My Newfound Love
in South America...
February 26, 2007

I am making a confession. I have a new love.

It is a love that I didn’t find in any of the other continents.

It is the llama.

Really, what is
not to love about the llama? Sure, I understand that they might spit. But I have yet to see it. Also, sometimes
spitting can be a cute thing. Of course not when you’re in China. But when a baby or little child does that little spitting thing where
their lips kind of vibrate, that’s kind of cute…right?

Here’s another confession. I came to South America with a bit of a bias towards llamas. No, it’s not because of Tina in
. It has to do with my childhood…

My sister and I never suffered for a lack of stuffed animals. Our parents even turned both of our playpens into storage containers
for all of our stuffed animals. And they overflowed. We definitely had our favorites – my sister had her white teddy bear (which
still be somewhere near her bed right now even as she is married) but I was more of a stuffed-animal-equal-opportunist.
Some days I loved the Fru-Frus where I could shake their hair to look like Don King. Other days I loved dressing up Belle so that
she and Snoopy could hang out. Others that comes to mind are ‘Wrinkles’ (the Sharpei), Odie (Garfield’s clueless dog), Chip and
Dale (my stuffed animal picks one year at Disneyland) and I can’t forget about my reversible Little Red Riding Hood/Big Bad Wolf
stuffed animal. We could play with all of our stuffed animals to our hearts content. Except for one. Or maybe I should say two.

One each side of a mantle sat identical stuffed animals. Sure, they were stiffer than our other more squishy and soft stuffed animals.
But still, they were stuffed animals. I have no idea where these things came from. Maybe somebody bought them for us from one of
their vacations? That I will never know. What I
do know is that this was the first time I learned what a llama was. It was more than
just an ‘animal’. It was instead ‘the special animal that was too good to play with’. We just looked at them. Our parents would
sometimes bring them down for us so that we could pet them (a bit pathetic that I remember all of this, I know). Our parents
probably told us that llamas existed in South America – but in any case, that was somewhere ‘really far away’ to us and, therefore,
‘llamas’ were a special, foreign animal to us.

I didn’t make it a secret to many people I met along the way that I was excited to get to South America to finally be able to see a
llama (though I was wise enough to spare them my early memories of llamas).

My first spotting was while in Torres del Paine. It was a specific breed…but it was still a llama. Actually, many llamas. And it struck
me that they had an uncanny resemblance to my beloved Middle Eastern animal – the camel. Actually, I take that back. They
reminded me a bit more of the Bactrian camels that I saw in Mongolian. But hump-less. So my first impression was that it was a
hump-less Bactrian camel (would it actually be considered a ‘double hump-less camel’ since the Bactrian camel is a double-humped
camel??? Hmmm….). Anyway back to my point - love at first sight was had.

The next time I would come across llamas, they would be of a different kind – yet a kind I was all-too-familiar with. They were in
Frutillar in front of a store in their stuffed glory. Two large llamas sat at the front of the entrance – the off-white one being almost
identical to the one that I could look-at-but-not-touch back when I was a kid. The best part about this was the sign on the llamas
that said ‘No Tocar’. For non-Spanish speakers, it translates to ‘Don’t Touch’. My parents weren’t alone; apparently South
Americans see llama stuffed animals towards the top of stuffed animal hierarchy as well.

My love of the animal continued today when I was out in Peulla and went by one of the farms. I didn’t know it was possible for an
animal so cute to be created. Their fur was so inviting. Sounds weird. But it was.

I think…and it breaks my heart to say this…that I am going to have to shift some of my loyalty from the camel. This is what love
does to a person…
Back to Chile.
The white one is a replica of my old
stuffed animal.
A llama profile.
A wandering llama.