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PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

From Peru to Montana: A snapshot of alpaca

By Jennifer Despain

September 13, 2006 | In Cusco, Peru an old Quechua woman sits on courtyard steps knitting her family's livelihood into a floppy winter hat.

Surrounding her is an array of sweaters, gloves and tourists. Nearby a child dressed in traditional Quechua garb leads an alpaca down a cobblestone street as his sister greets passers-by with an opportunity to take a photo or buy a finger puppet; each for "un sol" (30 U.S. cents).

Thousands of miles away a couple waits as young male alpaca is placed in a stall with his female counterpart. Over the next two weeks the two alpaca will mate, trying day after day until the process is complete. The specifics surrounding this conception will ultimately lead to a healthy, expensive baby -- a baby that will provide the couple's income.

Alpaca. The word seems to conjure all sorts of images for different people: a cheesy sweater brought back from someone's vacation down South; those funny looking animals chillin' in fields like rastafarians; that crazy character Kuzco from The Emperor's New Groove -- oh wait, that's a llama...

For the majority of people, alpacas will only hold to these images, but for families in both North and South America they help pay the bills. Off the shores of Lake Titicaca on Amantani Island in southeast Peru, Estiban Calsin leads a tourist couple up the hill to his home. A three-hour boat ride away from the mainland has made earning a living on the island difficult. For families like the Calsins, hosting tourists brings in vital money.

Typically the Amantani islanders only get a fraction of what the tourist pays to stay there. So, Estiban and his family make the bulk of their profit primarily by selling hand-knit alpaca products to their guests.

At 4 on a Saturday afternoon, Debbie and Steve Jesse speak about raising alpaca to a group of people gathered at their ranch in Manhattan, Mont.

The Jesses began breeding alpaca as a retirement business. While families in South America earn money from alpaca by selling the meat and fiber, the Jesses make their money by breeding high-quality alpaca that will then be sold to other breeders for a pretty price tag.

Whether it's a $3 hat or a $15,000 baby, alpaca have more to offer than what meets the eye. No matter what the circumstances, alpaca fiber, photos, meat and babies sustain the lifestyles of people from Peru to Montana.

AN ALPACA STORY: Julie Calsin of Amantani Island, above,
wears alpaca knit hats for warmth in the high altitude.
Below, alpaca at home in Manhattan, Mont.

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