Posted by: Ginny Prior | January 16, 2011

Llamas in Oakland? Breyyyyyy

By Ginny Prior

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: January 21, 2011

A dairy company once posed the question “Cows in Berkeley”? The same could be asked about llamas in Oakland, now that Geo Caldwell is back in town.

Caldwell brought six llamas down from Sonora to Redwood Regional Park, last week, for a trek with my Travel Writing class at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. It was one of the strangest sights my students had seen, and I asked them to write about the experience.

“Hesitant does not accurately describe my feelings for today’s adventure,” recounts sophomore Caitie Healing. “My last encounter with these creatures involved an unnatural hacking, followed by a stringy, wet glob launched onto my arm.” Healing was only eight when she found herself in a spitting llama’s crosshairs, but Caldwell assured her that llamas would much rather spit at each other – and only when they’re annoyed.

Freshman Macy Masajlo was enamored with the way the quizzical creatures made their entrance into the park. “Two bulging eyes, filled with curiosity, stared back at me through the window of a white cargo van. Oversized banana shaped ears, with a personality of their own, perched atop the figure’s head, scanning the surrounding environment.”

Yes, Caldwell had brought his pets down in two oversized vans – making sure they had all the “creature comforts” of home. And he, himself, was a curious sight, with his long grayish hair tucked under a cap and reaching around to meet a bushy flecked beard. “With a Father Time kind of quality,” writes Masajlo, “you could see Caldwell possessed extensive knowledge of these cuddlesome creatures in addition to loving his “speechless brothers” as he put it.” His alpaca-hair poncho “perfumed” with the scent of his flock.

As my students paired off with their llamas and started to hike, I asked them to take in their surroundings. Junior Kathryn Geraghty noticed the reaction of other park patrons. “I was soon reminded what a bizarre sight we were as people stopped to gawk. Cars slowed down, children wanted to pet the creatures, and adults asked questions.” She imagined herself as P.T Barnum “walking with an elephant into an arcade.”

By this time, the llamas were cooing. They were making noises like foghorns in some mystical lighthouse symphony. Sophomore Sofia Milunovich felt she had formed a trust with her wooly charge. “I looked into his innocent eyes and breathed into his face so that he could learn my scent.  After several seconds of using this technique I felt truly connected to this kind creature…”

Our morning was coming to an end. We guided the llamas past the carcass of a deer, probably mauled by a mountain lion, and over to the meadow where we watched them graze. Some wanted to break bread with us but we guarded our sandwiches and directed them to a stash of carrots and alfalfa cubes instead.

As I watched the students interact with these curious, wide-eyed creatures, it occurred to me that what Caldwell had said about llamas was true. They really are the dolphins of the land – sociable and smart and willing partners on our journey through life.

The East Bay Regional Park District is offering llama treks with Geo Caldwell and his Llamas of Circle Home this spring. For more information you can contact Caldwell at (209) 603-5280 or geo@experiencellamas.com or check ebparks.org.

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