So what the heck is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?  Are they even different?!   They sure are, but not by a lot!  They are both members of the camelid family, however the llama has a longer neck and bigger head.  We were told that historically (and still today) llamas were used as beasts of burden to assist farmers and Spanish conquistadors.  They refuse to carry more than 40 lbs.  I am not sure if this is scientifically true, but we did hear it more than once on the trip!  In any case, check out these llamas we saw grazing at Machu Picchu:

Alpacas on the other hand, remind me more of sheep, in terms of their matted, thick hair.  Its smaller than a llama.  Their coat is the thickest of all camelids.

For the record, alpacas are also delicious, particulary when dressed with some tangy Andean cheese!  Yum!  Interesting fact: Alpacas use communal dung piles, so they never, ever, eat where they poop.  This helps prevent illness and intestinal issues in herds, as well as allows them to be housetrained!  Neat!

To complicate matters between these species further, you also have the Vicuña.  The Vicuna is a relative of the llama, and the wild ancestor of the alpaca.  In my opinion, it is also the cutest.  Of the three, their wool is most expensive, as they produce the least of it, and it is the most delicate while being extremely warm due to its unique composition.  They were declared endangered in the 1970s, and are protected by law.  They are also the national animal of Peru!  We did see a few, however I didn’t manage to get a good photo.  I will instead use the magic of the interwebs to procure one for you:

So you know the saying, “all roads lead to Rome”?  When it comes to South America, you could easily claim that “all roads lead to Cusco”.   The Incas developed a vast empire, from Ecuador, to Chile, Argentina and beyond.  Their intricate system of roadways, rest stops, temples, aqueducts and villages is truly incredible.  In the immediate vicinity of Cusco we had the opportunity to visit a number of archaeological sites.  One of my favourites (and the largest by far) is the site of Sacsayhuaman, originally built by the pre-Incas as a hilltop fortress, and then added to and refined by the Incas.  Most people remember the name of this site because it sounds almost exactly like Sexy Woman.  Whatever works!

This site was also a showpiece of some serious Inca ingenuity.  Check out the size of these boulders!  Also, on the largest boulder in the center of the picture, notice the number of angles, and the precision of the fit.  Those Incas were amazing, I tell you!

Here’s a good spot to introduce my fellow travelling companions.  From top left is Ruben, from the Netherlands, Matt from the UK, Mike, Nick from Ottawa, Robin and Chris from London, Ontario, Noreen from Ireland, Myself, and Nadia from South Africa.  Oh, and the dog is Tarzan.  A very sweet street dog I picked up en route.  We were so lucky to be on a trip with such fantastic, fun, and interesting people!

Also at this site I was stopped by a Peruvian school group wanting to take photos with me.  Seriously?  Yep.   This was a group of teenagers from the Northern part of the country and as part of their education they visited many historical sites around Peru.  I guess they hadn’t seen too many foreigners, because my pale skin, short haircut and funny clothing were quite interesting (apparently)!   As their teacher explained to me, it would also give them practice using english formalities, like “hello”, and “thank you”.  It was kinda strange, but I felt privileged to be a small part the memories of these kids.

This lady was posing outside another site, and for a mere 1 nuevo sol (about 33 cents, USD), you could take a picture with her and her alpaca.  Score!