I never thought that I would end up kissing a llama. I wasn’t actively opposed to it, it just never ever crossed my mind. Nor did I think that I would take a hike walking next to my own llama. But when the opportunity came up to hike with llamas, it sounded like a fun adventure--especially after more than a year of COVID--so some friends and I decided to try it.
We drove to a beautiful winery located on 91 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and met our guide who introduced us to the llamas. Llamas are magnificent looking animals. They have big expressive eyes, long necks that move and bob elegantly, lots of thick fur, strong long bodies, and a gentle ambling walk that breaks into a jump or graceful loping stride. They are also bigger and stronger than humans, will spit if provoked and can attack each other if they get too close. They need to be handled with care and grace.
After an introduction to llamas, including what to do and what not to do if you are walking with a llama, we each were paired with a male llama on a lead. Mine was Merlot--the tall, dark and handsome version of a llama. As we started to walk, I got the distinct impression that to Merlot I was another human that he would have to tolerate so he could get treats later on. As we moved together through the woods in a line of llamas and people, hiking up and down hills and crossing gentle creeks, I started to relax and Merlot let me touch his fur. At some point, Merlot decided that I was alright and we ambled along, side by side, in harmony.
It’s hard to be serious when you are walking a llama through the woods, and over the course of the hike, you could see people relax and start to have more fun. I was singing songs to Merlot, while others were carrying on conversations, giving playful pats and just enjoying a beautiful day outside with a magnificent animal.
The highlight of the hike came when we stopped at the sandy shore of a running creek deep in the woods. That’s when the humans and llamas got water and snacks. The leader demonstrated giving a treat to a llama. The treats were about 2 inches in length and shaped like a thin log. She put one end of the treat in her lips with about an inch sticking out and placed her face and mouth in line with the llama who promptly took the treat with its lips, leaving a llama kiss! Of course I wanted to try it and Merlot was more than happy to comply--anything for a treat. We could give our llamas treats with our hands, but giving them treats from our mouths and getting a llama kiss was much more fun.
We often don’t remember our day to day experiences, especially if we are doing the same basic routine over and over. We do remember those times when we experience something different, something out of the ordinary. I don’t know that I will ever hike with a llama or kiss a llama again, but I do know that it’s an experience that I will always remember. I imagine myself years from now with my grandchildren telling them about my time with the llamas with a smile on my face, joy in my heart, and sharing a wildly embellished story that has grown richer over time.