It was just before 8am on Heritage Day morning and Marli and I were rushing along Agter Paarl road in an effort to get her to a trail run – that would be starting in about t-10 minutes at Spice Route – on time.
I was still a little groggy and bleary-eyed and not yet able to fully appreciate the picturesque scenery unfolding (at top speed, I might add) around me: spring-green vineyards with hazy purple mountains towering above them, white ducks kicking up concentric waves in otherwise glassy dams, little houses sending tentative columns of smoke up into the blue – preempting the braai fires that would later be lit.
You know, the standard sort of winelands prettiness one can expect from this time of year.
And then I suddenly found myself doing a double take – as though my body responded to what I’d seen before my mind could quite register.
It was a simple black silhouette on a sign post – recognisable in its absolute ridiculousness, unmistakable in its unexpectedness:
“Alpacas!” Marli and I exclaimed in unison.
I quickly spun around to see what exactly it all meant and caught a glimpse of a fast retreating sign reading: ‘Alpaca Loom Coffee Shop & Weaving Studio’.
“You know we’re going to have to come here after the race, right?” I told Marli, who looked at me in disgust for asking such a stupid question. Of course we were.
A couple of hours later we were following the bumpy dirt road with copies of the silhouette we had spotted earlier, attached to telephone poles, guiding us along… until the big moment came!
There they were – first one herd and then another – all recently sheared and taking on the comical look of curious bobble heads with stocky legs.
The kind lady behind the counter in the rustically, charming coffee shop and weaving studio gave us one look and knew we weren’t there for cheesecake and cappuccinos.
“Would you guys like to feed the alpacas?” she asked and started dishing a mixture of grain and grass out of a large tub into two white buckets, handing us each one before we could even respond.
“It’s R5 per bucket, but you can just pay when you’re done. The gate is to your left when you walk out the door. There are only about four or five that actually like being fed, so don’t be offended if most of them run away. Enjoy!”
And so we found ourselves right in the midst of these sweet-natured and curious beings. A mottled greyish one with a white coif, black ears and blue eyes was the first to investigate us (and our food buckets) more closely, followed shortly by a pitch black little guy with tufted ears sticking out like two fluffy pig tails. While these two hung around, the rest of the herd – in their caramel, chocolate and milky white coats – watched us inquisitively from a distance.
My over-the-top love for these originally South American paragons of cuteness was sparked a couple of years ago when my mom and I visited Helderstroom Alpacas just outside Villiersdorp in the Overberg. We were lucky enough to have owners Christopher and Allison Notley show us around and introduce us to their herd of moms and babies (apparently the males are a bit aggressive and have a tendency to spit in self-defense when they feel threatened O_o). The Helderstroom alpacas are probably more accustomed to human interaction than these of the Agter Paarl, as most came right up close, gazing at us from under their long eyelashes and humming serenely as they went about their business.
While I’m happy to appreciate them for their looks alone (I’m shallow like that when it comes to cute things), alpacas are actually pretty useful and bad-ass to boot! Their wool is a lot like that of sheep, but apparently much warmer and less itchy and also comes in no less than 16 different natural tones. It’s highly sought-after and you will find that garments made from alpaca fibre cost a pretty penny.
Apart from growing such luscious locks, alpacas are also excellent guard animals, protecting sheep and goats from small predators such as jackals. While the practice isn’t common in South Africa yet, you will find early adopter farmers have started experimenting with having an alpaca roam around with their livestock.
In fact, soon after Guillaume moved to Riversdale last year, he called me excitedly one day to say that he had just spotted something biggish and brown and fluffy among a flock of sheep and that he was pretty sure it was an alpaca. I instructed him to pull over immediately and take a photo, but a stream of cars behind him foiled any attempts… So, I just assumed that he had made it up to amuse me. A suspicion that was fueled by the fact that many months passed by without a second sighting.
However, my distrust was proven completely unfounded when, not too long ago, he sent me photographic evidence of what we had come to call ‘the Stilbaai alpaca’. With such solid proof we wasted no time in adopting him as our own (from afar) and named him Pablo. Low and behold, a mere two or three weeks later it turned out that Pablo was in fact Austin and that he had unceremoniously risen to local stardom thanks to a special feature in the community newspaper!
At first I was somewhat sad that we had to share Pablo with the public (and that they had given him such a silly name). But, then I got over it and thought: More power to the alpacas!
After all, the more farmers started making use of their services, the more there would be for me to fawn over.
In the meantime, if you’re craving a close encounter of unparalleled cuteness, I highly recommend a visit to the Alpaca Loom Coffee Shop and Weaving studio on the Klein Landskroon farm, just a few km down the road from Spice Route. And if you find yourself in the Overberg region, pop in at Helderstroom Alpacas just outside Villiersdorp. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
For more information on Alpacas in South Africa, visit the Alpaca Society website.
Here are a few more pics from the other day: