|The smile can't disguise the fact I'm clinging on for dear life|
The llama (pronounced Jah-mah not as in Dalai Lama) is the animal most closely associated with the Andes - more so than the condor. It is not to be confused with its woollier cousin, the alpaca.
|An alpaca... completely different from a llama|
Indians still use llamas as important pack animals. An adult llama can carry about a quarter of its body weight for up to 12 miles. Not bad going considering the steep chaquinans (footpaths) in the oxygen-starved Andean highlands.
I weigh 75kg and the llama didn't seem too bothered lugging me about the farm. Riding on his back, I could feel all of his bones moving and sensed just how strong he was. My biggest problem was my height and at 6' 4" (195cm) my feet dragged ungainly along the ground. Of course, my height is a constant talking point over here, people even stop me in the street to ask how tall I am. Living in Ecuador, I feel like Gandalf when he visited the Shire - they're all hobbits to my eyes.
Llamas aren't just pack animals, they're also harvested for their wool to make toasty ponchos, perfect for cold nights on the paramo. You can even eat their meat... of course, I'm vegetarian and would never eat a llamita but I can't imagine it's a tender steak (old boots spring to mind).
Lucy also rode a llama and with hilarious consequences.
The hacienda we were staying at in Tigua had an enormous St Bernard dog called Benjamin, who was half-bear on his mother's side. Benjamin was young, boisterous and it's fair to say he never really clicked with the llama. As Lucy spent her first nervous moments adjusting herself on the llama's back, Benjamin launched his attack. He bit the llama on the bum and ran off with a poncho's worth of arse wool in his jaws. Naturally, the llama went bat-shit mental and only the calming presence of the experienced farmer stopped the poor beast bolting for the hills with Lucy clinging to its neck for dear life.
|All smiles now, but just a moment later Benjamin launched his attack|
There were hundreds of chickens on the hacienda with free range to roam. I asked Benjamin's owner if his dog had ever eaten a chicken (I had my old, chicken-slaying, Springer Spaniel Gravel in mind).
"No, of course not," he said. "But he's eaten a few lambs before... and a calf once."
|Nervous sheep and cows|
|A young Indian milk maid at Posada de Tigua|