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Latin America Monica Dispatch

Here Llama, Llama...

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Llamas doing their thing
Alpaca wool is one of the warmest substances that you can wear, and here in the mountains our capilene underwear and fleece jackets are warm, but not as toasty-cozy as I'd prefer. While in Arequipa, Kevin and I decided to find some warm alpaca sweaters to wear, because somebody had told him it would be three times more expensive in Cuzco. He was looking for something dark-colored, with a suave fit and preferably with the softer, baby alpaca weave. I just wanted something with llamas on it. We both ended up happy!

This super family runs a store selling only 100% alpaca wool. Alpacas, by the way, are part of the South American "camelid" family, which also includes llamas, guanacos and vicunas. The sweater that I found has little hand-knit llamas all over it: very Peruvian. I was so happy about finding the sweater that the owner gave me a knit hat for free! She also sold me some fine blue alpaca yarn to finish the beret that I'm crocheting. She emphasized that the material is cien por ciento ( 100% alpaca), "not like other stores where they mix in llama wool." Kevin asked her how you could tell and she explained that if the sweater glitters in the sunlight, there's probably some acrylic woven in, and if it doesn't feel like the yarn is heavy and warm, there's probably some llama woven in.

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Monica and friends inside a store that sells goods made of alpaca
Here in Cuzco one sees many vendors of sweaters, blankets, ponchos, hats, mittens, socks, gloves, scarves, more sweaters, and llama "recuerdos," or souvenirs. I found that the prices were actually three times less expensive than they are in Lima or Arequipa ... oh well. The vendors line the streets of the Plaza de Armas asking for 30-40 sols (about ten dollars) for a sweater, more for a blanket or poncho. With a rainbow of colors and multitudes of designs, including the Incan calendar, it's quite a pretty sight.

Andean Peruvians have depended on a relationship with their camelids for centuries. There are four main regions in Peru: the mountains, the altiplano, the jungle, and the coastal desert. The Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, two high mountain ranges or montana, frame the altiplano, with a mix of the salt puna and sierra basins. The jungle, to the eastern side of the country, is called the selva, and the coastal desert, where the Panamerican Highway lies, is where Kevin and I traveled through south from the Ecuador border. Archaeologists have proposed that the very early hunter-gatherers would follow wild guanaco on their rounds through the salt puna and arid sierra. Out of this game of follow-the-leader arose the domestication of these animals to help conquer the extreme vertical distance between montana and coast.

Camelids help in four ways: fertilization, clothing, food, and packing. When the llamas pasture on shrub and stubble, their poop can be used to fertilize the ground to help create a good soil for harvests of sweet potato, choclo (corn), and peppers. For clothing, their wool can be used to create sweaters, like mine. When they are slaughtered, their meat can be freeze-dried and eaten in the form of "charqui," or beef jerky. Furthermore, llamas are pack animals, and while they can't carry humans, they can carry loads either down from the mountain or up from the coast, helping with the flow of resources. The llamas have adapted to life at high ranges and thus provide an integral part of the lifestyle of the Andean mountain-dweller. They're also really, really cute!


Abeja - School's Out! Field Trip to the Ruins
Abeja - Spirits in a Material World
Kavitha - Development or Detriment?: Government "Improvement" Programs in Quispillaccta
Kevin - Treating Myself Like Royalty
Monica - Shape of...a Puma Head! Form Incan City!
Shawn - Soy vegetariano
Making a Difference - Eating Pesticide Potato Chips
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