You’ve heard of the Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation. But thousands of miles away from Victoria, a different kind of race unfolds in Andean wetlands. This one involves ponchos, llamas and jockeys under the age of 12 years.
On Saturday 8th February, more than 2000 people gathered in Ecuador’s Llanganates National Park for ‘Llamingada,’ an annual children’s llama race. The competitors decked out their llamas in colour and ribbons before riding them the 500 metres to the finish line.
This year, Wellington Barrera won the under 3 category as the sole contestant. Although she didn’t snag a llama race win in her category this year, 9-year-old Ibeth Santafé did earn herself a victory in the llama training contest. The events showcase the wonderful affinity between the children and their llamas. Many participants and spectators come from the indigenous communities of the region.
Proceedings kick off at Laguna de Anteojos, at altitudes of over 4000 metres. The llama race is held in order to raise awareness about conservation and care in the high wetlands of the Llanganates National Park. Located near the city of Quito, the largely untouched, unmapped park is one of the most spectacular spots in Ecuador. In fact, legend considers it the site of the Llanganatis treasure hidden in the mountains by Incan general Ruminahui.
Even without the gold and silver, a visit to the Llanganates promises natural gems such as mountain peaks, Andean and Amazonian forests and a large wildlife population including toucans, monkeys and llamas, of course.