“Come on Cluedo…come on boy” I said, tugging vainly at the leash of my eccentric llama. To say I hadn’t envisioned this outcome to my day was an understatement. I had taken many a dog for a walk in my time, but taking a llama for a walk was nothing short of an exercise in patience.
You see, a while ago, in a flash of inspiration I had decided that birthday gifts were passé. What we needed were birthday experiences. So when my younger daughter turned 14, I hunted high and low for something (anything) to do with llamas. She had been obsessed with these funny/cute creatures for a while. So much so, that her sister had even baked her a 13th birthday cake with fondant figures of her getting married to Shawn Mendes (her other obsession) and the entire ceremony being officiated by a llama.
Hence, when I stumbled upon a llama walk, I thought, perfect! Her excitement knew no bounds, and she was ready to go pronto. I had to convince her to hold off, as January is probably not the best month to go tramping through the fields with a 6 foot animal. A bank holiday Monday in May when the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy 28ºC was. So, we set off at a quarter past nine to arrive in time for our 11am walk with these curious creatures.
Our briefing was done by a soft spoken young chap called Will, and it consisted of how to hold the leash to the llama’s harness: don’t loop it around your wrist because if the llama decides to take off, it can go from nought to 35mph in minutes, and guess what- you’d go with it! Additionally, not to stand behind a llama in case it decided to kick you with its hind legs, and finally not to pat it on it’s head. Anything below the harness was fine.
With all that said, we were handed the leash to our respective llamas. The girls got the gentle giant Nero. We got the perky Cluedo. Perhaps the name should have been a clue to what lay ahead, but truthfully, most of us (except second daughter who was totally clued up on llama facts) were llama novices.
Will led the way, and Nero refused to follow. Nero’s disposition being quite pacifist, he preferred being second, third or last in the queue. Cluedo had no such qualms. He quite happily took the lead, trotting alongside me with a been-there-done-that air. I kept a leash length distance eying him warily. His gentle demeanour and Bambi lashes put me at ease, and just as I was settling into my pace, he veered to the left and decided to take a five minute grazing break on the lovely grass a hundred metres away from our starting point.
The whole procession of 6 llamas and ten people ground to a halt. I tugged at his leash to no avail. Will looked at me and shrugged. “Yeah, they do that a lot. You may have to be firm with him.” Firm or not, Cluedo took his own sweet time, and when he’d had his fill I had to turn around in a circle to get him back on track.
We trudged on, with Cluedo taking his grass breaks every five minutes and I doing the whole tugging and turning around in a circle routine to get him moving again. Honestly, I felt a bit of a fool, particularly as the rest of the llamas seemed a more sedate lot, content to walk with their partners with little or no drama.
Maybe I just wasn’t very good at this taking a llama for a walk thing. I mean, sure, dogs stopped to sniff and wee in many places during the course of a walk, but goodness, who knew a llama could put away so much grass! I kept trying to catch hubby’s eye to palm the llama off to him, but he was too busy clicking photos, and so, Cluedo and I were stuck with each other for the foreseeable future.
Soon we reached an open field with buttercups that stretched to the horizon, and the tower of a hotel that used to be a convent looming up in the background. Will reached into the back pack of one of the older llamas and pulled out bags of carrots that he handed out to each of us. This was their little treat for the day. A reward for putting up with us pesky humans. He demonstrated feeding them by placing the cut up carrots in the palm of his hand and holding it up to the llama. The llama sniffed and then gently nibbled them up from Will’s hand. Then Will placed a piece of cut up carrot and leaned towards the llama. He wanted us to see what a llama kiss looked like. Of course, animals, much like children, refuse to cooperate at the most opportune times. Christopher, the llama, gave him a dismissive look, and went back to grazing on the grass. After much wheedling on Will’s part, he finally gave in, and took the carrot delicately from his mouth.
I looked at Cluedo, who looked back at me impassively. No, I didn’t think either of us wanted to get that intimate with each other.
“Where do they put it all?” asked a lady in our party. Llamas have three stomachs, Will explained, a lot like cows that have four. And even though, they have the grace and the pulchritude of deer, they are more closely related to camels.
These amazing animals are native to South America, and were domesticated and used as pack animals over 4000 years ago by the Peruvian Indians. Llamas are hardy, smart, easy to train and well suited to harsh environments. Their fleece is used in textiles and their wool is warm, light and water repellant. They are social animals that like living in herds, but don’t get on their wrong side or you’ll end up being spat at. In all fairness though, they are more likely to spit at one another in annoyance or a display of machismo.
“When does it all come out?” asked another lady. Right on cue, her llama bent its hind legs and proceeded to display the workings of his intestines. Smart, huh?
An hour into our walk, I was glad to notice I wasn’t the only one encountering difficulties with a recalcitrant llama. Two of the ladies in our party had been dragged through the brambles and shrubberies as their respective llamas enjoyed the sensation of being scratched. I looked at Cluedo and sighed with relief. A greedy llama was better than an itchy one.
Handing the leash over to the husband, I went over to the girls to see how they were getting on. Nero was a dream. Docile as a lamb, he didn’t mind the girls stroking him, dancing with him or doing silly poses. He put up with all of their antics with the patience of an old grandpa.
Another carrot and water break later, we ended up switching llamas. Husband and Nero took off at a stately pace, and daughter number one was left to go around in circles with Cluedo. As we neared the farm, Cluedo’s pit stops increased in frequency till we were lagging so far back to practically lose sight of our group and Will.
“Let’s jog with him” I suggested. I had tried that earlier and he’d responded well to my prompting. Daughter proceeded to put the plan in action. Cluedo jogged a bit and stopped. Then he decided to graze for an inordinately long time. The entire party had reached the top of the hill, and were waiting for us to catch up.
“Come on Cluedo….come on boy!” I urged. Cluedo gave me a disdainful look and kept chewing. A little girl came up to him and offered him a handful of buttercups. He ignored her as well. This was one heckuva stubborn llama. We just had to wait it out.
Finally, in his own good time, Cluedo decided to rejoin the party. As we led him and Nero to their shelters, and handed them over to Will, I felt a pang of sadness. Without meaning to, I had bonded with these lovely llamas. There was something quietly soothing about walking in step with these majestic animals. Although, the Peruvian Indians must have had a few tricks up their sleeves to get anywhere in time with these strong willed mammals.
Our llama adventure over, we picnicked outside, marvelling at the glorious sunshine we had been blessed with. Husband leaned over and said “Babe, don’t take this the wrong way….”
“You’ve certainly made me experience some strange and wonderful things.”
We smiled at each other and I thought, Well, that’s alright then.