Investments and Life

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Gualfin, Argentina

"This is no place for the fainthearted," Elizabeth commented. We had just come back from six hours on horseback, over the most rugged mountain trails we had ever seen. The horses slipped and skidded on rock ledges hundreds of feet above narrow mountain passes. We were so high — over 11,000 ft — we could barely breathe.

The idea was to explore more of the ranch. But we’ve ended up exploring more of ourselves.

What are we doing down here? We don’t know anything about cattle ranching.

We barely speak Spanish. We are ignorant of the customs of the place. We are in another hemisphere, another continent, and five time zones away from where we usually live.

What gives?

We play our investments safe…but take chances with our lives. That is all we can make of it.

All we want from our money is for it to stay put. We ask nothing more.

Does an investment make sense? You can figure it out by weighing the rewards against the risks. As the rewards increase, typically, so do the risks. So you look for a happy balance. If the rewards are respectable and the risks are reasonable, you might make the investment. But apply the same formula to your life and you come up short.

Life is different. You can make the risk/reward analysis…make the reasonable choice…and come to the end of it and still be disappointed.

And then it’s too late. You can’t make up your losses. Better to take some chances.

When we finally reached the "Fortress," we had to dismount. The horses had already taken us farther than we thought possible. But the rest of the way was hopeless. We’d have to scramble up over the rocks themselves.

Edward, young and light, bounded up over a stone wall and then climbed up to the top. The rest of us found the air thinner and the going harder.

We also found that we could pick up pieces of ancient pottery with almost every step we took. There were pottery shards everywhere…most of them tile-colored, with zig-zag lines painted in black and red. There were also a few gray pieces…and some very thick pieces of black pots.

Finally, we reached the top and stood up on the huge rocks at the summit. The place was a natural fortress of large boulders on a steep hill, which the Hualfines tribe had filled in stone wall ramparts, giving themselves little terraces on which to live and shoot arrows down at their enemies.

"Edward, get back from the edge. You’re making me nervous," said Elizabeth.

Edward did not immediately obey. Instead, he gave his mother a fright, by jumping from one rock to another.

Jorge is in his 50’s. But he showed no sign of fatigue or fright. We asked him for an explanation:

"The Spanish conquistadors came to this area in the 16th century. But they didn’t get up here until much later. And then, the Hualfines tribe and the other tribes in these mountains, were hard to control. They raided the haciendas down below. The Spanish tried to subdue them, but these people held out for 100 years. They were up in these hills where it was almost impossible to get them out.

"But then, the Spanish sent more soldiers and drove the Hualfines to this hill. You can see; the Fortress is completely secure. It was impossible for the Spanish to take it. So they just waited. The Indians had stocked up on cornmeal and water. That’s why you find so many pieces of pottery here. But their supplies must have run out pretty fast. And then, the Hualfines had to surrender. They were taken away and made to work in the haciendas. Most of them died, of course.

"But some of them survived…and some remained in these hills. One of them was still alive when I was young. I remember him. He dressed like an Indian and lived in a cave. We weren’t sure if he was a real Indian…or just crazy…because he had some relatives who lived like normal people. Juanita, who works in the kitchen, is from the same family.

"So, I don’t know exactly how it happened. Somehow, he just got missed by civilization. He was the last speaker of the local Indian language; he hunted rabbits and birds with a bow and arrow.

"And then, when he was in his 60’s or 70’s, he got sick, and the local people took him to the hospital. He died there. I think he would have lived a lot longer if they hadn’t taken him to the hospital. They said that once he got there he just stopped eating and died. It was so strange to him, I guess."

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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