The church in front of Hacienda Molinos.

Safe and sound at Gualfin

Just letting you know that we finally arrived at Gualfin this morning.

We’re had some adventures I thought I would send. We’ve doing fine.

Just letting you know that we finally arrived at Gualfin this morning. I will summarize:

We drove off from Salta on Sunday morning to have lunch with friends in Cafayate. The truck, which Pancho had left for Bill in a garage, was looking pretty dirty, plus it was missing a piece of exterior trim over a rear wheel. There was paper trash on the floor of the front passenger seat and a big empty beer bottle in the back. Grumbling about Sergio, we cleaned it out and off we went, noticing with annoyance that the windshield was badly cracked, too. The gas tank was half empty.

“Funny,” said Bill. “Pancho left the door unlocked and the key in the ignition.” The attendant at the garage hadn’t even asked for identification. It seems Salta is a trusting place.

We had a very nice lunch and got back on the road. We noticed, as we got into the heavy going, that the 4-wheel drive train had changed. It was no longer Hi-Lo but Offroad, and much less powerful. Bill noticed that the seat covers were not the same, either. “You know what,” he said. “Sergio’s gone and exchanged our truck.” We both felt indignant.

The sunlight was fading as we headed toward the aeropista at Amaicha. Gualfin was only about an hour and half’s drive away by now.

We hit the sand at about the same time that the last of sun’s rays were disappearing over the mountains. And that Offroad did not work well enough to take us through it. We were stuck, miles from Gualfin, without a shovel and without the truck radio. And no cell reception. That did it! Bill gunned the motor vindictively a few times, but there was nothing for it but to start walking.

And that’s when it dawned on us that Bill had picked up the wrong truck from the garage.

We set off for Amaicha in the dark. We had intermittent cell reception, but never enough to send a message. We found the shortcut across the airstrip, and thanks to our cellphones, circumnavigated the piled-up thorn barriers and avoided falling into a deep trench that had been cut to discourage cars from crossing. We walked for one and half hours in the faint starlight, the waning moon hidden by clouds. It was beautiful. We couldn’t look at the stars too often; we might fall into a hole in the road. I thought about Marta and the others at Gualfin, who also walk for hours at a time, how they probably feel the footing with their soles and instinctively avoid slipping and tripping. It took a lot of concentration. Fortunately, the night was pretty warm and our shoes were comfortable. Occasionally, we would see a motorcycle light swinging around the hills in the distance, but it always disappeared.

Finally arrived at Amaicha, we were very glad to find that the new bridge was finished and that we didn’t have to wade across the river. And we saw someone coming along in the dark. “Hola!” we called. “Hello!” he responded. But that was it. Not only was his English limited, but he was stone drunk and swinging a bottle too and fro. We had an incoherent exchange and kept going. Another drunk came along, equally unhelpful. We thought there might be someone at the bodega farther along.

But when we came into the farmyard at Amaicha, there was no light on in the capataz’ house. We remembered that they don’t have electricity without a generator, and we couldn’t hear it running. I climbed up the steps cut into the side of the steep hill and knocked on the door. No answer. As I turned away, a woman peered cautiously out of the door. I started to explain our situation. She seemed very suspicious. Perhaps she thought we were with the drunks. Then, the marvelous happened.

Around the curve on the roadbed below, a pair of strong car lights came into view. Bill stepped into the middle of the road and waved his arms. I came back down the steps. It was the capataz, coming home from Salta in a taxi.
He couldn’t help us because he was very tired, and also, he explained, he had a flat tire on his truck. That was why he had taken a taxi.

The taxi driver did not want to drive us to Gualfin. It was dangerous. He didn’t know the road. “Oh no,” Bill reassured him. “The road is just fine.” There was a little silence. “Aren’t you the one that just got stuck?” asked the taxi driver. Argument over, he offered to take us down to Molinos, where he stays during the week.

The church in front of Hacienda Molinos.

And so we ended up having a light supper and a bottle of excellent Humanao wine in honor of Amaicha at the Hacienda de Molinos. We sent out our SOS. Gustavo was waiting for us in the morning. Pancho contacted the owner of the truck. Sergio went and picked up his friends — for whom the owner had left the truck — in the airport at Salta and drove them up to Tolombon to meet him. As soon as we got to Gualfin, Javier drove the stranger’s truck to Tolombon. Everyone now has his truck. And we are happy to be back at Gualfin.

Elizabeth

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