The first time I met a llama I was a knock-kneed little 8-year-old dork at my first summer camp. I was skinny, serious, and a little arrogant about my obvious vastly superior intellect.
I also had no sense of humor, no sense of fashion, coke-bottle glasses the size of dinner plates, and a head full of unbrushed hair.
Is it any wonder the other girls were so mean to me?
At any rate, during our free time one day one of the counselors had haltered one of the friendly stable llamas and was allowing the children to pet her, one at a time. Mrs. Llama was clean, cute, and supposedly tame. She stood beside the counselor in an adorable little halter, patiently watching the noisy line of children with a pleasant expression. I waited in line for my chance to pet her, vibrating with excitement in my teal-colored high tops and my gigantic glasses. A llama! COOL! It seemed like forever, but it was finally my turn.
I stretched out my hand to pet her, smiling widely. “Hello, Mrs. Llama!” I said, reaching out to sink my fingers into her soft, thick coat.
The llama, who heretofore had been standing patiently on the end of a loose lead, took one look at me, made an angry, snake-like hissing sound, and lunged at my hand to bite it. I squeaked and bounced out of the way, and the llama handler begin trying to calm Mrs. Llama down.
“WHAT DID YOU DO?! Easy, girl… easy…. Did you pinch her? What did you do to her?”
I couldn’t convince the counselor that I hadn’t done a thing, and my llama-petting days came to a swift end. The rest of the week during my stay, every time I accidentally wandered too close to the pen, Mrs. Llama would pin her ears, glare at me malevolently, and make an threatening gurgle sound like a clogged toilet.
I may hate llamas, but it’s only because they hated me first.
Fast forward 15 years. It was during the time I was a wrangler on a dude ranch. One of the most popular attractions of the stables was our petting zoo, and two of its most popular inhabitants were our llamas: Tony Llama and Dolly Llama. Dolly was a little shy, but sweetly good-natured. Tony was friendly and outgoing, and loved being pet.
I stayed as far away from him as I could. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…. well, let’s just say I wasn’t about to fall for the whole “I’m a friendly llama! Come closer so I can bite you!” line again. Whenever it fell on me to clean their pen, I would throw down some fresh treats in the clean corner and do my best to pick up all the llama poo before they finished.
Just so you know, I think I may have actually set llama-poo-shoveling records, but I’m not one to brag.
We had an uneasy truce between the three of us. I ignored them, and they didn’t try to eat the skin off my face, which is something I’m deeply convinced that every llama wants to do to me. For all you llama-lovers out there, I don’t CARE that they don’t have any teeth on the top. I believe they are carnivorous, and there’s nothing you can do to change my mind. By keeping my distance from Tony and Dolly, I managed to maintain a cordial peace for many months.
Unfortunately, that peace was shattered the day that Dolly Llama caught her halter on a fence and slipped it around her neck. Removing Dolly’s halter had been on our list of stable to-do’s for quite some time. The problem was that the other cowboys didn’t think it was that big of a concern, and I didn’t actually want to touch the llamas. I kept warning them that Dolly would eventually get it snagged, and I was right. Naturally, it happened on a day when I was all alone by myself in the stables. After stalling for as long as I could (ha, ha, aren’t I punny), I squared my shoulders and slipped into their stall.
“Hey, Llama, llama, llama. Niiiiice, llama, llama, llama. Who’s a sweet llama? You are! Heeeeere, llama, llama, llama.” I approached them cautiously, slowly, as if they were wild mustangs.
The two llamas stared at me placidly.
I crept closer, holding out the coffee can of grain, rattling the contents of my offering to the angry-llama gods. “Want some grain? Want some sweet stuff? Huh?” Dolly and Tony perked up immediately, giant rabbit ears quivering in interest. I scattered a little on the ground beside me, and they immediately came forward to eat.
Dolly grabbed a mouthful, cheeks bulging and jaw waggling in sweeping motions as she chewed contentedly. Her head was about six inches from my shoulder. Well, it was now or never. Reaching out, I grabbed the halter that was circling her strange, ostrich-neck. Almost immediately, Dolly quit chewing and glared at me, sidling away nervously. My fingers scrabbled at the buckle, but of course the ancient nylon halter’s buckle wasn’t budging. When I didn’t immediately turn her loose, Dolly began trying to escape in earnest. Setting back, she began flopping back and forth, making a strange, guttural cry. Luckily I was able to hang on— llamas aren’t very strong when compared with horses.
“BWWWEEAOOONK!” Dolly moaned, split hooves scraping against the dirt of her stall. “BEWEEOOOAANK!”
You would have thought I was killing her, instead of gently trying to remove a halter from around her neck. “Almost got it, little girl. Aaaaalmost…”
“BEWEEEEOOOOAAANOOOOONKK!!!” Dolly tried to run in a circle around me, but I blocked her with my shoulder. In a strange way, I was actually starting to enjoy this. It felt good to be able to get something done with brute strength for once, instead of having to use sweet-talking, gentle training methods you use with horses. I almost had the buckle-free when I sensed it.
Or rather, I sensed him.
I’m not sure if he made a noise, or if I just felt his malevolent presence.
Tony. Tony Llama. A very, very, very angry Tony Llama. Pinning his ears flat against his skull, his eyes rolled around, exposing the whites in his sheer rage. He looked like the Demon Llama from Hell.
“Hey, hey, hey, boy. Hey, boy,” I started talking nervously, trying to calm him down. “Hey, Tony. Just trrying to help your wife. She needs help. Almost done. Almost done,” I said frantically. The sad thing is, I was almost done. If I had been able to ignore Tony, I probably could have slipped that buckle loose and been done in 2 or 3 seconds.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to completely turn my back on the Demon Llama from Hell. Dolly, as if sensing that Tony was gaining the upper hand in his angry stare-down contest, began struggling even harder.
“BEEWWEEEEWWEWOOOOOOOONKKKKKK!!!!! BRAAAAAAANNNNNNNEEEOONK!!!!” Her cries were so frantic even I might have felt sorry for her, if I wasn’t already busy trying to de-halter the obviously dying, flopping llama while keeping an eye on Tony to make sure he didn’t try to kill me. Turning my back on the angry, male llama for a brief second, I finally managed to pull the latch out of the worn halter hole and was slipping the halter off of Dolly’s neck… when I heard something like a wet cough, and felt something fly past the side of my face.
What on earth?
My nose wrinkled as a sudden stench filled the air. I turned around just in time to see Tony give another disgusting, wet, vomity hack, and I found myself suddenly covered in llama spit.
For those of you who don’t know what llama spit is like, please allow me to edify you. Before Tony, I always thought that when llamas spit, it was like a human—they worked up a solid little loogie in their mouth, and then spit a little angry bullet at you. I figured if you were quick, you could probably dodge the loogie, and be none the worse for wear.
Alas, it is not so.
Llamas don’t really spit— they spray. Who out there has seen Jurassic Park (the first one)? Do you remember the scene where the fat guy is in the car with the little tiny dinosaur and it spits venomous, sticky goop all over his face?
Yeah. That’s exactly what it’s like.
Llama spit (spray) is about the consistency of thick snot, and it actually stings a little when it hits you. It comes flying out of their evil mouths so fast that you really don’t have any hope of avoiding it. It sticks to your clothing and your hands, and it is absolutely disgusting.
That’s not the worst part, though. The worst part is how it smells.
Oh, man. Don’t get me started on the smell. It smells like decaying bodies and boiled cabbage. It smells like rot, and filth, and HOW IN THE WORLD CAN SUCH A CUTE ANIMAL HAVE SUCH A WRETCHED STINK BOTTLED UP INSIDE OF THEM? Oh, man. It smells. It’s rancid. It’s disgusting. Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t ever piss off a llama.
In the brief second after Tony sprayed me with his spit and the moment when that stench hit my nose, I tried to figure out if I should reprimand him. On the one hand, he was coming to the defense of his mate. But on the the other hand we probably didn’t want Tony thinking it was okay to spit at people.
In the end, it didn’t really matter, because the second the stench of that goopy, icky spray hit my nose, I started gagging too hard to even consider reprimanding.
You know what’s kind of interesting? I bet you didn’t know, but I’m going to share it anyways – the way a human convulses and the sounds they make when they gag… well, it looks and sound like a llama spitting. Yeah. So, there you go. There’s a bit of random information for you.
So, like I said, when the stench of Tony’s nuclear spit hit me, I began gagging. When I began gagging, Tony immediately decided that I looked for all the world like a strange, hairless llama trying to spit back at him.
Was he going to stand for that? Was he going to just sit there and let this ugly, pink, 2-legged llama come in here and mess with HIS woman, and then try to spit on him?
“No freakin’ way!” thought Tony Llama. “GAME ON!” And he proceeded to spit on me again.
Which caused me to gag again.
Which caused him to spit on me again.
Which caused me to… Well, you get the point. And so on, and so on.
Retching and on the point of puking, I stumbled my way out of the stall in complete defeat, Tony angrily spitting on me the entire way. I threw myself between the slats in the pipe corral, crawling on the grass until I was a safe distance away. When I had recovered enough to be able to see, I glanced back at the stalls.
Both llamas stood pressed against the fence, ears flat against their head, daring me to come closer. Wisely accepting my defeat, I radioed up to the head office that I needed to take a quick break and returned to my trailer to desperately scrub at myself with soap. For the record, Herbal Essences does nothing to cover the stench of llama spit.
Oh, and Dolly and Tony never forgave me. Elephants have nothing on llamas.
I really hate llamas. But like I said, it’s not really my fault. They hated me first.