Remember The Emperor’s New Groove? Where Kuzco, the selfish Inca emperor is transformed into a llama by mistake, when his evil advisor Yzma gives him the wrong poison? My kids must have seen that film 100 times, and can quote pretty much every line in it. Well, today, we’re taking a walk with a smaller – and even cuter – cousin of the llama. And you can, too.
If you’re in Oslo, and you love animals, you have the opportunity to wander across fields and through the forest, and enjoy Norwegian countryside landscape, with an alpaca in tow. Though, to be frank, he will most likely have you in tow much of the way. Which is perfectly fine. He is that adorable.
Heard of alpaca wool, but not exactly sure what an alpaca looks like? Here you go.
We’re in Sørum, about halfway between Oslo and OSL, Norway’s main airport, where alpaca breeders Alexandra and Bjørn runs Smedsrud Gård (Farm). There are horses here, as well. Beautiful ones. And cats. But we’re here to see alpacas. And take them for a walk.
Welcome to Smedsrud Gård
This crisp spring morning, we’re about 13-14 people, keeping a safe and solid distance between our various cohorts. That’s easy enough, it’s a large area, all outside in the fresh air.
Bjørn bids us welcome and introduces us to the little beauties. As he speaks, I spot one of them about to lie down – first bending the front legs, then sort of folding the rest of the body along. She gets up again right away: hind legs and back part first, then straightening the front legs while getting up. Sound familiar? If you have ever ridden a camel, you will have experienced these movements from above. And while the alpaca is a camelid animal – a distant cousin, you might say – you cannot ride it.
Alpacas are herd animals. They do not like to be alone; much like me. And – unless you are like Garbo – you. All you need to do, is get the leader of the gang (or any one of them, really) moving, and the rest follows along.
Out in the field we go.
The female alpaca gestates for about one year.
Notice, in the intro, how I referred to the alpaca as he?
As with any animal, females – many females – are needed to keep the population from dying out. You may remember, from my rant in this post, that I sometimes doubt humans have really grasped the significance of that.
Here at the farm, there is no doubt. On 8 March, their Instagram read:
The calendar shows 8. March, International Women’s Day. Quite unnecessary, we think. Here at the alpaca farm, we are very aware that the girls are the most precious and most important we have. It’s women’s day every day here, and there is no doubt who is the most important, who does the hardest work and who is the basis for all life, and who we are all 110% dependent on. The girls get most of the attention and care, as they are the ones that deserve it the most.
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On that note, we head over to the boys’ room, as we’re here to take the alpacas for a walk, after all. Can’t disturb the females for that.
Halters and leads – Amish style
Bjørn digs out colourful halters and leads. The gear is made by the Amish, we learn. They say it may take a while before it arrives, since they carry them to the post office in a horse and buggy. I have no experience with the Amish, but if this is an indication, they have a bit of self-deprecating humour. That’s a characteristic I can appreciate.
Cat and I are handed two champagne-coloured lads, Henrik and Hansi.
With my new buddy, Henrik.
We cross a large field, slightly muddy still. It’s early April and the snow hasn’t entirely left southern Norway. The alpacas are keen to get a bit further out, and we soon see why.
Feeding time. No selfies when I’m eating, thank you very much!
Picnic or camping
Carrying on into the forest is a bit more challenging. Seems Henrik and his mates don’t want to give up all that lovely grass. But we manage after a while. Heading for a thicket, we take them across a bridge and in amongst the trees. Up stony, slightly muddy paths, past trees and shrubs, and up to a built-up area where you can tether the alpacas, string up a hammock and spend the night. Or just bring a picnic lunch. There are tables, a campfire pan and a gapahuk (a lean-to shelter). And there’s a loo.
Here’s Henrik and Hansi eating. Again.
New selfie attempts, post brekkie. Easier said than done.
Nearly two hours already?! Time to return. We take another route back, and now the boys get a move on. Henrik is in charge. We’re practically flying down the hill and across the field. Feels as if I have an engine.
Like their more famous, spitting cousin, the llama, alpacas are domesticated from wild guanacos and vicuñas, high up in the Andes. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, alpacas also spit. Thankfully, Henrik and Hansi only spit at each other.)
Unlike the llama, which is bred for work, alpacas are bred for their soft, beautiful wool. And that, of course, is the purpose of this farm. Or at least, the business purpose. Though I suspect Bjørn is secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) in love with these charming creatures.
The alpaca business in Norway is still in its infancy, so new animals are usually bought from abroad. From Australia and the USA, mostly. Some from England. It’s important to get new blood in the population.
Bjørn tells stories of alpaca auctions in Las Vegas and in Australia. Two very different experiences. One comes with cowboy hats and music and a whole show, while the other is a good-humoured, down-to-earth affair. I’ll leave it to you to guess which is which.
Alpaca walking practicals
Wanna give it a go? Of course you do. Here’s the basics:
- Smedsrud Gård is about 40 minutes from Oslo city centre. Sørumsand is the nearest railway station.
- Parking available at the farm.
- Price as of April 2021: 395 NKr per person. Discounts can be negotiated for groups (4+ people).
- The alpaca walk is about 2 km, with plenty of stops, whether you want to or not.
- Count on 2 hours total.
- Wear good hiking shoes, and warm clothes in spring. Layers is always a good idea.
- You’ll find more info about walking with alpacas at their website.