We’ll sing in the sunshine
We’ll laugh every day
– Sonny and Cher
SAN MARTIN, ARGENTINA – We are setting off today… after an unexpected nine-month stay in the mountains of Argentina.
First, a five-hour drive to the regional capital, Salta. Then, a flight to Buenos Aires.
On Friday, we will board another flight to Miami. If all goes well, we will be back in the U.S. by Saturday morning.
But we’re still here in the Calchaquí Valley this morning. And we’re still wondering… what to make of it all? What will be our “takeaways”?
For one thing, we’ve found that you can live very well, even in a collapsing economy – as long as you don’t depend on the local currency or the government.
Here, the wine is strong and the peso is weak. The weather is beautiful, but the politics are ugly. Living is easy, but earning a living is hard.
Also, it’s not our country! We’re not responsible for it. We can laugh at the funny things foreigners do. That’s the nice thing about being overseas – you see life as a comedy, not a tragedy.
Probably most important are the details… the specifics. It’s the particulars of your situation that count. Who are you with? What do you see when you look out the window? What do you do? Who are the neighbors? How is the food? And the weather? How much does it cost to live there?
By all of those measures, our life in Argentina has been charming and delightful – even though the country is an absolute mess. From start to finish, the sun has shone almost every day.
“It’s not going to be the same when you get back to the U.S.,” warns a friend. “People are either angry about the election… afraid of getting the virus… or both.”
But we will continue telling our story. You can make of it what you will.
First, this quick financial update…
Having closed on Monday just 50 points short, the Dow was expected to punch through the 30,000 mark yesterday morning.
Instead, it stepped on a rotten board and fell 440 points… then spent the rest of the day climbing out of the hole.
One of the reasons given for the morning disappointment was that retail sales had not risen as hoped. But what did they expect? Without another federal giveaway, what are people expected to spend?
The real economy – shorn of all the feds’ fuzzy wool – is a thin, shabby beast. It cannot produce a real recovery… let alone push the stock market to an all-time high.
That leaves the feds to do the job – with their fake money. They can goose up consumer spending. They can jazz up the stock market. But they can’t boost real output… real earnings… or real wealth.
Real wealth requires real savings, real sweat, real innovation… and time. You can’t just “print” it.
But that won’t stop them from trying. From Business Insider, here’s the new man warming up:
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday called on Congress to pass a $3.4 trillion stimulus plan that House Democrats approved earlier this year. And he warned of a “dark winter” as virus cases reach new highs and prompt some states and cities to enact new restrictions to thwart its spread.
He’s probably right about the dark winter.
And while it is impossible to know how dark it will get, our advice is to prepare for a total eclipse.
Stuck in the Mud
Now, back to our story.
One of the unexpected results of the coronavirus pandemic here in the Calchaquí Valley is that the roads have been neglected. They are all dirt roads anyway. Without traffic, there was no need to tend them.
So it was that when we decided to take a shortcut up to the ranch on Friday, we had scarcely gone a couple of miles when the road disappeared entirely.
We tried one direction and then another. Neither led to the track we remembered.
Finally, we decided to follow a dry river bed, figuring it would lead back to a more traveled path. We followed it downhill for a mile or two.
We were right about where it led. But between the road and the river bed was an irrigation ditch that looked impassable.
We could go back and around. But that would add almost an hour to our trip. We got out of the truck and examined the canal carefully.
The Toyota truck has very good 4×4 traction… If we crossed at an angle, we figured we could make it.
But when we were halfway over the hump on the far side of the ditch, our forward progress stopped and the wheels spun, sinking into the soft, damp earth at the bottom of the canal.
Uh-oh. We had been driving for two hours already, and had only passed one truck coming in the other direction. We could be here for a long time.
One of the characteristics of the people in the valley is patience. They arrive at a river and find it uncrossable; they wait. In the dry season, wind and dust can make it impossible to go on; they wait. Spare parts, fuel, mail – important supplies need to come up from the city. Will they come this week… or next? So, they wait. Hours. Days. Weeks.
They are used to waiting.
That is true of the horses, too. They are ridden to the farm and tied up. They will wait – sometimes all day – until they are finally set free.
Normally, we travel with a shovel in the back of the truck. But the shovel was not there. We couldn’t remember what had happened to it.
All we had was a mason’s trowel… which was woefully inadequate for the job.
What could we do, but wait?
To the Rescue
But our waiting period was short. Along came an ambulance! And another car with the doctor and her assistants.
They stopped. Out came the nurses and doctors, and a few burly fellows whose roles were unclear.
And here we saw another of the qualities of the valley people – they are used to helping each other. They may fight each other bitterly… and share an almost universal contempt for the gringo… but they are all ready to help, as necessary.
Here, you don’t pass a car that is broken down or stuck in the sand. You pick up hitchhikers. You offer wayfarers hospitality.
The men were on the case immediately – one dressed as a surgeon… the others in their “street” clothes.
“Let’s all push from behind.”
“No, try to go forward.”
“Get out the jack; we’ll put rocks under the wheels.”
Everyone had an opinion. And it was clear to us that none of them were very good.
“I think the best bet would be for the ambulance to pull it out,” we suggested.
But they largely ignored us… until… after trying to push and pull…
…finally, they backed up the ambulance and easily pulled the truck out of the ditch.
“Gracias… Muchas gracias…” we said, giving them all the fist-to-fist greeting that has become de rigueur in the Age of Coronageddon.
On our way back to the farm on Sunday, we dropped off a case of wine in the health clinic to thank them.
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