There was a time when Alpacas lived only on the exposed mountaintops of Peru, higher up than the highest peak on any mountain in Ireland.
Their coats of fine fleece adapted to the bleakest of freezing and windy conditions and their hooves allowed them to roam over every type of terrain, wet or dry. Long eyelashes had the twin virtues of protecting their their eyes from sand blowing in the wind making them incredibly pretty and seductive looking.
This weekend, I visited K2 Alpacas in their new home at Callowhill in Newtownmountkennedy, (which is beaten to the title of longest name in Ireland by Muckanaghederdauhaulia) Co Wicklow. There I met or at least saw 100 Alpaca and their cria (calves) calmly thriving on the lush Wicklow countryside.
Incredibly the Alpaca has made Ireland their adopted home and has found their way straight in to the hearts of Irish people. Their sociable nature and laid back attitude seems to ring true with our outlook on life. They have no problem complementing our love of trekking, adding to our stock of animals and letting us fondle their soft and comforting fleece. All they need to do now is learn to play the fiddle and drink a pint of Guinness.
The inspirational founder of K2Alpacas, Alpaca Joe, combines his knack for finer details and planning with a breadth of vision every bit as expansive as the 90 acre farm where his flock now lives. He has found an affinity with the animals he cares for that de-stresses him and he has developed for himself a new career that is about as far as can be possible from the desk bound job he knew for so many years.
From erecting a shop in 13 days to installing toilets for customers just in time for the Open Day, the lead up to this day has been hectic by all accounts. The results are amazing including the conversion of an old barn to an Alpaca experience, the view of Peruvian mountains completely covering one wall, and the real view out the back window, of a wooded wonderland full of greens and silence and bark underfoot.
For hundreds of years, the incredibly fine Alpaca fibre has been used in the best of suits and has been valued by herdsmen for its heat retaining quality. Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness has an old Admiral wearing a suit with Alpaca and references can be found throughout English literature. Once your antenna are honed this ultra fine wool pops up everywhere.
Now craftworkers in Peru, whom Alpaca Joe met on his visit there last year, make cuddly toys and slippers out of the wool and a mini industry is growing up around this remarkable herd. There is a certain romance in the thought that an animal that is capable of standing on some of the worlds tallest mountains and withstanding the conditions of cold snow and wind finds itself adaptable to the Irish countryside.
Not surprisingly, given their laid back nature, one type of Alpaca , the Suri, has a rasta fleece that sways gently as it moves. Just contemplating them is a balm to the soul, therapy in a hairstyle. When sheared once a year, they look slightly ridiculous and very alarmed at the transformation.
Trekking with K2 Alpacas has to be booked six months in advance, such is the draw of these amazing creatures. A walk with a focus on a beautiful animal makes the experience of the rich lush landscape more compelling.
Even the thought of the farm on the hill is a comforting one as we face into the storms and shortened days of winter, knowing that the Alpacas will be there patiently waiting for their next bunch of trekkers.