A long road trip hauling alpacas to Canada’s North turns into a misadventure.
The rumour around Fort Smith, the town of 2,300 people in the Northwest Territories, where we live, was that we had gone off the road and into a swamp; the truck had flipped and we had all died. They had it sort of right. Except for the part about the truck flipping. And we’re not dead. In fact, we all escaped miraculously without a scratch.
It all started when my partner, Mike, decided to bring up some alpacas and llamas to the Northwest Territories. With their woolly coats and their roots in the chilly Andean mountains of Peru, the animals seemed to be well equipped for life in the North. He bought six alpacas and two llamas from a farm in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. Then he and his friends Tim and Ann and I drove down to pick up the woolly brood.
Things were going quite smoothly on the drive back up to Fort Smith. We were making good time, the animals seemed to be good travellers for the most part — lying down in the trailer while we drove and standing up when we took breaks from the road. The two llamas and four male alpacas were together in the back of the trailer, and the female and a cria (a young alpaca) were in a separate compartment at the front. Females and males need to be kept separate and young males don’t hang out with the big boys until they’re about two years old because they’ll get bullied.
Morgan, the baby, would happily chow down on the bale of hay hanging from a hay bag on the wall. The boys in the back nibbled on hay that was spread out on the floor. Pumpkin, one of the llamas, would often stick his head out the window of the trailer to see what was happening. Since the alpacas were too small to reach, we wondered if he had been appointed by the other animals to report back on what was happening outside the tin can on wheels. Bee Jay, a black alpaca, was quickly nicknamed “Goober” because he had the green telltale signs of having been spat on by another alpaca. It didn’t take long to figure out who was using him as a spittoon. Blue, the smallest but most dominant of the males, had his lower lip hanging down like he had just had a shot of novocaine. Call it the post-spit position.
Then the sun went down and so did our luck. We just barely coasted into Peace River in northern Alberta on our last millimetres of diesel. The guys at the Tim Horton’s were great. It was 11 p.m. and they had just closed, but reopened so that we could empty our bladders and refill our thermoses of coffee. Then the hunt for diesel began.
The guy at the Shell station, who had just closed up, stared without any sympathy through the glass at our pitiful, begging faces. The only 24-hour gas station in town had gas but not the much-needed diesel. The idea of staying overnight in a town full of over-caffeinated cowboys didn’t appeal to us. More than an hour and $60 later, a guy showed up with a jerry can of diesel and we were on our way. We filled up on truck fuel in Grimshaw and human fuel in High Level.
The next thing we all remember is waking up to Ann screaming beside me in the backseat as the truck and trailer went off the road and plopped into a swamp. Everyone in the truck had fallen asleep, including the driver. Amazingly we all emerged from the accident without a scratch, including the animals, although they did look annoyed.
While we waited an hour for the tow truck driver to come from High Level, I earned brownie points for being brave enough (or dumb depending on your perspective) to go into the mosquito-infested bush to answer Mother Nature’s call — twice. Eventually the tow truck pulled us back onto the road with about as much ease as we had slid into the swamp in the first place.
We unloaded the animals into the pasture when we got home. Alas, the misadventures continued. The boys managed to knock down a temporary gate between them and the pen where Carmen and the cria were. BeeJay, undoubtedly sensing an opportunity to pick on someone smaller than him, chased Morgan the cria around until Mike was able to separate them. The bugs here have voracious appetites, probably due to the short chomping season. The animals were getting bitten, so the town animal shelter folks stopped by and helped Mike put the gang in the garage and workshop with some hay. For the first time since we had left Salmon Arm two days earlier, Ghost (one of the alpacas) finally stopped complaining about being homesick.
Three days after we got here, Mike, Ann and Larry drove the brood down to a farm north of Grande Prairie to board the animals until bug season is over and the barn is built. As Ann quipped when the animals happily climbed back into the metal llama limo: “They’re probably thinking “Oh good! Our holiday in hell is finally over.”
“Rastapaca” and “Pumpkin Dental” by Héléna Katz