“Mind the poo, it is a farm.”
Our tour guide says this to a small boy, in response to his shock about a pile of donkey droppings on a pathway. We all laugh and smile at the boy’s innocence and intrigue about the meadow muffins here and there as he carefully navigates them.
We are on the annual Ryder Lake Ramble, and have hit a gold mine in entertainment and education at the RLDD Farm on Forester Road.
The aforementioned poo came from a mom and daughter duo of miniature donkeys who patiently await the treats they know are forthcoming, and the young boy eagerly feeds them both.
While this carries on, we learn that these donkeys — the daughter in her twenties and mom in her thirties — are living the life of leisure compared to their working counterparts. They amble around the farm enjoying retirement, receiving regular pedicures and plenty of love. They will outlive their caretakers, as donkeys in captivity could live up to 80 years.
But our impromptu lesson in donkeys is interrupted by unfamiliar shrieking just a few metres away. It’s one of two llamas who also live on the farm. And we soon realize they really are drama llamas, which I immediately connect with.
It turns out there has been a wild creature, a bear or perhaps just a raccoon, hanging around in the forest just on the other side of the fence. When their caretaker doesn’t walk over to check it out — again — the two llamas begin running to him.
It’s funny, but also understandable, I think to myself as I squint my eyes to size up the forest’s darkness myself. I accept that I may be mauled on this trip, but continue on.
We learn more about the llamas, who remain a little cautious and on edge. There was no danger of stepping into llama poo, our guide explained. He pointed to a well-fertilized area to the side. These animals choose to defecate in the same spot, all the time, every day and the entire group is duly impressed.
Soft-footed but strong with square backs, llamas are perfect pack animals and are even used on golf courses as the perfect caddies — those bathroom manners also help. But these llamas, like the donkeys, are set to live their days out in the comfort of Ryder Lake.
They weren’t the only llamas and goats we saw in our tour of six of the 14 open properties (although we regrettably missed the fainting goats). And each and every one seemed to be enjoying the attention from passing tourists to the area.
Even the undeniably handsome Justin the Stoic Llama, at Forester Farm.
Standing tall and still near a group of visitors, his crooked lips and teeth would reach for a nuzzle now and then. But where some of the farm animals were eager to search hands for snacks, there was just no petting Justin.
And then there were the snakes, which I presume are not an official part of the tour but very delightful for little boys. The first one I encountered was at the top of Mt. Thom, in the hillside gardens next door. This was a polite snake. It slithered away from my feet rightly and properly, a courteous gesture to which I’m accustomed. I only managed to gasp a little, and he was gone.
It barely registered on my panic meter.
But the snake I met at a Voight Road farm obviously didn’t make it to the same finishing school. He rustled noisily in the grass, slithering toward me instead of away. Thinking maybe he didn’t see me, I shrieked — not dissimilar to the startled llama — and took a few panicked steps in the opposite direction. Then he gave chase.
Now, I’ve heard of friendly forest fauna before. But I was not about to buddy up to a literal snake in the grass. I picked up the pace and ran back down the narrow path, out into the open field to grab my husband.
“I met another snake,” I said, panting and laughing.
I realized then, I am a drama llama. While I may never get the chance to shriek at a bear, I’ve screamed at and ran from nearly every snake I’ve seen.
Still, as we took the long and winding way back to the city, with the windows open and the music off so we could hear the peace and quiet of the valley, I dreamed of one day retiring onto our own little piece of paradise. If a llama could handle it, so could I.