Floridian Alpacas

Florida might not seem like the right place to have an alpaca farm; it’s hot, humid, and full of bugs, whereas alpacas are cold-weather animals from thin-aired mountaintops, without long tails to flick away pesky insects. Florida alpacas usually have lice burrowing in their thick fur, because the winters aren’t cold enough to kill the mites off.

So why would anyone have an alpaca farm in such as seemingly unsuitable climate? It’s actually not that uncommon, and for a simple reason: people like living where it’s warm. Sure, it takes more work to keep one’s herd happy and healthy, but it’s certainly do-able. There are sprays and ointments for repelling and killing insects, and the particular alpaca breeder we visited kept fans and water running in the summer and on hotter “winter” days (typically about 80 degrees). The alpacas get used to their climate fairly well, too, and after a while they need a coat of shaggy fur to keep warm in the “chilly” December nights we’re experiencing here now (again, it’s currently 75, with 89% humidity). So maybe it’s not so crazy to keep the animals after all… especially considering the heavenly fuzziness of an alpaca’s fleece.

image
Photo creds: the Mace family, at TheLightRoad.us

We headed over to LunaSea Alpaca Farm a few days ago, accompanied by many of the RVing families currently staying in Orlando. After examining the store and hugging alpaca-fleece teddy bears again and again (you can’t even imagine how wonderful they felt), we split into two groups; us older kids in one, and younger kids in the other. My group headed off to a shelter where the alpacas and one llama lived and hid from the sun, and started to admire the interesting creatures as King, the breeder of these alpacas, told us about them.

You might not know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, but it’s really rather simple, and it won’t take me long to tell. A llama is far larger than an alpaca, for one thing, and also braver. They act as “guard dogs,” which is why they’re almost always kept on alpaca farms: to protect their timid cousins. A llama would attack a coyote if it roamed into its territory, and though Rose, the llama who lives at LunaSea, has never had to do anything quite so drastic as that, she did once find a ten-foot alligator. 

 

We fed some of the young alpacas, and I played with my special favorite, an adorable brown suri named Topaz. Of course, I haven’t yet said anything about the different kinds of alpacas. They vary only in their fleece type, suris having dreadlocks without being matted, while huacayas are covered in a fluffier, airier stuff. It’s true that a huacaya is softer than a suri, but I prefer the latter for the cosmetic aspect.

After visiting the babies, we went off to the pen which contained Midas, a five-time Judges’ Choice champion. He was a brown suri, and wouldn’t let anyone touch or feed him; the adult males are a lot less trusting than the babies and females. After hanging around with Midas and some others, we headed home. I was exhausted, but it had been a great experience, and I’d learned a lot.

image

Header image: Midas, the prize-winner. Photo credit: the Mace family.

Julia Belle’s Southern Restaurant

It’s getting cold all around the country, and my long pants had come out of retirement; that meant it was time to go south. From Fuquay (near Raleigh, North Carolina), where we were visiting friends, we headed to South Carolina, in order to see an aunt of mine who has a restaurant there (specifically, in Florence). It’s called Julia Belle’s, and is widely considered more than fantastic; even one of Guy Fieri’s friends was in raptures with my Aunt Fran’s macaroni and cheese.

The restaurant is in a large red barn, which is divided into many sections; it used to be used for animals, and so the rooms are small and slightly awkward. Despite this, Julia Belle’s  manages a homey, comfortable feeling, with many small dining rooms. The first room on one side of the building is the kitchen and main sitting area, and directly opposite is the bakery, where buns, pie, and things of that sort are made, with another space for eating. It’s a beautiful but difficult old building, and though many restaurants have attempted to make it work over time, it’s only Julia Belle’s that has managed to pull it off.

image

And now onto the food. I’m really not the best person for the job, being gluten-free (and also not a fan of eating in general), but I’m the only critic available at the moment, so I’ll have to do. Truthfully, the options for someone like me were fairly limited, but I settled on mashed potatoes, green beans, and a burger without a bun. Gordon, who could elaborate on his food for hours, got the chicken and waffles, which came topped with cinnamon-covered peaches. Mom got the same thing, but then she started to wish she hadn’t; what she’d really wanted had been the shrimp-and-chilli sandwich that Dad had gotten. But the moment she took the first bite of her chicken and waffles, her expression was beyond words. I can’t tell you what it looked like, but I can tell you that it conveyed a simple but clear message: wow.

Dad loved his sandwich as well, and by the time we were stuffed to the gills with wholesome food, we were also convinced that dessert could only be better. So Mom and Dad got a piece of White Russian Pecan Pie, Gordon got a small “fried pie” that looked like a strudel. Meanwhile, I asked what they had gluten-free. My options? Zip. Having nothing for me on the menu didn’t hold the kind folks at Julia Belle’s back, however. Before long, I had some banana pudding filling in a small bowl in front of me, and boy was it good. There was a strong yogurt base, with sweet, banana-y flavor throughout, and I found myself eating slowly to savor the taste.

The bakery.
The bakery.

Having eaten our fill, and hugged Aunt Fran goodbye, we waddled out of the restaurant to the motorhome. Dad got into his van, Gordon, Mom, and I piled into our house, and off we went. That day we would cross South Carolina, Georgia, and get a decent way into Florida. Then we would arrive at TTO (Thousand Trails RV Park, Orlando) and meet up with friends. We’ll all be here until early February, when the families will start to disperse. And that’s when Turtletells will leave, headed out West once more.