Most of what we know about South American camelids is their hair. The fleece of these animals contains no lanolin, so it is hypoallergenic, and though not waterproof, it makes warm lightweight garments. The llama and guanaco both have an outer layer of coarser hair and an inner layer of softer hair. The alpaca and vicuna have no outer layer. The softness of guanaco fleece is between that of the alpaca and vicuna. Though one needn’t travel to Argentina or schedule Peru tours to purchase a wonderful South American camelid garment, you’ll find much lower prices if you do.
After the Spanish invasion of guanaco habitat centuries ago, the specie’s population shrank from millions to thousands. Most of the continent’s remaining guanacos are found in the southerly regions, making them a much more common sight during travel to Patagonia than Peru Tours. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), of South America’s remaining 400,000 and 600,000 guanacos, almost all are found in Argentina with about 66,000 in Chile.
Over the years, various evolutionary theories have been put forth. Because the guanaco appeared first in the fossil record, some believe that llamas, alpacas and vicunas all evolved from that species. Scientists believe that between ten and perhaps more than thirty million guanacos once roamed various regions of South America from northern Peru to Patagonia.
Far from the shoppers combing through alpaca merchandise in Lima and elsewhere during their travel to Peru, come February, the alpaca herders give thanks, thanks for their livelihood, thanks for their herds, thanks for the species. Rooted in indigenous traditions, the Hayarisqa ceremony is an annual event that takes place in the Andean herder communities.
In the Andes, gender roles in the knitting and weaving professions vary by culture and village. In some communities, as visitors who travel to Lake Titicaca will observe, the weavers are primarily men. Travelers on Machu Picchu tours who visit the hill town of Huilloc will see the woolen handicrafts of women. In many communities, the whole family learns to knit, often using bicycle spokes for needles. Children usually gain proficiency by age ten. This family occupation is a valued segment of the indigenous economy, passed down through generations.