Argentina: Capítulo Final

by Bill Bonner

Continued from the
May 2, 2006 issue of The Daily Reckoning

When we had finished eating, Marcella showed up with a bucket of warm soapy water, put the bucket on the ground next to the makeshift table, and bending over, began to wash the plates and silverware. After each item was washed, it was placed back on the table, and then taken over to the little stream to be rinsed off. The operation only took a couple of minutes during which we wondered what we should do. Normally, the children would be put to work clearing the table and tidying up, but we were reluctant to interfere.

“Don’t try to change the social structure of the place,” a friend in Buenos Aires had warned us. “Those people are very traditional. Everyone has a role to play. It is almost a feudal system. When you Americans get there you will want to be friendly with everyone. But they don’t want you as a friend. They want you as a patron. It’s not the same thing. They play their roles. You have to play your role.”

“But we don’t know how to play that role,” we protested.

“Then, just relax and don’t do anything until you are more familiar with what goes on.Later, when you understand the people and their culture better, you can do what you want. But at first, it is best to remain a bit aloof.”

We toyed briefly with the idea of remaining aloof, but it was getting cold and we were eager to get to bed. So, instead, we all pitched in to get things put away for the night.Felipe and Marcella quickly retired to their adobe house. The gauchos laid down their saddles and bedding for the night, and we took off our clothes and climbed into our sleeping bags.

“You better leave your socks on,” we warned the family.“It’s going to be very cold.”

It was. No matter how we tried to organize things, a cold wind seemed to blow in our right shoulder. We had not slept out in the open in 30 years and we quickly remembered why. The sleeping bags were very warm and rated for -12 centigrade, but it was hard to move about in them. We could not move our legs at all. And it was hard to get the top of them up over our head and still be able to zip up the side. Eventually, we rolled up our clothes and put them on top of our boots to form a pillow and, for a minute, felt comfortable.

“Look at that sky,” said Maria. “I’ve never seen the stars so bright. Oh…and look…a shooting star. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a shooting star.”

We looked up in amazement.

“Henry, there’s Orion’s Belt,” said Elizabeth. “And what is that over there? Is that the North Star? It’s so bright.”

“I don’t know. Aren’t we in the Southern Hemisphere?” Henry replied.

“Yes, but shouldn’t the stars be more or less the same?”

“No, we’re looking at a different segment of the universe,” Henry explained.

“You mean, we’re looking at something that we’ve never seen before?” asked Edward.

“Well, that’s right. The stars you would see if you were at the North Pole are different from what you’d see if you were at the South Pole. So, since we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re seeing something different.”

“It’s all different,” Maria continued. “The land…the country…the people…the language…even the stars. At the same time, it seems familiar…like we could have been here all along.”

Soon, we were all asleep. As we slept, the temperature fell. Before dawn, we were shivering in our sacks.

“Good morning,” a voice called to us. The stars were still out, but the gauchos were stirring. A fire was already burning, and breakfast was cooking.

“How about some mate?” Francisco asked.

The Argentine tea tastes like hay, but it warms the hands.

We squeezed the air out of the mattresses, rolled up the sleeping bags and stuffed them into their storage sacks. Breakfast was simple: mate tea with hard bread, butter and jam.

“Gauchos don’t have much for breakfast,” Francisco explained. “Usually, just some tea.We just brought the other things for you.”

Francisco looked as if he had been out drinking all night. We knew that couldn’t be, so we supposed that the gaucho life did not really agree with him as much as he thought it did. But, he said nothing, and after sipping a little mate from his silver straw, he mounted up. The rest of us followed.

It was cold in the shade of the valley, but we were riding up the trail onto the desert plain.In a few minutes, we were in warm morning sun. Still, our hands were cold, so we put them in our pockets and left the horse to follow along after the others.

And so, we rode along, happily studying the mountains in the distance, the scrub brush along the trail, and the rock outcroppings on either side of the arroyo bed. That is, until all of a sudden, our horse started. We kept our seat, as riders say, but we lost our back. One vertebra seemed to want to hold its ground on the left while the others followed our mount to the right.


We gave the ancient oath as it must have been uttered by Inca stonemasons on hitting their own fingers with a rock. We slumped down in the saddle, and then fell to the ground.

Jorge was now convinced that his new patron was either mad…or dead. There was a puzzled look on his face again as he ran over the possibilities in his mind, until we roused enough to explain what had happened.

“It’s nothing…just a bad back. It’s happened before. We’re used to it. Heck, we even kind of like it. A little bit of pain reminds you that you’re alive.”

We smiled. Jorge’s puzzled look deepened into alarm. He mistook our stoic reaction to pain for madness – and maybe he was right about it.

“Don’t worry.I’ll get a truck,” he offered.

Fortunately, we were not far from an old farm road. Had this happened the day before, when we were up on the mountain, they would have had to truss us up on a packhorse like a corpse. Instead, we were able to ride back in a truck. Once again, we counted our blessings.

When we got to the ranch house, the boys carried their father in and dumped him on the bed, while he repeated the old oath: “Aiyyeee!”

For the next two and a half days, your editor was practically immobile and could only lie in bed looking out the window, wondering. At first, he wondered how long it would take his back to straighten itself out. Next, he wondered if he should call a doctor. Then, he wondered how he could call anyone without a phone. Finally, he stopped wondering altogether. There were no phones, no doctors…not even a quack chiropractor.

“There is an old person up in the valley,” offered Jorge. “She knows some of the ancient healing secrets of the Indians.”

“You might as well try it,” said Elizabeth. “What do you have to lose?”

“Who has she treated? What does she do? Has she healed anyone?”

Your editor is suspicious of modern medicine; but he is open-minded and fair. He is also suspicious of archaic treatments. So, though he had no access to regular doctors, he skirted the local witchdoctors. Instead, Maria, Jorge’s wife, brought him a tea from unknown herbs she had collected herself. After two days in bed, he decided to heal himself.

“Give me a hand, Henry, ” your editor said.

“What are you going to do?” asked Henry

“You’ll see…”

We hobbled out to the garden to a wooden gate.

“You see, Henry, the backbone is like a chain. If the links get out of line, you have to straighten them out.”

“How are you going to do that?” Henry asked.

“Here…help me up,” we said.

Calling in reinforcements, we positioned ourselves on top of the wooden gate, with our legs hanging over.

“Now let me down; ease me over backwards so I’m hanging by my knees,” we directed.

“What? I don’t know about this Dad. It looks like you’re going to fall on your head,” worried Henry.

“Well hold onto my feet, then. I’m tired of being an invalid. Last night, I had to crawl to the bathroom on all fours, and you know we don’t have electricity. I couldn’t see a thing.I bumped my head on the bathroom door and practically knocked myself out. I’ve had enough of this, ” we declared, “Here, let me fall backwards.”

Henry eased us over while the gauchos held onto our legs. Soon, we were hanging upside down.

“Hey…that feels better already,” your editor noted.

“What on earth are you doing!” called out Elizabeth, who was watching from the front porch. “I don’t believe it!”

But we hung there for a long as we could bear it. We felt it was doing us some good; we could even feel the vertebrae stretching out. We didn’t know what it might feel like when we finally came down, but we couldn’t imagine that it could feel any worse. Upside down, the world looked entirely different. But then, since we were in the southern hemisphere, maybe we were really seeing it “right side up.” Maybe the whole world needs to be inverted, just to make sense of it.

Jorge gave us that look again. Even upside down, we recognized it; it was the look a woman gives her husband when he says he’s going to grow teak trees in the attic and sell the wood to finance their retirement.

Jorge had spent his entire life on the ranch. He must have wondered what was going to become of it.

“OK, boys. Let me down gently, ” your editor said.

We landed more like a prizefighter than a ballerina, but we were soon on our feet again.

“Hey…this is much better! Look, I can walk!” we declared.

We could walk. There was still some pain, but it was a dull, constant pain now – not the crippling sharp pain that had kept us in bed.

Jorge seemed greatly relieved. Not that we could walk again, but that maybe we weren’t mad after all.

“Me alegre,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of The Wall Street Journal best seller Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley & Sons).

In Bonner and Wiggin’s follow-up book, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis, they wield their sardonic brand of humor to expose the nation for what it really is – an empire built on delusions. Daily Reckoning readers can buy their copy of Empire of Debt at a discount – just click on the link below:

“Now Perhaps Someone Will Listen!”