Victor’s Alpaca Farm [August 23, 2011 – Tuesday]

Woke up at 5:30AM.   Nevermind how early that sounds, I still ended up getting 10hrs of sleep.  Sunset at 6PM without electricity = going to bed around 7PM.  Believe me, I tried to stay up reading with my headlamp, but the sleeping bag is just so enticingly warmmm, and it is difficult to stay in a comfortable reading/writing position for too long.  My first night was pretty restless, as I wasn’t accustomed to the bitterly cold, below freezing weather just yet.  Although mummy sleeping bags allow you to tighten the head region to conserve heat, my nose was exposed, and I was definitely conflicted between having an adequate breathing position and burying my nose in my sleeping bag to warm it up.  I remember waking up the next morning thirsty and trying to drink water, but the water I had left in the corner of the tent in my Nalgene was frozen solid.

Breakfast consisted of quinoa flakes — a sort of instant quinoa cereal… ah the quinoa diet has begun — granola, sugar, and powdered milk, all mixed together with hot water that Paulina (Victor’s wife) had boiled before we awoke.  Packed a light daypack and headed for Victor’s alpaca farm, about a 2hr hike from his house, at 8:30AM.  Hiked northeast with Cayangate and Ausangate on our right on gorgeous (if not rigorous) paths through farmland and puna1 landscape.

A trout farm! Water from a river is routed to this pond, where the drainoff rejoins the main river. -- Photo by Sang C.

Victor’s alpacas/farm were located at the bottom of a deep cut valley.  Really quite beautiful, but definitely a challenge to go down the slopes (and later, back up).  Though the incline wasn’t nearly as difficult as Singrenacocha, but we won’t get to that till tomorrow.

Victor looking down into the valley. See that smidgeon that could be a house? That is a house and it is where we are going.

After the steep diagonal descent, we were greeted by Bobuki, a small fluffy black dog — Fortunata, Victor’s oldest daughter, found him has a puppy while working as a cook in the mines, and took him in.  It is not common to keep dogs as pets (more of a working animal, like a cow or a horse), but Bobuki was an exception.  Though, I’m pretty sure he thought he was a big tough dog as he “herded” alpaca and barked at strangers.

Bobuki

Paulina was already at the farm with Libreta (Paulina’s mother) as she had ridden ahead on a horse with Bobuki.  We were formally introduced to everybody, including Hacinto (Victor’s friend).  It reminded me a great deal of an introductory Spanish class — Hola, me llamo Christine.  Yo soy de Estados Unidos. — Oh, except that I took Spanish 8 years ago, so none of it was really familiar, and I couldn’t think of many pertinent things to say.  I added in a Lo siento, no hablo español muy bien (Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish very well), as if that would simultaneously impress them and redeem my Spanish.  Libreta, who was over 70 and living at the alpaca farm by herself in a one-room house (which, mind you, was not much larger than 200 or 300 sq ft) gave us a firm handshake and a kiss on the cheek.  They all helped fetch and herd the alpacas from out in the hills into corrals.

This is where Libreta lives by herself to watch the alpaca. Absolutely nowhere to vent the smoke and no electricity. -- Photo by Tim B.

The alpaca are brought in. Victor has about 80 alpaca.

Victor explained that the different alpacas we saw (some long-haired, some short-haired, some matted, and some puffy like a cottonball) were used for different types of wool and wool products.  The long, dread-locked alpaca wool was used for yarn, primarily because it already resembled the product and didn’t need much additional processing.  Baby alpaca wool was the softest, though wool from the neck of an alpaca was often used in its place.

Rolling in the grass.

Hacinto caught a white, short-haired alpaca (with his bare hands!), and of course we all ooh-ed and aah-ed over it, and fawned on it like it was pet.  Its wool was incredibly soft and warm, and surprisingly comprised a thick layer (about a hand’s length deep).

Hacinto catches an Alpaca.

Victor lassoed a brown, long-haired guy, who was much less cooperative, but just as soft.  He seemed a bit ornery.

Victor wrangling an alpaca.

Victor and a slightly peeved Alpaca.

As a joke (or I suppose it could have been out of kindness, but I thought it was funny), Victor let Marshall and Tim try their hand at lassoing.  No luck, but plenty of close calls.  We were so excited to see something get lassoed/wrangled, that we were ecstatic when Victor caught a white one.

Marshall trying to lasso an alpaca.

Tim tries to lasso the alpacas, thus, all the alpacas stay away from Tim.

Victor tries to lasso one, but is also unsuccessful. (Way harder than the movies)

Victor catches the white alpaca.

They wrestled the alpaca to the ground and tied its feet together.  We were still fascinated, and touched its flexible feet, still cooing over it.  I was thinking, His feet are so pliable.  I wonder why they tied his feet together… probably so we could see his feet?   I guess I should have been suspicious of why they would go through such lengths just so we could see his feet.  I was pretty fixated on that.  It wasn’t until Victor and Hacinto hauled the alpaca through a hole in the rock wall toward the front area of the house that I began to realize what they were doing.  The knife sharpening confirmed it.

"Oh look it's its feet!" Why was I thinking they were trying to show us alpaca feet.

Carrying the Alpaca to the front yard.

[WARNING: GRAPHIC PICTURES AHEAD]

Some of the group stayed back in the alpaca corral (where life is happy), but I was curious and didn’t want to miss out, so I followed them to the front yard.  Victor held the alpaca’s neck, and seemed to saw at its neck with a knife (I suppose due to the thick musculature around its neck, “slitting” its throat required a bit more force).  Blood rocketed out of the wound and into a bowl in short forceful bursts, its blood a vivid, almost cartoon-y red.  The alpaca twitched for a bit, and was still.  Libreta dipped 3 fingers into the blood, tasted it, and flicked it into the air — I later on learned this was a ritualistic thanking, and the blood was flicked in the direction of the mountains, the Apus (gods).  They wasted no time cutting off the hooves and opening the abdomen.  The ladies took the small intestine, colon, and stomach away for cleaning.  They also inspected the pancreas, but I guess it was deemed unacceptable and they discarded it.  The men continued to skin and disembowel the alpaca.  It was really quite fascinating, and I appreciated the efficiency and skill with which they separated skin and fascia from muscle (I had to skin a shark/part of a cat in an anatomy course, and it’s pretty hard to do it fast without tearing something.  Not that I’m an expert on skinning or anything).  As it was being skinned, I was surprised at how extraordinarily muscular and lean alpacas are.

Bobuki got blood on his face! That silly thing.

Taking out the gastrointestinal organs for cleaning.

Lean alpaca musculature.

Hacinto and the alpaca -- Photo by Sang C.

As they finished stretching out the hide to dry, and Bobuki finished his bowl of blood, the group set up a lunch of peanut butter and rolls (oh yes, I forgot that we had bought a whole bunch of assorted rolls from the bakery next to Hostal Alfonoso II, called Don Panchito’s).  Some of the alpaca meat lay out on the rock wall, and Paulina strapped some of that meat to the horse and rode out early to prepare a meal for us.

Laying the hide out to dry.

The walk home was much easier, aside from the initial hike out of the farm, there was less heavy breathing and elevated heart rates).  Of course, we promptly stumbled to our tents for a quick nap.  Some of Victor/Paulina’s friends and family had come to have dinner with us (how they all heard that Victor killed an alpaca, I don’t know).  When we woke up there were two kids (probably 2 or 3 years old) investigating our tents, which I’m sure look really quite bizarre.  The meal Paulina made was really delicious.  A veggie filled soup with alpaca meat, followed by boiled alpaca meat with spiced potatoes.

Goodbye Victor's Alpaca Farm!

Walking on home.

The kids visit Marshall.

————————————————-

1 Puna is used to describe the ecoregion of the central Andes Mountains in South America.  Also referred to as Puna grassland, it is found above the treeline and below the permanent snow line.  They are typically drier than grasslands of the northern Andes.

Comments
2 Responses to “Victor’s Alpaca Farm [August 23, 2011 – Tuesday]”
  1. Assia says:

    Stunning pictures – thank you for sharing!

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