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WeekendMay 28, 2006

In pictures. (Jeez. And a lot of words. I just finished this post. I meant to do only pics. Oh, well.)


Taking the train, I've learned, is ridiculously beautiful this time of year on the Central Coast (the folks live near Pismo Beach, south of San Luis Obispo, and I live in Oakland, and it's the best trip in the world to make by train, I'm convinced).


The Little Mama is hardcore when it comes to having fun. If it means adding water after each stop (and it does), she will.


Tell me you don't want to spin that hair.


On the drive to Solvang, you might run into an ostrich farm. Do pull over, because for five bucks you'll get two buckets of grain, with which you can do THIS:


This is what it looks like up close:


Hold on tight, 'cause they're strong and hungry.

On to Solvang, where we're on the way to the Village Spinning and Weaving Shop. This is a lovely store, run by two lovely people who confirmed what I've suspected: Alpaca farming is a pyramid scheme. I'm sure this isn't true in ALL cases, and certainly not in YOURS, but dude, people who raise alpacas don't seem to know that the fiber is worth anything. I asked the owner of spinning shop if there were any good farms around to visit. She told me of two, but said they'd just done their shearing and most of it had been thrown away if it hadn't been sorted immediately by volunteers. Apparently the tax advisors for these farms tell people that the fiber isn't important and is just too much work. Ack!

So Mom and I head out again, fortified by a good Solvang lunch, to look for alpaca. We take back roads into Los Olivos, a trek I couldn't make again if I tried (we went down a "No Outlet - Not a Through Street" street, and found that it did indeed rejoin the highway on the other side. They lied! Maybe all those signs are lies! Just something to keep in mind, drivers). We don't find the first place we'd been told about, so we head back in the direction of home.

Enroute, we see the Firestone Winery and remember that the woman at the store had mentioned alpacas in the same breath as this place. So we pull off and explore. We find the very location of a pivotal moment in the movie Sideways, fields of grapes behind us, the valley floor in front, and we find the winery FULL of people discovering the same thing, but no alpaci. Anywhere.

We give up. We're driving out, bereft and alpaca-less, when I spy a small sign: Alpacas of West Ranch.

Alpacas! Everywhere! We ask the nice woman if we can look at them and she says yes, have at it. (I ask about fiber and she says they don't have any, that they just throw it out, but they're thinking of changing that sometime.....) So we wander.


Well, hello! You know how when you approach an alpaca field, they shy away? (You don't? You should!) One field of  reacted that way but this one certainly didn't. As we approached this back pasture, they ALL crowded the fence, headed straight at us. They sniffed our hands, and I touched this gal's head several times:


She didn't like that much and HMMPHED at me when I did it. Then I was cheeky and petted her back, and she stamped her feet at me. But she didn't move away much, either.

We even saw a baby albino alpaca. It is to kvell.


After much fun, I got on the Coast Starlight (which was ON TIME, imagine) and came home. I loved, loved, loved it. It's my new favorite thing to do. This is an excerpt from ramblings I made while rolling the rails:

The happiness coming from looking INTO so many houses, so many backyard-lives, does it come from the sense that anything seems possible?  A broad overview which then moves to a bird's eye view of our own lives? The feeling of safety not found in cars or buses -- being sturdily strapped to a rail, with nothing left to do, nowhere to run or turn, just able to go in one straight line. Airplanes are much the same but have a greater feeling of risk. Although we know that trains can crash and topple, we don't really think it happens with great regularity -- it's not something I worry about when I sit down on a train -- will we stay on the tracks? like I do with airplanes, worrying about whether this box with metal wings will stay up in the air when its nature is to fall. Trains just roll. Period. Adding music to it with the iPod adds instant emotion, instant back-road, blue highway pathos to it. Especially if a fiddle is involved. Then not only is every filling station passed imbued with romance, but surely that man leaning on the pump has a spark of a travel-dream in his deep blue eye -- you can see it in his wink as your flashing eyes meet through the glass.

But really, what it comes down to is this: For cheaper than it would be to rent a car and buy gas, I am on the train. There is cold beer in the lounge car along with a young fella named Aaron who takes huge and warranted pleasure in making the snack-car  announcements sound like a big-budget movie trailer. He seriously made me buy the M&Ms just by the way he said "choco-laaaaaht." With my headphones in, the windows are the best movie ever. I have my feet up on my legrest, and I'm in the lower deck, with the older folk who don't run around and scream like the young-uns upstairs. We're going as fast as the traffic on the freeway where I would normally be, and it doesn't slow down, let alone stop, when I have to take a bathroom break. If I chose to have dinner and polite conversation with strangers, I'm sure it would be delightful, but I'm deliberately quiet and mysterious on this train ride. At least, that's the way I feel. In my imagination, I have smoky eyes and I'm wearing black, and you can see the smudges of ink on my hands. In reality, I'm wearing my fire department work sweatshirt and red pants that on anyone else would be capris but on me are just floods. My shoes are vintage and interesting, at least. I cling to that.


I read magazines (Runners World, Spin-Off) and the new Susan Orlean in paperback and drank a couple of beers and watched the world flash by. I claimed a seat in the Observation Car, and behind me sat three Koreans, drunk on Bud Light, who sang happy Korean songs for about two hours.

Stealth photography


I'm home now, and I just cleaned the house. Lala and are going out to see X-Men 3 tonight, and I couldn't be happier to be home. Sure was a nice away-time, though.



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Umm. What do people DO with alpaca if they don't use them for fiber? Simply make more alpaca?

I'm at work. I'd like your life instead, please. Apart from the part where you discover they ~throw out~ alpaca fleece. That's horrifying.

Ooh, it sounds like you had lovely away-time. The trip down and back sounds like it was as much fun as the time there. Hours on a train by yourself with music, reading and knitting - sounds like heaven!

Sounds like a lovely getaway. I want to take the train to California from here at some point soon, I even mentioned it to my aunt in Santa Cruz when I was on the phone with her this afternoon. Saying it out loud to someone at the destination maybe makes it more real or more possible?

I hope you enjoyed your movie.

Trains, fiddles, beer, and mama. What you have right there is the perfect country song. Aahhh.

LIke Mandy I want to know what they do with the alpacas they raise - not meat, surely...? However, I think that there may be a problem with adult alpaca fibre. I think it's only the baby fibre that's used for spinning. But I could be wrong.

I wish I'd been in town, we could have met at Village!! Mr. Inky and I were there bright and early Saturday morning to pick up a little something fibery before heading down to the OC to stay with Mom while she recuperates from her accident. Shoot me an email next time you come, I'd love to meet you!!

My Dad's girlfriend and I picked up three alapaca fleeces for the cost of shearing in Australia in January. We happened to wander into a berry-picking farm just as they were shearing the alpacas. We stayed and watched, and then asked about the fleece afterwards. They gave us one fleece for free, we went back and picked up the others the next day. It was actually two years' worth of fleece on each animal - they hadn't been shorn the previous year. I'm not a spinner - but my Dad's girlfriend is (she's a professor of textile arts). She's spinning some of it up, and felting some into a blanket. I'm hoping to knit some of the stuff that is spun.

I really enjoy travelling by train, too. I just wish the trains still came through my town. (I'm stuck with Greyhound, unless I want to travel half an hour to Brattleboro, VT, to catch the Amtrak there.) Trains are so great for reading or zoning out, and there's nothing to match them for people watching. I even have nostalgic memories of people watching on the NYC subway, even though being forced to ride it for years as a teenager to commute school made me thoroughly sick of the form of transportation back then.

I wrote *a lot* in high school, and have had a difficult time finding the inspiration in the 11 years since. Thinking about it now, maybe it's the lack of rails in my life.

i'm sorry! i read this and sputtered. i was planning to drive up to solvang today to visit john and marsha (of village spinning and weaving). come back in the fall for alpacafest west! last time i went, it was being held at firestone vineyard. (see: http://www.schmeebot.com/nid/601.htm )

There is an Alpaca farm on Whidbey Island, just outside of Greenbank Farms and we used to drive down there when our little Son was just a baby to pet them, they were always SO friendly !! And oh, yeah, we'd buy some wine, make it worth the trip...

And seriously, why WOULD you farm Alpacas, if NOT for the fleece?

Something I've learned about alpacas - it seems to be a species-wide trait, none of them like being touched on the heads. Rub their necks and pat their backs, but don't expect them to tolerate any head patting or ear scritching!

Thanks for the virtual train ride,
LOTS of sweet memories!

I come to your blog from glbknits; I too just took a train ride with knitting! And it is SO my new favorite thing to do! What a great way to spend a day! Its so fun to read about it on someone else's blog...mine has a train entry too!


Fourteen years ago, we rode the "Empire Builder" from Wisconsin north through Montana to Portland and I can STILL hear the announcer -- a voice like quiet thunder, nice and low and very important... "The Empire Builder." Makes me smile, to this day, to think of it.

Glad you had such a great time!

What a great post! I just love the picture of the Korean man laughing.

Lovely trip, and lovely post.

You write so purdy. =)
I love the solitude-amongst-strangers feeling of being on a train. To read or write and watch the world go by at it's steady clip...heaven.

trains are the best, n'est-ce pas?


Ah Yes...the Coast Starlight. We took that a few months ago (in April) and my version featured a drunk Frenchman (in the same Observation Car, I'm thinkin') doing Show Tunes and high kicks.

Talk about expensive booze, though.

What a lovely trip! Great post.

They. Throw. It. AWAY?!!!!

Oh, what a lovely outing! I want to go on a train, observation car. Beer would probably make me sleep, though.
Wonder what the reason for keeping alpacas if they just throw away the fleece? Haven't ever heard of alpaca burgers (shudder). I have heard it's crazy expensive to start raising them.

Thank you so much for this great travelogue. Your mother is just stunning. I can see how you got to be such a happy and cool person. I lost my dear mom last year, so I pay close attention to such things. Really wonderful photos and, as always, entertaining reading.

What a lovely travelogue! How lucky are we to be Californians? Despite the woes (housing costs, too many cars), it is gorgeous here.

You must tell us about this mysterious other use for Alpacas. I can't even imagine what it is.

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