abandoned dog in Humenné.
Sunday, 02 December 2018. Amersfoort. The day started with a ‘fire alarm’ at 07:45. The church is well occupied. Like stars are telling us that no night is too dark, a child which is the light for the world, will come to save us.
After the service, I went straight to my family in Eemnes. My grandson had told me, yesterday, that he was interested to hear from me about his family roots and also what I could tell him about ghosts. When I arrived, my grandson was still in his bed and he did not show at all. So, at 16:00 I left for home.
Monday. I went to a car-trader, a good friend from years ago. There are something like 300 second hand cars of all brands and types. I made lots of pictures to compare the various offers and to make up my mind of what sort of car I would like. I also went to the Ford-dealer to see a new Ford B-max. The B-max is terribly boring, in colours and in appearance, but very reliable as far as I know. I have a lot of thinking to do. A decision will not come easy.
Marley Harderwijk Santa in Humenné.
Tuesday. The RSCPA called and asked me to bring a hedgehog to Huizen. From there I visited my friend in Hollandsche Rading. She had some rather alarming stories to tell about her landlord. We drove to Maartensdijk, where she had to do some business. On the way back, she got me some lovely backed fish and a for Toets she had a smoked mackerel. My friend in Slovakia is not too happy: she is concerned about two weeks at the end of the year, because her assistant is than going on holiday. I had a short call with a friend in Argentina. He was about to travel away and suggested to ring sometime later in the week.
Wednesday. At 15:00 I depart. First, I go to a flower shop and buy a mock-up Christmas tree. Driving on the A1, I see a sign guiding me on an unknown road to IJburg. I am early for my appointment with my niece, so I take that unknown road. It takes me through a part of IJburg where I don’t know anything. I drive around a bit, guess work. Then I decide to install my TomTom, which guides me to the address where I am supposed to go: I was only 5 minutes away from my destiny. At the family home, I was introduced to a new family member: a female Rhodesian Ridgeback We had a very pleasant evening and a good meal. I did not stay very late and was back home around 23:00.
Thursday. The weather was good, so I went out for a good walk. My friend Hanke visited me in the afternoon, telling me that she will have to go to hospital in Leyden again: her heart is not working properly. My friend in Slovakia has also health problems. Het daughter appears to suffer from a nasty infection. When I am cooking in the evening, I meet a new tenant. He is occupying the apartment opposite mine. Later I notice that this new tenant does have some very noisy friends. My niece, the one living in IJburg, approached me with a request: the family is planning a short holiday over Christmas. They would appreciate it when I could stay at their home, to take care of their dog. I decided to do that. So, a couple of days before Christmas, I will go there to get acquainted with the house and the dog.
Danger: dead branches breaking away from trees.
Friday. Today I am trying to solve some irritating issues with my laptop. One of the issues I manage to solve. I will tackle the other issue next week. I made some phone calls, resulting in appointments for visits to family. The 1st Christmas day I go to Barendrecht to have dinner with the family of my oldest sister. The 2nd Christmas day I will be in Oegstgeest for dinner with the family of my youngest sister. I am looking forward to seeing them all. I did not sleep early, because I watched a very interesting Swedish film on television.
Saturday, 8st December 2018. I walked up to the petrol station. That walk is just good for my daily movement. For the first time since long, one of the other tenants joint me and I did like that. She told me interesting things about herself and her family, but she also told me that one of the least pleasant tenants had left. In the evening the weather changed, to stormy with heavy showers.
Argentina on horseback. 1999. December 02-08.
Week 48. They are charging more than is customary. I have beef, mixed salad and a quarter wine. It comes with bread, a bottle of soda and ice cubes, all separately charged while that is usually included in the price. I don’t give a tip and decide not to come back to this restaurant.
Trip from Chilecito to Paso Pircas Negras, in military truck.
Week 49. Thursday, 2nd December 1999. Chilecito. The summer holidays are arriving. It is clearly notable from the behaviour of the school youth in their white dustcoats: all little medics. I did sleep long and it is again warm. Yesterday was nice, overcast and in the morning even a little drizzle. I was quite inactive today, was with my horses much. At the tourist information I asked about excursions. The very inadequate informant does not know much and all others in the office are very busy somewhere else, because there is a provincial congress here tomorrow. While I am writing my diary, one of the journalists I met, comes to tell me about a trip tomorrow. Tomorrow afternoon, a bus goes to the Cordillera for the official opening of a new pass to Chili. He suggests me to try and join that trip. I like the idea. I also meet Nicki and his brother in law. Nicki tells me that the man who he asked to swap horses, saw my horses and did not like them. So, no business there. I saw Julio, the public relations officer of the gendarme. He will try to fit me in the party going to the opening of the pass. Via e-mail, I heard that I missed the celebration of my 12,5-year jubilee at the office of my employer!
I, in military truck.
Friday. Chilecito. I posted two packages home. After that I undertook a city-walk during which I followed my ‘footprint travel book’. I checked the information and saw that half of the information is no longer valid. That is not so strange, because the businesses like lodging and small restaurants are changing fast in Argentina. I did not check the travel information in the book, considered that absolutely useless. Later I did not meet Julio again, but I met the officer in charge. When I ask him about the trip the cordillera, he does not hesitate at all: I can come with the gendarmes in their truck. The departure will be Saturday-morning at 03:00 and will return late the same day. Exciting. One of the newspapers did spend an article about the event. At the enclosure with my horses, the situation is a bit of a mess. I miss a bale of hay and another bale was eaten illegally. The gendarme in charge has failed his duty. He probably went to the whores residing opposite the barracks. At the end of my afternoon nap, they brake in, in my quarters. They take 4 beds, for the men in the new border station. One of the men appears interested to buy my saddle bags, but I only sell those when I got rid of most of the content. I go eat early: pizza. I like what they do in the restaurant. They bring me one half and when that is eaten, they bring the second half: warm. I go to bed early.
Path to Pircas Negras.
Saturday. 4th December 1999. Chilecito, Cordillera, Pircas Negras.
I asked the watchman to wake me up at 02:00, but he came at 02:55 allowing me only 10 minutes before boarding the truck. The air-temperature is lukewarm. The gendarmes warn me again that it will be cold in the mountains. Apart from my backpack and a bag with food, I therefor take an extra sweater, my ski-overall and a goats’ skin. There is no moon and only little light, I can just see that the truck is pretty full. In the cabin are of course the driver, a shorty, and an officer, called Posada, with two gold stars. In the back of the truck there are four iron beds, two gendarmes, four journalists and two ladies: and I. The are jolly. I, in my sports shorts and T-shirt, am placed on a heap of boxes and weekend bags. I like that, because the others are sitting on the bare hard benches with a hard backrest. We depart just after 03:00 for a journey of 8 hours. Scenery.
There is no need to introduce myself, because three of the others know me already: my informant, one of the gendarmes and a journalist. They introduce me in detail. There is a lot of talking and laughing. They, dressed as for going on winter sport, ask me from time to time if I am not feeling cold. No, I am not. The first part of the journey I know, because we are going to Villa Union. The clear sky is beautiful, full of stars and there are meteorites regularly. Some of the meteorites are showing for seconds, forming a long tail of fire along the sky. After Villa Union all is new to me. First, we pass Villa Castelli, then we arrive in Villa San José de Vinchina, where we stop for a moment at the gendarmerie. We saw the moon coming up as a small decreasing crescent, together with the sunrise. Until then we had a tarmac road, but after Vinchina the road became a dirt road to Alto Jagüe, where the four bed are offloaded.
‘Road’ and scenery to Pircas Negras.
We cross dry waterways mostly via a concrete overflow, but otherwise just across the riverbed with holes and bumps. The driver is clearly very experienced and holds a good tempo. Later that day I called him ‘Michael Schuhmacher’, the Formula 1 race driver, which he did like very much. Now, with the daylight, we get to see a terrific splendid scenery. Sometimes however, we don’t see anything due to the dust and sand particles being sucked into the back of the truck. The glasses of my spectacles are static and there is so much dirt sticking onto them, that I take them off. It is no longer warm, rather cold and getting colder: we are climbing all the time, at first through an area with hard sharp edges rocks, along a riverbed with sometimes narrow green banks. After that we have red soft sandstone, so a red coloured river. We all, in the back of the truck, are by now red/grey dusted, but the mood is still very good. Many pictures are taken, from rock formations, valleys and mountains. They sometimes behave dangerously in order to be able to see as much as possible forward and sideways and take their pictures. After Punta Aqua, my map does not show a road anymore. We are now following a temporary road, made by the firm busy with the construction of the real road with bridges and protective barriers. We arrive at a large camp from the contractor, where all sorts of vehicles are gathered: 4WD terrain cars, pick-ups, ambulances, police cars, other gendarmerie cars, terrain motorbikes. Time out.
They are all provided with a large sticker and the Rioja banner. Thus decorated they continue the trip to the pass. The amount of coarse dust is increasing. At first we now drive across a light slanting high plain; cold, windy, barren. Desert! The first 10 kilometres are surfaced with tarmac, to provide a broad strip for planes transporting employees, tools and materials. After the plain we come to substantial hills, round as dunes of soft sandstone with beautiful colours red, green, yellow, grey and white with spectacular open views at other plains and mountains further away. Also the volcanos, abundant in this part of Rioja, are well visible, snow-capped like Cerro Pobete (6860 meter). We see the tracks of animals, mostly from guanaco but no animals. We arrive again at a plain where we stop to have a good look.
In front of us we have nearby, the long ‘Laguna Brava’ in full view. Most of the lake is covered with 5 centimetres of ice. Large flocks of flamingo roam near the various pools. We are also seeing the remains of a plane, sticking out of the ice crust. This plane became worldwide known during the 50th, when it crashed here (in 1953?), with race horses being transported from Uruguay to Chili, inaccessible for emergency services. After this interesting stop, we carry on, climbing along winding tracks. Along the tracks there is sometimes water, but sometimes also snow and ice. The completely barren country is sometimes surprisingly showing green/yellow oases where the melting water flows lazily through wide and level clayish land. There we even spot birds. Dusty and terribly barren are dominating. Especially the dust in the back of the truck is now smothering the mood and now the ‘Puna’ (height sickness) is taking its toll. The three women are hanging over the tailboard: vomiting. Three men look green and are having difficulties keeping from vomiting. A young gendarme, he boarded in Alto Jaqüe, pushed his head through a split in the canvas, he is vomiting too. I feel nothing wrong with my stomach and eat a sandwich cheese, a banana, an apple. I drink whisky and carry on smoking as usual. The officer in the cabin looks through the plastic window into the back and is laughing his head off when he sees what is going on. The three men are begging me to stop smoking. There is not really a cure against ‘puna’, but there are many well meant advices and they are not very consistent: do eat, don’t eat, eat a little, drink a lot, don’t drink at all, no smoking, no alcohol, etcetera. My experience now is: do what you are used to do, do ‘normal’. Eat when you get hungry and drink when thirsty: in moderation, but that is always good.
It is 12:30 when we arrive at a large plain at an altitude of 4050 meter. This is where the official opening of the ‘Paso Pircas Negras is taking place. There are a lot of people; I guess some 200. Of course, there are lots of uniformed people like the Argentine gendarmes and the Chilean carabinieri, detectives from the Chilean customs and people from the ‘sanitary organisation’, two priests, governors from the bordering provinces, lots of press with relay equipment for television and radio, writing journalists.
1st Lieutenant Posadas and I.
Informal dressed civilians with Argentine flags and welcoming banners, Chilean gaucho’s in very nice colourful traditional dresses. It is a motley crowd. My gendarme friend introduces me to lots of Chilean carabinieri telling them my complete story. They are secretively taking pictures and filming me, a lot.
The party and I.
That is not so strange, because I am absolutely out of tune, in my tacky ski-overall, repaired with stickers and coloured threads and completely covered in dust. The openings ceremony is fortunately starting supple, with from either side a blessing from a priest. It does not take long and that is good, because it is, on this open plain, very windy and rather cold. At the Chilean side of the border, there is a small lake.
Flags are being raised, national hymns are played and sang, ribbons are cut, plaquettes are unveiled. All of that is being blessed by the priests, one for Argentina and one for Chili, with hugs (all and everybody) and speeches, of course. No drinks, no maté and no ‘pisco’. I noticed that the Chileans are looking much more militaristic, tougher and more disciplined. Contrary to that, the Argentines look like real pussies: a bunch of fat bellied pleasant family fathers, rather drinking maté and tell dirty jokes. Yet it is a really stylish happening, charged with emotion. So, this is the border. The customs post on the Chilean side is 50 kilometres away from here at Las Luntras. On the Argentine side it is 200 kilometres to Vinchina. In between, there are only a few shelters, looking like baking ovens, no fuel, no water and no food. These shelters are 150 years old, still in good condition, built and used by cattlemen, shepherds and miners.
Age old refuge.
After the ceremony everybody is quickly having a look around, before boarding the various vehicles for the trip back to base. The officer in charge for the squadron in Chilecito, he arrived in a Landrover, approached me and asked my opinion about the happening. I am introduced to his superior, the boss for the whole province of Rioja. The trip back is hard again. The two women, again vomiting across the tailboard, leave the truck after 40 kilometres and board an ambulance which takes them to the hospital in Vinchina. We stop for a while in Alto Jaqüe, where we clean hands and faces and drink some lemonade. Then we continue to Vinchina, where we stay a bit longer. We get good coffee. Our officer, 1st lieutenant Posadas, comes with ‘Pan casero’, cheese, sausage and lemonade. We load four iron beds again and the two ladies are being picked up too, before we leave for home: Chilecito. I made myself a comfortable corner where I can be reasonably relaxed, even managing to get some sleep. Around midnight we are back at the squadron. I don’t need much time to go to bed, but first I have an extensive shower: very agreeable.
Sunday. I found cockroaches in my room. It is time to leave here. Jut is not eating, not even grain. Does he suffer from colic? He also looks too often to his side, which is, according to my ‘first aid book for horses’ a bad sign. This triggers me to take action. I go to town, to find out if there is transportation to Villa Union. I intent to ask my host there, to organise transportation of my horses to my friend in the East of Argentina or, alternatively if he can or will buy or sell them. The bus goes at 13:00 and the return trip can only be early tomorrow morning. I have to think about it, because I am invited for a barbecue. I take a road around the back of town, to find Antonio. Here I find the usual rubbish and decay, outside the centre. I don’t find Antonio’s house in the maze, so I go back to the squadron. When I arrive there, I am called: Antonio was looking for me. Funny coincidence. I follow another route to his house. He is not yet home, but arrives after 10 minutes. He tells me, that he has another horse for me, to swap with one of mine. Interesting, but it changes everything again: we have to go to Guanchin, 15 kilometres away in the mountains. First, we eat and then we depart. First, we have a look at Jut: he is now eating and behaving normal. We assume some ‘gas’ problems. I pay for a filling of diesel ($32), because Antonio has already driven me around a lot. The road to Guanchin goes across a pass, from where you have a terrific view into the valley of Guanchin. This valley, Antonio says, is mostly chilly. They grow walnuts here. In this tiny village, more like a district, there is a meadow with a very nice group of statues. Lily-white in a large circle stand something like ten figures, depicting things like Maria with baby Jesus and stylish crosses. There is silence here, peaceful. All around you see uncontained animals: horses, foals, donkeys, cows. This is a really lovely place. Two boys riding horse come up. One of these is the swop object for Jut. At the small farm we put a saddle, from Antonio, on one of them and I mount. This horse reacts very well to my instructions, so the deal is on for my part anyway. The saddle is very comfortable, so I will swap that as well if possible. Now we have to arrange for the ownership’s papers and irons. The owner of the horse lives at the end of the valley. Antonio steers the car quietly across the path, climbing and winding. At the end of the path there is, since long, a real old-fashioned farm. Lovely. Silence, birds, animals like Lam and Guanaco as domestic animals. Everything rummages about here. And they are very friendly, these people: little curious children, a young man with only brown stumps in his mouth and two old guys. They are full admiration about my journey. They recognise me: I have been well in full view at the Chilean television at the opening of Pircas Negras.
Local Newspaper: road to Pircas Negras.
The young man, now washed, dressed and combed hair, with all the children in the back of the pick-up truck, we descend again back into the village. The police station, where the paperwork had to be done, is closed. A bit further up the road, I buy irons for the horse and drive to William, the owner of the horse. Antonio writes a text for the new certificate. The young man and the children walk back to their farm: absolutely normal. William will come tomorrow afternoon with the horse, given its shoes then, and with the owners’ paperwork to Chilecito. He guesses it will take him 2,5 hours to get there, on horseback. I don’t worry anymore about blood testing, vaccination and the official paperwork for which you have to see a notary, not for these last four weeks in Argentina. Antonio and I return to Chilecito. We now find the police station manned. Antonio explains to them what we arranged and the policemen agree: no fuzz. Climbing out of the valley we now have a fantastic sight across the valley in which Chilecito is situated. From Chilecito you look against a mountain range in the East. Now you can clearly see, that this mountain range is only a ridge running as a spine in between the two valleys: it is a splendid view. Back in Chilecito, Antonio goes to the butcher, but the shop is closed. Only now Antonio realises it to be Sunday and on Sundays all butchers are closed. So, no barbecue. We confer and agree to have the barbecue on Tuesday. I now go to see my horses, for treatment and feeding. The guard there will inform other possible guests for the barbecue, that it changed to Tuesday.
Monday. Antonio went to Tinogasto with his family. I take care of my animals. We had some fresh days and still now, it is rather cold. There is a winery here and I go have a look: The Vitinin Fruticultura. I get a guided tour. My guide is an administrative employee. We go see the tanks first, where the grapes are dumped. There are three tanks of each 12.000 litres, for red, white and rosé. I don’t see the process of fermentation. The section where they are filling and packing is fascinating. We come to the section where cartons are filled. Of course, the machine becomes stuck when we are there, causing the wine to be spilled all around. Funny to see how they solve the problem. After that we come to the section where wine is bottled for export, corked and labelled: for the export. The machines here are from Sweden and Italy. Back at the gendarmerie, I tried to find Posadas, the lieutenant on the trip to Pircas Negras. He would be able to tell me the details of the route to Pircas Negras. In town I go on the internet. At 19:00 I am with my horses. At 20:00, William (17y) and his friend (16y) arrive from Guanchin. The trip took them 4 hours. All the five horses are now together in the compound, with a bale of hay. The boys come with us to the gendarmerie where we exchange the ownerships papers. After that the boys walk to the other side of town, where they will stay overnight with family. The youngest boy, called Brian, asks me to swap Nora as well. I could do that, but I don’t think it is fair to get him a limping horse. I leave it to Antonio, to give advice. Antonio, however is only available tomorrow at 12:00, while the two boys planned to leave at 05:00 tomorrow morning. We will see.
Tuesday. It is 07:30 when I am with the horses. The boys have not been there yet. I wait a while but then I go about my own business. Antonio appears at 12:00 and when I tell him about the request to also swap Nora, he gives it his blessings. The guard tells us, that the boys where there at 11:00 and drove off. Antonio will investigate the request for a second swap with their family. At 17:00 Antonio is back, to shoe Nora. The boys did not tell their family about a possible swap, so I tell Antonio that I will depart on Thursday. He, however advices me to wait till Friday: may be the boys are arranging documentation for the second swap. Posadas told me this morning, that the journalists are doing a barbecue, tonight, for all who went on the trip to Pircas Negras. That coincides with my own barbecue.
At 21:00 I start my barbecue at the centre for retired gendarmes. It is pleasant. Antonio stays a bit aside, maybe I should have introduced him better. The wife of one of the journalists is there, and the husband (in police camouflage suit) of Liliane with four children.
Wednesday, 8th December. Today is a day of reflection. I don’t see Antonio. Posadas brought me the data about the trip to Pircas Negras. When I walk to town, the radio journalist calls me in for a short interview, direct. That is so funny: the easy access to radio direct. This journalist also had pictures from the trip. He promises to bring them along to me.