Back at the Ranch

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“Wow, a real gaucho!”

He stood there in the waiting area of the Salta Airport. He was a thin man of average height, a swarthy complexion and narrow face bordered by a slight beard. He might have been a pirate or a gypsy, except for his get up.

Looking at him from the ground up, we saw that he wore high leather gaucho boots, colored tan, out of which sprouted a bloomy pair of cotton pants, embroidered along the side. His belt was wide — almost like a cummerbund, such as you would wear with a tuxedo, but it was made of brown leather and fastened by two silver hooks…also rather elaborately worked.

His shoulders were wide, but bony. A black leather coat was draped over them, and a blue sweater was underneath. Upon his head was a wide black hat with a straight brim and a trim of golden-colored cord with tassels on the end. The only thing that kept him from making the perfect bad guy for a Sergio Leone western was a gun in his hand.

He was standing there in the lobby waiting for someone. We were surprised to find he was waiting for us.

“I am Francisco,” he said in Spanish. “I will take you to the ranch.”

Twenty-four hours later, we were riding across the high plains on horseback, following Francisco and Jorge to check on cattle.

But let us back up.

First, we are describing our trip to the ranch in Argentina because that is what we are doing and because we are out of touch almost completely with the outside world. We are a long way from nowhere with no telephone, no Internet, no electricity, no heat, and no television.

“I wish there were at least a bathroom,” said Maria.

Maria was exaggerating. There is a bathroom. It just doesn’t work. And, to get hot water, you have to think of it ahead of time and build a fire at the base of a large water tank. If you keep the fire going long enough, the water will eventually get to be lukewarm.

We are only able to send this note by driving an hour to a neighbor who has a satellite dish. And since there is no electricity, we doubt that we will be able to write much more.

Our spirits have both risen and fallen since we left Buenos Aires. We set off well enough; for some reason we were upgraded to business class. But after we left Salta Airport, we got a shock. The weather was not what we expected. Salta is the capital of a large area in the Northwest of Argentina. There are jungles in the north, but in the Salta area and to the south, where we were headed, it is usually warm and dry. The Tropic of Capricorn runs just to the north of the city. Topographically and climatologically, the place reminds us of New Mexico and Arizona. But yesterday, it was rainy and cold.

In order to get where we were going, we had to drive over a mountain. The higher we went, the thicker the clouds became until we could barely make out the road in front of us. This was not only depressing…it was dangerous. There were sharp drop-offs and high cliffs all along the way. In many places it looked as though the road had been almost washed away. In other places, it looked as though some poor soul had knocked out the barrier and fallen down to the river bottom. We checked the temperature; it was one degree Centigrade.

“Dad, how can people live in a house without heat?” Maria wanted to know.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”

We found out the following day. ‘Not well’ was the answer.

More to come…

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.

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