When you visit a foreign land, you might worry about picking up some sort of disease and bringing it home with you. You don’t necessarily have to visit Africa, the Amazon or some other exotic location to risk an encounter with a nasty bug, it can literally happen anywhere. And so it did to me, in Peru. This trip hazard is about petting wild animals, in this case, an alpaca (or was it a llama?) and getting a nasty rash as a result.
An alpaca is social herd animal raised for its wool, which is called fiber. The alpaca’s fiber is warmer and softer than wool, a bit more luxurious. Alpacas are from the Andes Mountains and can be found dotting the Peruvian landscape. My first encounter with one was in a small village on the outskirts of Cusco, and it was a pleasant one. When I first saw an alpaca, I immediately said “awwwwwww, look at the cute llama.” I will admit, I didn’t know it was an alpaca until I the handler corrected me.
My encounter with an Alpaca
I don’t think I ever heard of alpacas before I visited Peru, and I certainly didn’t know the difference between it and a llama. And of course, this was also before the alpaca craze. Now, you can find alpaca made blankets, sweaters, socks, scarves and hats being sold all over the internet, in addition to alpaca farms in the US. This wasn’t the case a few years ago when I visited Peru.
It was just a baby, so naturally, it looked adorable and nonthreatening. Also, it was probably a bit frightened by 20+ tourists standing around it, clapping hands to get its attention, talking loudly, and flashing cameras in its eyes. This fur baby was not making any sudden moves, nor was I for that matter. I snapped my photo and moved on. As the day passed, I thought back to my first encounter with the alpaca and wished that I would have petted the cute animal and taken a picture standing next to it. I daydreamed about the opportunity to take the perfect selfie if I was lucky enough to have another encounter with an alpaca.
A few days later, I would get my chance. My opportunity arose as I was climbing around the ruins of Machu Picchu. Sure, I thought these animals were so cute when I first saw them. However, these mountain alpacas were a different story. They were much larger than the first one I met, a bit smellier, and not on a leash. Definitely not as cute as the baby I first saw, I found the adults to be a bit more threatening. Normally alpacas are not known to be aggressive. However, they will bite, spit and kick if threatened, and they will chase you down if they miss you the first time.
I was a bit apprehensive about getting too close to one, and I patiently waited until I found one that was distracted. Of course, you shouldn’t really approach animals while they are eating. But it was eating grass, so I figured it was a vegetarian,and had no interest in making me its dinner. Leaning in on the animal, I was ready for my picture. I held my breath hoping it would keep its head down, and I wouldn’t get kicked or spat on.
My souvenir from Peru
A few days later, after I had safely returned home from Peru, I noticed a rash started to develop on my left forearm. It eventually spread to my neck. I finally broke down and went to see the doctor. His first question to me was “were you recently out of the country?” Why, yes, doctor, and I thought it would be a great idea to rub up against a wild alpaca that was surrounded by flies, or maybe it was a llama. I still don’t have a clue how to tell the difference.
The doctor prescribed a topical medication, and my unsightly rash cleared up in no time. I guess it could have been worse – I could have been attacked (and there could be video of it).
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Video modified from spittinrichy on YouTube.
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