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In Peru, animals are just as much a part of the culture as the people. Ride a llama, buy a sweater made from alpaca fur, hang out in the park with tons of feline friends and enjoy a morning walk with the company of a few stray dogs. Animals and Peruvians live in harmony with each other, and have each created a home where the other is welcome.

Precious fur balls and a lamb

By Carolyn Bradley and Jordan Clay

LLAMAS AND ALPACAS are treated almost as Peruvian mascots. Every market offers an array of products that feature alpaca fur: sweaters, socks, slippers, rugs, gloves, hats, blankets and even little handmade alpaca stuffed animals.

As I found out during one market visit in the town of Urubamba, an authentic “baby alpaca” sweater— that is, a sweater made from the first shearing of an alpaca —costs up to 400 soles ($125). We became acquainted with alpaca fur products almost immediately upon our arrival in Peru; however, it wasn’t until we flew to Cusco that we got the chance to meet the guests of honor in the flesh.

At an alpaca-breeding farm on the way to Urubamba, we met many alpacas face-to-face. We quickly learned the easiest way to score the perfect selfie with these somber fluff balls is to wave some food that looked like alfalfa, just a little beyond their reach.

They certainly enjoyed it. They were not shy about their food or getting their photos taken. Some were willing to join in for selfies, others posed for portraits, and a few were well suited for some candid shots. So long as they had their food from their tourist friends, they were almost always willing to cooperate.

Later that day, we went to a market in Pisac and got lost in a nearby shop. I walked around the market and successfully located a much less expensive, but just as fly, baby alpaca sweater. As I gathered my final purchases, a native Quechua woman and her daughter came up to me holding a beautifully adorned lamb. She kindly let us hold her lamb so we could take pictures. It was so soft and docile and seemed as if she made a good pet.

Our encounters with alpacas didn’t end there, fortunately. Upon arrival in Urubamba, we stopped for a buffet lunch. In the garden behind the restaurant, we found two precious alpacas. Collectively, we named one “Penélope” for her quirky attitude and the other “Café” for her coffee-colored fur.

Llamas, taller and with pointy ears, are quite charismatic animals, and unlike many furry friends, they seem to know when you want to take a picture. Sometimes they’ll pose, and other times they’ll look away. A man sitting down for a banana break at Machu Picchu played Find The Banana with a local llama, which was entertaining to watch. I give the llama credit: she seemed pretty talented at the game.

A stray cat roams around in Parque Kennedy in the heart of the Miraflores district. | Carolyn Bradley

Making a close friend

By Carolyn Bradley 

WHILE I’M EXCITED by any chance to explore a new city, I grow attached to a place that is familiar, even for a few short days. Having a park with adventurous and kind stray cats made the city of Lima a special place for me. Naturally, I had to venture to this wonderful spot one last time before leaving this big city. Just for a few brief minutes, I told myself.

I wandered through the main road of Kennedy Park, greeting the many cats I saw with either a pat on the head or a final photo. Toward the end of my stroll, I sat down on the walkway near three cats.

One of them looked familiar. It was an orange tabby kitten I had played hide-and-seek with just a few days before. I remembered him being really shy, but I was curious as to whether he’d recognize me.

A group of friends approached the orange kitten. One woman coaxed him closer to her with leftover chicharrón (deep fried pork), which he was not shy about enjoying. The woman seemed quite satisfied that she had won his affection and encouraged him to finish his meal. I looked on, admiring the transaction: food was being used as currency for love.

The group eventually left, and the kitten sat down after finishing his meal. I watched him as he licked his chops. Suddenly, he turned around and looked at me. The unexpected happened: he walked toward me and climbed onto my lap, meowing hello. I was shocked; this was the first time a stray cat had been so close to me. I felt him purr, and it was not long before he fell asleep in my lap. I was surprised and elated; I had made a new friend in a new country!

I had promised to be back by 10 p.m., which I had assumed would be easy. My friend thought otherwise. He grabbed my leg as I tried to leave. It was a difficult farewell, but something tells me he won’t be my last close feline friend.

Khyla Wallace pets two stray dogs in Aguascalientes at the foot of Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru. | Carolyn Bradley

The street dog free life

By Carolyn Bradley

PERUVIAN ANIMALS ARE NOT shy with residents or visitors. I noticed this when I first arrived in Lima. In the town of Aguas Calientes, there were many dogs in the shop doorways and on curbs. Some even waited in line with us for the bus.

Our tour guide, Paulo Puma, explained that Peruvian pets were well cared for but not bound by leash laws, which allowed them to be friendly with strangers.

There were quite a few small- to medium-sized dogs near the shops, as well as a few cats. They all seemed relaxed as they took in the sunshine, not worried about losing their owners or making a fuss. Their calm demeanor were contagious; being around these small residents made me feel welcome.

Of course, I wanted to spend more time with each of these pets. But there were even more sights to see and more animals to meet. It warmed my heart to see these happy pets being so friendly with tourists from all over the world. Meeting these furry friends was such a pure experience.

Many things excite me about being in a new country. The familiarity of being surrounded by animals was fascinating and a relief; animals are almost like a home away from home.

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