WWOOF Part 3: Learning to Live with a Puma

Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
Trip End Jun 13, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Cuyo,
Monday, November 29, 2010

The day after the big fiesta, Walter announced that he didn't have a whole lot of other work for me and Dan to do on the farm--at this point, we'd been there for a week--so he asked if we could take another week at his country house (wasn't THIS the country house?) in the desert. This is the little cabin from where we'd ridden those eight horses. "Could we do a little painting?" he asked. "Sure!" we said brightly. Why not?

As we bounced along the dirt road in his truck, on our way to the house, Walter started backpedaling. "Well...this place is more of a cabin. Rustic," he said. "It's not Hollywood, Dan! You'll have to watch out!" He cackled a little. We looked at each other.

As we approached the house, he confessed that it doesn't have electricity, and we'd have to pump our water from the well next to the scary windmill that creaked and moaned as if to warn us that we were in the sequel to Deliverance. "Oh! And one more thing," Walter said before he left us there. "Don Carlos told me that a puma is roaming around the property. Ate one of his sheep last night. We'll see what we can do about that, but watch out, and especially if you see any carcasses lying around. See you in four days!"

Awesome. Super. 

I tried really hard to be a Gaucho, to summon my "fuerte," in this moment, but I wasn't very successful. Until Don Carlos entered the picture. Or, um, the house. Imagine a classic Ennio Morricone tune wailing in the background (trying very hard to muffle the screeching of that horrible rusty windmill) as Don Carlos, Gaucho Ultimo, steps through the cabin door. With his leather face, his cowboy hat, and his big-ass knife stuck in the back of his pants, he stood there and gave us a big grin. I think he'd gotten a kick out of us as we spent the day with him on those horses. (At least, he loved that my horse was "enojado" at me. That made him smile.) He chatted with us about the puma as Walter pulled away in his truck. (Far, far away back to the estancia....) Don Carlos reminded us not only to be aware of the puma and the carcasses, but also to watch out for rattlesnakes. But, on the bright side, there was a kiosko a few kilometers away that sold caramelos and...(he looked wide-eyed at me)...vino!! I think he'd seen my joy when Walter handed us two bottles of vino before getting back in his truck. He also witnessed my dismay when, after rooting around in the dusty cabinet, I realized that we had no corkscrew. (We managed, later that night, with Dan's pocketknife. Who cares if we consumed the cork??)

We brightened a bit at the prospect of the kiosko, figuring that at least in the event of an emergency we could run there in the middle of the night. That this was the closest place around. (Nobody lived out here. Not even Don Carlos, who was much closer to the main road, a good eight miles away.) Ha. The next morning, we went out for a run and tried to find it. And it was MORE than "a few K's away." We were a true comedic act, me and Dan, as we ran through the desert, me consistently whipping my head from right to left in search of puma tracks and Dan stumbling along without his glasses, attempting to search for rattlesnakes in the road. And occasionally, we'd find a mound of dirt to climb up on so we could try to spy the big cell tower, which supposedly marked the direction of our little oasis, "El Kiosko." We never did find this little haven of caramelos and vino. But at least we didn't get eaten by the puma.

Our task for the week was to not only paint this place, but to clean it up. And it was filthy. I've never ever eaten so much dust in my life. We consumed it. And I've never scrubbed so hard in a bathroom, either. I had to work to clean not only the usual stuff from three toilets, sinks, and bidets, but also concrete and paint, which apparently the workmen thought would get easily washed through the pipes. That was super fun.

When I realized that it would be better to make the best of this situation--to embrace the grit and the creaky windmill and possibly try to make friends with scary people or pumas who might come to get us in the night--I started to daydream about Georgia O'Keefe. She found the desert inspiring, right? And not just the fancy desert, but the good ol' middle-of-nowhere-hanging-out-with-mountain-lions-in-New-Mexico kind of desert. So I pulled up my hiking-boot straps and decided to be positive. I asked myself, "What would Georgia O'Keefe do?" Then I promptly dropped the toilet bowl cleaner and marched myself outside to cut flowers.

Okay, so I may have gotten a little carried away with the flower picking, but it made our little cabin look so much prettier! And even Dan got into it, too. He picked up some horse reins that were lying around in the house's clutter and fashioned a little hanging vase out of them. (See the photos!!!) We were quite proud of ourselves. As we pretended to be little Georgia O'Keefes, we kept our spirits up by cooking chorizo over the fire (it was actually pretty yummy) and taking long-exposure photos of the moon and stars. We did have some good fun there...when we weren't terrified of unknown creatures.

Still, every morning brought us a new little treat. One day, it was the realization that every time we flushed the toilet or ran the water in the sink, poop would seep up through the shower drain. Excellent. Another day, we realized the well pump wasn't working. No more water! Hooray. Oh, and did I mention that we kept finding unidentifiable bones around the outside of the house? 

But those adventures, of course, ultimately have their purpose. And it seemed perfectly appropriate that our last day at the cabin was Thanksgiving Day. As we finished the painting and began to pack up our bags, Don Carlos rode through the gate on his horse as he had been doing each day, to check on us. Whereas each day prior he would try to say something to scare us or make us smile (his usual was "So...how did it go last night? Were you scared of anything?!"), he told us proudly on this Thanksgiving Day that he had caught the puma. We asked him what he was going to do with it--stuff it? 

"Eat it," he said, with a grin. "To people who like the taste...it tastes good." 

I couldn't have said it better. It was Thanksgiving, and I noted how being at this cabin made me so thankful to have the comforts of our home...even if they were really far away. Southern California may also have a desert landscape, but the grass that's there is bright green.


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barbara austell on


Rhett Austell on

Carol & I have just traveled with you from Valparaiso to Don Carlos' cabin. What a trip! And good writing! Keep havin' fun!

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