Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Llamas of Alma Negra

Wandering the grounds of Alma Negra are at least six llamas, which often spend time in the Mayan ball court next to the winery. Each day, these llamas follow a regular route through the vineyard grounds. They are very intelligent and efficient animals, though be careful as they can spit. These llamas are being trained to eventually carry grapes.

Llamas (Lama glama) are a South American member of the camel family, though also placed into a category known as lamoids, which include the alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña. Llamas are the largest of all lamoids.  Lamoids lack humps, and are typically long necked herbivores with large, pointed ears.

Throughout history, the llama has been used primarily as a pack, not a riding, animal. Like camels, llamas have a high thirst tolerance and they also possess a powerful stamina, making them an ideal pack animals. An average llama can carry about 100 pounds, and their generally docile nature made them an excellent pack animal.

Llamas have also been shorn for their wool, which may not be as insulating as alpaca but is still a good choice.

To the Incas, llamas were sacred animals who belonged to the mountain gods. There were special government Llama-Michis ("llama herders") who bred and managed llamas, and it was forbidden to hunt llamas.

On the first day of every lunar month, the Incas would lead 100 white llamas into their main square, where they would be sacrified. Sometimes they would be killed outright, while others might be tied out and allowed to starve. The hungry llamas would cry out, which was thought to deliver a message to the gods.

The Incas also used llamas in divinatory practices, and scrutinizing the lungs of a sacrificed llama was supposed to be very effective. The priests would inflate the lungs, blowing through the trachea, and then read the shape and course of the veins. 

Like many different cultures, the Incas had a myth of a great flood that once nearly destroyed the world. The tale mentions that two goodly shepherds were worried as their llamas seemed out of sorts, and the llamas shared their gried with the shepherds. The llamas knew that the flood was coming and that their only possible deliverance was to hide high in the Andes. The two shepherds did the same, taking their families with them. When the flood came, it devastated the world yet the two shepherds and the llamas survived. The llamas still remember the flood, which is why they choose to live only high in the moutains.  

When Pizarro invaded Peru, attacking the Incas, he took the top Inca, Atahualpa, captive. The Incas were willing to pay a great ransom for his release, and delivered much gold to Pizarro. But, Pizarro had Atahualpa killed anyways, and his queen learned of this treachery as a second load of gold for the ransom was on route. Allegedly, this second load consisted of 11,000 llamas, each bearing 100 pounds of gold. The Incas stopped the delivery, burying the gold to hide it from the conquistadors.  And it was never found.

The Incas worshipped many gods, including Urcuchillay, a multicolored llama who guarded and protected animals, and was especially worshipped by herders. The constellation we know as Lyra, resembled a llama to the Incas so they decided that was the location of Urcuchillay. 

Llama has sometimes been used as food and you can find llama meat locally at Savenor's. I have eaten llama and it resembles beef, and is quite tasty. It also seems that llama meat has more protein, and less fat and cholesterol than beef. A good pairing would be a llama steak with a Malbec from Argentina.

And who doesn't love llamas?

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