, they weren’t really affectionate at all. They let you pet
them and they love for you to feed them but don’t expect nuzzles and kisses – despite the signage. But their lack of affection did nothing to decrease their sheer adorableness. In fact, their aloofness only added a mystique to their Mona Lisa smiles and a depth to those sparkling eyes - eyes that
make you feel like they know you deep down inside. Besides, my alpacas would be different. They would love me, their devoted human. And they would show it.
Our pandemic day trip fed my retirement fantasy of moving to a small farm in Virginia where I have a couple of alpacas, a goat, and some chickens. I make goat cheese and sell it, along with alpaca fleece for yarn and farm fresh eggs at the weekend market in town. I transport my wares to the market in an electric-powered pickup truck wearing slim khaki pants, a silky half-tucked in peasant blouse, and riding boots. It’s a simple yet chic life.
As we drove home, stopping at the Jack’s drive-through for fries and a diet coke since neither of us bothered to pack a lunch, Mark listened patiently to my retirement plan, a faint, bemused smile on his face and a knowing sparkle in his eyes. I felt as though I were looking into the eyes of my alpaca. I changed the subject, “So who’s Alabama playing tonight?”, and turned up the radio.