Deeper in Los Flamencos National Reserve rest Lagunas Miscanti y Miñiques, and we get there by way of every musical decade possible, not necessarily in chronological order.
Our red magic tour bus starts us off with a little rasta Bob, transitions into some King of Pop, Hotel California, then, culminates with a Zepellin strum-along as we wind our way to the waterfront. It’s a non-sequitur of lyrics and rhythms, but somehow, down here, it all makes perfect sense, this stringing together of different eons and messages.
The Lagunas lie at the bottom of Cerro Miscanti and Volcano Miñiques, respectively, and as pretty as these big blue ponds are, they’re a bit anti-climatic sans flamingos or other moving tidbits. But, we a spoiled, for Graham and I have stared into this shorn high-alpine landscape a thousand times, a Guanella Pass south of the border.
We are surprised to find ourselves breathing easy at 14,000 feet, the only hints of our super duper highness the lack of moisture in the air and total sun burn we feel through the chilly morning air.
Oh, and, a little surprise visitor–the vicuñas!
Turns out this landscape is anything but desolate, the camelid fur blending perfectly into the golden brown brush as the herd wanders through the hills, prehensile mouths nipping at tender shoots. I make the mistake of calling the vicuña a guanaco, but no, I learn, one is the other’s high alpine cousin, the alpaca to the llama.
Which, fascinatingly, all come from the same branch of evolution, these four Andean camelids relatives from another common ancestor: One set is domesticated–llamas and alpacas–and the other is most definitely not–guanaco and vicuña, and both bifurcate along the lines of altitude, becoming smaller and more compact and delicate above a certain tree line, alpaca and vicuña the high-mountain corollaries to their lower-living mates.
So, the llama is not an alpaca which is not a vicuña which is not a guanaco, but the alpaca might have come from the vicuña and the llama from the guanaco and the llama and alpaca domesticate but the guanaco and vicuña are wild childs and the fur from the vicuña is the softest but most difficult to obtain hence why we opt for alpaca, especially the first shearing called baby alpaca, and the llama is really meant for pack and meat because it spits and has itchy, itchy fur, but damn, they are just so god damn cute, I daydream of having llamas to hike with the Bear pie, alpacas, even, except they cost more than gold, so llamas it is, maybe outfitted with a kitty carrier, too.