Hey, Hal Walter, take a geography class (HCN, 8/19/96). Juan Valdez lives in Colombia, llamas don't. Coffee grows in the tropical highlands, llamas haul loads over high and arid Andean passes in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile - just a few thousand feet higher than your 12,000-foot Colorado mountain pass. And when you get that sorted out you might want to take another look at the racist overtones of your King of Spain donkey vs. South American peasant llama comparisons.
As a commercial llama packer for 12 years, I can see easily through Mr. Walter's disparaging comments about llamas' performance on the trail. Too bad he only met or only chooses to write about what were clearly poorly trained and poorly conditioned pack llamas.
Llamas, burros, horses and mules are not interchangeable as pack animals. I choose to liken them to pickups. Sometimes the task at hand requires a one-ton flatbed (a Belgian mule perhaps?) and other times a compact import (llama) will handle the load just fine. I can see a burro as an extended cab Ford Ranger - you can pack them, then throw a leg-weary youngster on top.
Any pack animal taken into the wilderness, equine or camelid, can be handled with environmental awareness, or not. That responsibility lies with the two-legged handler. The bigger issue seems to be the apparent need of some of these two-leggeds - whether they're packing with horses, mules, burros, llamas, or goats - to purport their choice as "the best" at the expense of other species. Those comparisons are odious. That goes as much for guys like Hal Walter who enjoy a colorful put-down of llamas as "yuppie pets' as for llama aficionadas that oversell their woolly wonders as the ultimate pack animal.
Thanks for the entertaining fiction. It's clear to me that Hal Walter is well matched with his allegiance to the ass.