Sunday, 4th November 2018. Amersfoort. Today is a special day in church. We are memorising the people who are no longer with us. Candles are lit for the deceased and a white rose can be taken as a memorial. I take a rose for Hessel. After the service, I am sleepy and go home. I sleep an hour and have lunch. After that I go to my friend in Hollandse Rading and then to my family in Eemnes. I stay with the family for dinner. Back in Amersfoort, people approach me regarding the low temperature of the central heating. I can’t help them. I go to bed early.
Monday. At half past three I am wide awake and I feel good, so I get up and go to work on my laptop. At half past four I get sleepy again. It was a bit of a surprise to hear people moving around in the building. I don’t know what is going on, but lately the fire alarm goes off too often. That is extremely annoying, but I never go see why the alarm sounds. I have never seen a real alarming fire in the building.
Tuesday. Today I managed to force myself to go out for a walk. I hope to be able to do this again every day, no matter the weather. Back in the house, I met the man who is often here but who lives officially in Hungary. We enjoyed coffee together and he told me of his latest adventures. He had been to Moscow.
I set the alarm for tomorrow morning.
‘s Hertogenbosch railway station.
Wednesday. I am up early and take my time for a quiet start of the day. I walk to the bus stop. At the railway station, I take an early train and travel, by train, via Utrecht to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. At midday I meet my friend at the railway station of ‘s Hertogenbosch. We walk to the town centre. My friend told me about his time at the technical high-school here.
After having covered the most interesting part of the centre, we find ourselves a nice terrace in a pedestrian area. We have lunch there, while commenting on the people passing us. After lunch we walk around again. There is enough to see, interesting and old buildings and structures, also shops of a different kind from the usual. At the market we drink coffee, looking at the traders packing in their businesses. We finish the day here, with a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant. After that we each take our train back home: my friend via Breda to Rotterdam and I via Utrecht to Amersfoort. It was a pleasant day, always satisfying and leading to an early night.
Thursday. Today is a day of writing. My friend Hanke came with her dog Toets. She ate her lunch here. For a Chinese young woman, I did some research to find her a company to work on her thesis. She plans to become a master in logistics management, at the Erasmus university. For dinner I made myself a tasty salad.
Friday. The only memorable event is, the soccer game between the national women teams of Holland and Switzerland. The Dutch women won with 3-0.
Saturday, 10th November 2018. Earlier this week I thought that the amount of fungi was very low this year. I assumed the draught to have caused this. Today, I walked around in the area and saw enough of them, but mostly only a few specific ones. Autumn is definitely here now.
Argentina on horseback. 1999. November 04-10.
Week 44. When I am ready with that, I go asleep and that works perfectly well. It is not cold in this stone building: it accumulated sufficient heat from the daylight and it is sheltered from the wind.
Leaving San Juan province.
Week 45. Thursday, 4th November 1999. The 129th travel day. It is not really early in the morning when I get up. I am having breakfast when my host arrives to replace his horse. When I get my luggage from the canteen, he makes hot water for my maté. After that he disappears to go to work as municipal civil servant. During the summer, he works here at the camping, full 24 hours service because then there are always guests. It is totally unclear how large the camping is, because there is no ground plan. A forcefully flowing brook runs through it, there are many trees, a lot of grass and many ditches where one can get rather wet feet. There are concrete tables with benches everywhere, some covered and fitted with electricity, all of them with a stone facility for a barbecue fire, the national pass-time. I have a place protected from the sun, where I can pack my horses. I ride Jil again. Soon after leaving town, we come to a branch without sign posts. I chose to go left, but the first living soul I meet, I ask directions and he tells me to go right. Road works are again going on here. To the left there is a nice large lake from where a saltwater river flows into the direction of S.J. de Jachal. The water in the river is clear with a greenish glow. The road is going up, to a pass across a mountain range. I have that pass in sight already for some time: completely bare, sharp and rough, fascinating formed. It is rather hot here. Jil is very willing to go, but behind us they make trouble, causing very slow progress. Jil is not functioning now, so after a tiring period I change to Nora. The trouble behind us is not stopping, so I conclude that Jut is the one who is causing the problem: going, blocking, annoying the others. It goes on all day at that high road with to the left a steep slope down to the riverbed. Sometime I feel an urge to chase Jut down that slope and leave him. I am not sure, but maybe he suffers from his heavy body on this altitude. Halfway we are stopped by a police patrol. A bit bossy types but after a short chat, they wish me a well meant ‘good journey’. There are no references here, to measure my progress, so as soon as I see buildings to the left and people at the bridge across the river, I stop relieved. The bridge serves only the waterworks because there is a weir. Two guys are busy with structural work. They are ‘producing’ a curve in a plastic tube with a diameter of 75mm, by heating the plastic above a fire of gasoline and bending the heated part across a little wall. The produced bend is half wrinkled. The plastic will be weakened for ever and the tube will not last long like this, not very durable. The basin holds large amounts of large frogs. The water (dirty) in the basin is used to produce some sort of concrete. The men tell me, it is 17:30, that San José de Jachal is another 10 kilometres to go, so I carry on rapidly and now my horses have stopped protesting; they go again properly. Something to eat, at last. I assume that the altitude in combination with the temperature, caused them to protest, because we descended quite a bit and there is vegetation again. The two workers at the dam where right, fortunately: we enter S.J. de Jachal around 20:00. On the way, we met quite a lot of sporting cyclists. One of them stays with us. He tells to be employed by the local radio station and promises me to come tomorrow for an interview. That is fine with me, but if he is right and there is no internet in Jachal, I may travel to San Juan tomorrow or even already tonight. Not much later another cyclist, older and fatter, approaches. He asks me if I am Dutch. He appears to be the commanding officer of the 25th squadron of the gendarmerie in Jachal. I tell him my needs for the coming days and he immediately starts organising. I ride to the back of the gendarmerie, where I am awaited by gendarmes. No questions about ‘documents’, they act. I must go through the centre of town, via the central park. I get a lot of attention from the population. I go to the living quarters behind the church at a corner of the park. It is a very pleasant location, old, tumbledown and dusty, but pleasant. The buildings enclose a large court with a large tree in the middle. We enter. A couple of minutes after us, the truck from the gendarme arrives with three bales of hay. The gendarmes immediately unload the hay and that is not very clever. My horses are still packed and saddled, but they immediately charge at the hay, making it fairly difficult to unsaddle and unpack. Apart from the hay, there is a large water container. My horses are well served and they run only the risk of boredom. With all my gear loaded onto the truck. They drive me along a number of businesses where they might have internet. The only one appears to be Telefonica Argentina, but that facility is closed, of course. The truck takes me back to the living quarters. Tomorrow morning, the driver promised to pick me up again at 8 o’clock, to go to Telefonica Argentina. I betted with him for $10 that the e-mail there, would not function. Martin, the gendarme who is responsible for the living quarters, shows me around: immediately next to the court-yard there is a tiled, oriental looking inner court, a place for barbecue, separate rooms along a gallery, a stove fired with anything like old oil or timber for hot water for the showers, kitchen and a large dining/living room with television. It is ideal. I get a large room with two beds and wardrobe at the corner of the building. The windows are covered with shutters. When opened, I nearly look at the square. A hot meal is produced for me. In my room I unpack my saddle bags completely and am happy to find out that nothing appears to be missing. I was, since the situation in Calingasta, prepared to find possessions missing. I take a shower and go to bed.
Friday. I did sleep excellent. When awake I open the shutters and dress. The truck arrives when I am only just ready with breakfast. At Telefonica we meet a very friendly man; yes, they have internet, but no, they don’t have e-mail facilities. Back to the squadron, drinking maté with the commander and arranging the care for my horses. He assures me not to worry about it. He rings and a shared taxi to San Juan appears half an hour later to take me to San Juan, 160 kilometres far, for $10. During the first 20 kilometres there are buildings, trees, bushes and water. We follow a rundown railway track. After that, the scene becomes bare again: desert, sand. The taxi is driving fast, 130km/hr. Double uninterrupted lines on the road are not meant for this driver. At 11:00 I am dropped in front of a hospital in the centre of San Juan. I did like what I saw: many trees, clean, cosy and warm. The hospital is the usual shambles, old, lots of small rooms filled with people shifting heaps of paper. A lot of dazed waiting patients. I need to be at traumatology: the lump on my elbow grew alarmingly large again. Again, a small cabin with a number of stressed looking employees. No matter the number of waiting patients, I dive into the room and state my problem. The doctor, is he?, looks and says: don’t worry, it will be gone in 15 days. So, I leave and start the search for a street plan and e-mail facilities. Via a petrol station and a stationary, I arrive through a busy pedestrian street with lots of good-looking businesses, onto the central park/square and there I stay. Everything I need appears to be available here. That is efficient and pleasant. There are two places where they supply Internet and E-mail: Telecom, cheap and a pleasant lady to help me and a commercial mixed shop, modern, attractive serving girls, lottery, and café: pleasant but also much more expensive. I go work at Telecom. Hotmail is functioning not very well, a lot of waiting and complete disruptions. At 14:00 I go find an eatery and I find Amistad: a Chinese self-service ‘all you can eat’ for $7 restaurant. Drinks are relatively expensive but for in total $11,50 I am full and satisfied. I spend this Friday eating, drinking, mailing, hotel ($30 with a good breakfast), develop film, print the film with a very disappointing result. Somewhere in an upstairs locality, I attended a lecture about one of Argentina’s artists, Molinos Campos, pictures and explanation, which I enjoyed a lot. At 22:30 I am back to e-mail again. There are now a mother and daughter present. The mother is inquisitive and when they leave, she invites me to their home when I am ready here. I would have to call, cellular, to Irene first. They live two blocks away. At 00:30 the shop closes and I walk to a phone. I consider: call or not? I call but an automatic answering runs a lot of text, so I don’t get in contact. I ask myself: is God protecting me? I eat a little, watch the scarcely dressed girls and go to bed.
Saturday. When getting up, I miss my diary. I have breakfast and then start the search for it. I went to all the places where I was yesterday with the exception of the restaurant which is still locked. I spend time in the more expensive e-mail facility: they have excellent coffee and e-mail is going uninterrupted, do they employ a better server? Probably. At 13:00 I find my diary at the restaurant. I go back to Telecom, told the nice girl there that I found it and asked her to call a shared taxi to take me back to Jachal. The taxi will be here at 18:30. I sit on a terrace, drink beer and write my diary after registering the print from my camera film. At 17:00 I am loaded, see little stars, go buy two big ice creams and take one to the nice girl from Telecom, where I have two new messages to deal with. Just when I am ready, the taxi arrives. On the way back, I see deserted buildings in a sandstorm and fall asleep in the back of the car. At arrival, back in Jackal, they are preparing the square for the celebration of the 39th traditional festival. I find my horses quietly munching their grain. According to Martin, the gendarme-keeper, the party will start around 20:30 but when I walk around, I only find a lot of people busy with the preparations. Finally, at 22:15, the party comes to a start, with speeches, poetry, recitals with a lot of pathos. The square is now filled with tables, benches and packed with people. After the talking follow fireworks with an interesting side effect: all the bats are leaving the bell-tower of the church. Then: eating and drinking, dance groups, choirs, again speeches, followed by five floats and a procession of gauchos from all over the province, in traditional dress. Their horses are sometimes dangerously close to the onlookers sitting at the terraces. At 01:30 it is getting chilly with a rising wind. I take to bed. The festivities at the square are continuing till sunrise.
Sunday. It is very quiet and silent in town, until 21:00. I use the day reading, writing and watching television. My horses Nora and Daan both have broken irons under their hind-legs. I tell the chief and arrange a replacement for tomorrow. I see the first cycling tourists arrive, a couple. The have light on their bikes: a rare exception here. Feeding the horses is rather meagre. I don’t see hay and there should be grain but I don’t see that either. All four horses are suffering from diarrhoea, possibly from eating to much sand with grain and/or from drinking bad water.
Monday. The sky is overcast, dense. Good travelling weather, but first we need to shoe Daan and Nora and all four need a good meal. I go see the chief. The second in command is present and need to hear the whole story. When the serving commander arrives, I explain to him what is needed. He says he will arrange it and gives me an ashtray with the insignia of the gendarmerie. When I am back at the living quarters, nothing has happened yet, so I go shopping. I also go to the townhall, asking them for tourist information. The only information they have is a 14 pages thick explanation. They hand it to me. When I ask them a copy of pages 4 to 8, I numbered them, they all of a sudden realize that this is their one and only specimen. They immediately make now 4 complete copies, of which I get one. When I return from shopping, the hoof smith arrived; a large fatty who does not ride anymore, probably. He has an aid, similarly fat, holding the horse during shoeing. I let them and go for a hot lunch: tasty soup with potato, onion, carrot and a lot of meat. After the lunch I go to bed. When after my nap, nothing to eat for my horses arrived, I take action myself. Martin, the keeper, goes on his bike and returns with the message, that 7 blocks away there is a man called Ruiz, who sells hay but does not have transportation. Now what. I borrow the bicycle and go to Ruiz to buy two bales of hay and transport these, one after the other, on the bicycle. Something remarkable happens: Ruiz takes his car, loads the bales of hay and delivers them just like that. I leave the horses to quietly eat the hay, while I do some repair work to the sheep skins I use under the saddles. It is evening then. I have dinner with Martin: an enormous piece of meat with tomato, onion and bread. He tells me that San Juan is the ‘onion’ province and add, that raw onions and chocolate are excellent to deal with problems caused by high altitudes, like here and further up North. At 01:00, I take to bed.
Yanks filming me.
Tuesday. 130th travel day. At 04:30 I am up and start preparations for departure. At 07:15 I am on the road, with a densely covered sky. Good weather for travelling. The knee from Daan is not looking good: inflamed and raw. The roadside is green, there are trees and water. During a long time, there is also habitation: quiet small farms. At one of these, I take half an hour rest. It all looks friendly here. Jil with water bottle bag and solar panel. We pass a large weir, with a lake behind it. There are water birds, osprey, moorhen. Here we rest and hour and I eat something. Daan is now the one who is resisting and holding us up: does his knee hurt to much? So, I go ride behind the three others and that works excellent, because Jil knows very well how to chase. I don’t have to guide him and have time to look around. Terrific rock masses with different colours of sandstone with eroded holes and fissures. There are many shades of green and yellow from, amongst others, broom and a large bush with beautiful large flowers. There are also many flowering cactuses. Me riding Jut, Nora, Jil and Daan behind Jil. I notice, behind me, a car following us and not passing. When I look back, I see one of the inhabitants hanging out of a car window, filming us. They pass, stop again and continue filming. Then they stop and leave the car, so I stop as well, while the three horses in front continue going on this high winding mountain road. They appear to be a family from San Diego (U.S.A.), on holiday: father, mother, son and daughter in law. At first, we talk in Spanish, but as soon as they hear that I am Dutch, we continue in English. Jut and me. They are so enthusiastic that talking short, ends up talking much longer while my three fore-runners disappear out of sight. The family point that out to me, but I tell them not to worry: around the corner they will notice me missing and halt, waiting packed as a trio. And so it is. The family has a Sharp notebook, with which you can e-mail from every phone: very handy. They hand me a business card and promise me to sent me the pictures they took. I see the weir, deep down, in a nice valley. After a series of hairpins, I get a beautiful sight across the valley with a place called Huaco. Around 15:00 we arrive at the police-station, positioned at the point where the road turns off to the right, to Huaco. Huaco is at the end of a road, 6 kilometres inland. I decide to stay at the police station for the night. The first thing I see in the police station, is a poster depicting Jesus and the text: ‘I am the light and the guide’. Underneath on the wall: a poster with a very well formed scarcely dressed body. I like both posters: ‘that’s life’. The two policemen, Walter and Carlos, don’t react much: they watch me and they try to get me to move to Huaco or to a hotel 5 kilometres back on the road. I ignore their suggestions, place my belongings against the fence and take my horses 500 meters inland, where a system of small canals with an overflow provide water for my horses.
There is not much to graze, but it is better than nothing. Of course, there are millions of midgets, very uncomfortable. There is not much traffic passing here, the policemen serve here two days on and four days off. They loosen up a bit and we share maté, which is always a positive sign. It shows: they invite me to join them for dinner. It is getting merrier, we drink a lot of wine, my whisky is used and, in the end, they give me a small bottle with coffee-liqueur, ‘for on the way’. A truck loaded with bales of hay is approaching and they stop it. Two bales of hay are summoned to be unloaded, for my horses. Excellent, I pick them up and feed them one bale, keeping the second one for tomorrow morning. After this event, I produce a tent from plastic sheets. There is no wind, so that goes very well. There is no shortage of large stones to fixate the sides of the sheet. On top of that I find an old box spring which I of course use. After the diner and a nice hot shower, at 23:00, I take to bed and fall asleep very fast, as usual when I sleep outdoor.
Wednesday, 10th November, 131st travel day. It will be a hot day today. The sky is totally clear. The preparations go easy and quiet, because the horses are eating their second bale of hay. The crew here has changed. Two new policemen are on duty. One of them is a horseman, he owes 15 horses. When I saddle Daan, I see a large inflamed lump on his back at the position where the packsaddle touches his skin. With this inflammation he is unable to do any work for a long time. I consider the situation. I have another 6 weeks of travelling ahead of me, until I have to organize my return to Holland and to work. Another fact is, that these coming weeks will be rough coming to deserts, mountains and areas with very limited means to feed the horses. After due consideration, I decide to leave Daan behind, in the care of the horse loving policeman. Of course, I did try to sell him, but that action was clearly in vain. It hurts but this decision is inevitable. When I ride off, with three horses and without Daan, I hear him a long-time protesting, whinnying like mad. It makes me feel terribly sad, but we have to carry on. It is very warm in the large green valley, surrounded by absolute bare but not very high mountains. From time to time I see a twirling dust column rising up from the land: a twister. We proceed slow, Nora is resisting. She carries extra luggage now. We have a long way ahead of us. Vegetation along the road is green, but they are very tough prickly bushes. Fortunately, there are also trees providing shadow during resting periods. The road is straight like a ruler, rolling softly from ditch to ditch. Ditches, now as dry as dust, are formed by melting water from the mountains. Nothing is growing in these ditches. The tarmac of the road is perfect, but traffic is neglectable. In order to proceed good, I ride behind Jil and Nora: it works well. Jil is in fact the only one who never frustrates the tempo with on- and off braking actions. There is not much variation and there are not sheds or buildings. The only colour comes from the cactus flowers: these are beautiful. At 17:00 I feed the horses the water I carry. They have to drink it from a plastic bag. When I empty the last bottle of liquid in the plastic bag, it appears to be Soda. The reaction of the horses is comical. They are thirsty so they try it, but after two sips, they give up, shaking their head, smacking their lips and foaming from their mouth. There are no indications about the distance I covered and/or still have to cover, but fortunately there are small poles per kilometre. Our speed is now 10 km/hr and we rest after each hour.
Road to Santa Clara.
At 20:15 the sun is down and it is dark. For a short moment, there is a beginning waxing moon, but it sinks. I attach my 12-volt lamp at the ring under Jil’s chin. It gives sufficient light to be able to see the road and the road sides. Jil is reacting at first, with awe, but soon enough he is completely accustomed to it, because also he can see the road more clearly. I feel much safer as well, with this pretty strong shining and rocking light. We leave the province of San Juan and enter the province of La Rioja. I see already lights in the distance at the end of the endless straight road. These lights give hope, but from experience I know that they are still very far away. The watching and hoping gives me a strong feeling of lacking progress: the lights are seemingly not coming any nearer. The lights at the far end of the road are slowly getting clearer and I can discern the single sources. Next, I also spot a red flashing light, probably from a police station along the road. Getting nearer and nearer I begin to distinguish single buildings. Then I hear a sharp hard crack. I wonder, fireworks? When I arrive at the police post I find it functioning as a border post where they also check on the transport of fruits. They are trying to keep fruit flies out of this province. I find the post at maximum strength, thrown into confusion. A large strongly built policeman with a large gun and bulletproof vest stays a bit at a distance, looking half suspicious, half reassured, while the commanding officer is addressing me. He explains the situation: they were alarmed by that strange swinging light, far away, only approaching extremely slowly. They were concerned, because 7 or 8 criminals are thought to be, on foot, roaming through the area. The crack was from a warning shot (a dummy?). I hear him tell it, but I don’t understand their action. The excitement is soon tempered and now they are helping me. I am shown the way into Santa Clara. At the square, they tell me, there are two businesses still open. I can park and sleep there. They also tell me, that in Cuandacol there is a settlement of gaucho’s where they have facilities to shoe my horses. We enter the village where I enter a shabby shed where four men are playing Truco. There is not much choice to drink and you can only buy it per litre. I buy a litre of beer. The innkeeper provides lodging. Behind the shop there is a court with a half-collapsed terrace roof. A number of large rooms with a door, lay around this court and I can occupy one of them. I am secured here, but there is nothing more, so my own battery and light come handy again. I park the horses after unsaddling in the square, fixed to a tree. They have at least some muddy water there. I drink my beer and go asleep.