Adventure #3

En bicicleta

This was the best adventure of all.

On my third-to-last day in La Rioja, a Thursday, two friends and I took off on a bicycle adventure for what turned out to be possibly the coolest day in La Rioja. The two friends are Ann and Raúl. Both work work in the university kitchen under the Chinese chef, where I was working. Ann is a foreigner like myself - a Colombian. Raúl is from Argentina (from the Iguazú region, actually.)

Che Guevera, an Argentine, once left his native Córdoba to trek though South America on motorcycle. My father, a Yanqui like me, once left from California to trek across the USA on bicycle. Our adventure would be in the sprit of Che Guevera or Gordon Pitt, we hoped.

We actually wanted to do an overnight camping-bicycle tour. But we didn't have it together enough to organize that. Instead, we squeezed our tour into a Thursday afternoon. But it was still great! First of all, we got free wine. For real. We finished cleaning up the university kitchen after the lunch shift, and all of the sudden Martín (the chinese professor and owner of the kitchen) says "let's take out the wine!" He never did this before. I still don't know why he did that day, but heck, I ain't complaining. The four of us: Raúl, Ann, Martín, and I, get a nice big glass of fine red wine with our spicy beef-and-vegetable stew. Cool guy, Martín.

At 3:00PM we say goodbye to Martín take off on our bicycles. Mid June is the southern hemisphere's late autumn, so even warm La Rioja is starting to feel a chilly. It's cold enough for sweatshirts.

La Rioja is not the most aesthetically pleasing location. It's pretty much a flat, dusty desert with no green. BUT, less than a half hour bikeride away is a beautiful mountain range that makes up for all of the city's ugliness. This is where the three of us are heading. Our goal is to get to the top of a mountain Raúl knows, where there's a view of the entire city.

First we have to get to La Rioja's reservoir, about 15km into the mountains. The road leading to the reservoir is marvelous. It runs right through a section of town called la quebrada -"the gorge"-, where all the rich politicians live. Biking through la quebrada makes something very apparent; In Argentina there are only three social classes: dirt poor, lower-middle class, and politician. The politicians are disgustingly more wealthy than the rest of the population. They effectively steal all the country's tax money and build themselves mansions in places like la quebrada. It's really horrible actually, when you see the poverty that many live in only 10km away. But it does makes for a gorgeous bikeride to the reservoir! Huge villas with beautiful gardens, perfectly kept expansive green lawns, marble fountains and statues, elegant patios and private vineyards, all tactfully built into the mountain backdrop. Its a sight to see, especially in rural Argentina some 800 miles from Buenos Aires.

The ride to get to the reservoir is a climb, but it's not too hard. Except for the fact that Raúl's chain keeps locking up. But Raúl never gets frustrated; he's a very chill kid; I like that about him. He keeps calm. "The chain falls off when I put too much force on the pedal. If I don't press too hard it won't happen again." Raúl is also our guide. Ann and I know enough to get to the reservoir, but Raúl knows about a path behind the La Rioja Fishing Club that takes you to the top of the mountain.

Now the bikeride get's hard. The path behind the reservoir is unpaved and steep. We have to walk our bikes at points. And the path is not short at all. Ann and I were expecting a twenty minute bike/hike after the reservoir. It turned out to be two hours. But Ann, like Raúl, is a chill kid. Never complained once.

Ann is attractive. But not romantically attractive. Does that make sense? She's the kind of attractive that makes you want to be good friends with her. She is very pretty; dark skin, thick black hair, and compelling eyes; but she's not coquettish or flirty at all. She has an Appalachian Trail hiker look to her. She's someone you want to go hiking with. Very mature and serious-- Raúl too. The two of them never act like children, never make stupid fart jokes or nudge you when a girl with big boobs walks by. Raúl is very attractive too, now that I think of it. Tall and dark skinned, with black-rimmed glasses and a well-formed face. They are cool people; and very cool to go adventuring with.

On our climb we see three or four mountainbikers bombing down the slopes, on a trail even less paved than the one we're on. They're wearing full motocross armor and standing over their bikes on a ledge. One by one, they take off from where they are standing and continue their plummet. We see the first one take off and (of course) hit a rock, fly over his handlebars, and crash to the ground several feet away. Let me explain that these mountains are not the Appalachian. They're steeper, rockier, and more menacing. Instead of soft bushes and leaves on the ground, you have jagged rocks and cacti. Not a place you want to fall off your bike. For a few moments the wipeout victim doesn't move; his friends are calling his name "¿Pucho? ¿Estás bien?" We see Pucho sort of gesture that he's alive, and his friends start walking down towards him. I try to explain to Ann and Raúl the english term "wipeout."

"That's a wipeout" seems to be a good enough definition.

Finally, after two hours, we make it to the top. I would love to say "When we finally made it to the summit, it was worth all the struggle to get there." But that wouldn't be accurate. It was the struggle I liked. The hike to the top with Ann and Raúl was way cooler that standing at the top of the mountain. It was a classic case of 'the journey is more important than the destination'. I have to admit though, the view from the summit is pretty cool. You could see the entire city of La Rioja; the university, the huge radio tower, the bus terminal, the barrios (neighborhoods) laid out in grids, the cathedrals and tall buildings, everything. But even better is the view of the mountains. This I wasn't expecting. I turn 180º away from the city and see the sun was setting behind the sierra. Breathtaking. I watched the sky fill up with reds and oranges and purples, and saw the shadows of the farther mountains bend and stretch over the nearer ones. For about thirty seconds, I really wanted to be an impressionist painter with a canvas and acrylics on hand.

The sun is setting. Wait. That's a problem, isn't it? The moon is rising and the stars are starting to come out, and we're miles from the nearest road. This would also be a good time to mention that the rear brake on my bike doesn't work, at all. And Ann has a flat. It seemed like a really good time to panicking. But maybe the chillness of Raúl and Ann was rubbing off on me because we just hopped on our bikes and went, practically without a word. Ann has a flat, Raúl can't put pressure on the pedal, and I have a defunct rear brake. When the sun really sets, it's dark! My cellphone has a flashlight feature; I light it, hoping to illuminate the path at least a bit. Turns out that when I stick it in my mouth like a cigarette, I can sort of see where I'm going.

The descent. Significantly easier than the climb. Though my left hand (front brake) is starting to ache from doing 100% the breaking. We descend for a quite a while. I start to realize just how much distance we covered climbing up. We went really damn far! By the time we reach the reservoir again it's pitch black.

From the reservoir the road is well-enough lit by streetlights that I can turn my cigarette-phone off. And we're coasting downhill anyway so we hardly have to pedal. Before I know it we reach the fork in the road where I go one way, and Ann and Raúl go another. Over like that. Five-and-a-half hours (it's almost 9:00PM now), but it passed like a flash. Suddenly I'm saying my final farewell to my fellow cooks/adventurers. What a bummer. These are some really cool cats. I'll miss them a lot.

It was a super cool last day to spend with some of the coolest people I met in Argentina.

Adventure #2

[8.31.09] Yes, here it is, two months after I arrived home in NJ, the post about my last weeks in Argentina. The blog must be collecting electronic data's equivalent of dust and cobwebs. But I want to publish this final post anyway for some sense of completion. Know what I mean? I've gotta finish this blog up. Anyway, if you want to skip ahead right to adventure #3, It's a better story. Or maybe not a better story; it was just a better adventure.


Adventure #2 - Iguazú Falls

This is it? Iguazú National Park?

I don't know, when I think of a National Park, especially in South America, I envision a wild overgrown jungle with dirt paths and Yellow Fever mosquitos flying around. I expect a wilderness adventure. But what do I get? an over-developed little with park with paved sidewalks and hand rails, and cute overpriced gift shops at every corner. I was expecting the Grand Canyon and I got something more like Disney World. Go figure.

There are a ton of foreigners here. More blond heads than usual, and people speaking German, French, Italian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Indian, English, and probably a bunch of other languages too. A sizable amount of East Asians and Indians here. There's something interesting about seeing Indians (like, the kind from India) in South America; the Indian skin tone sort of matches with the native south american skin tone. They don't necessarily look similar. The facial structure and the hair is different, and the language is different, but the skin tone sort of matches. Maybe Colombus was on to something.

So once I'm inside Igazú park with Angelo and Oliver, first thing a bunch of park employees offer us guided tours. But we decide to walk on our own. It was a much better idea: the park was surprisingly small, you could easily walk all the (paved) trails in less than a day. That's basically what we did.

It was not a wilderness adventure. Not enough wilderness for that. I wound up going on an adventure I wasn't expecting: an adventure through old memories.

This kind of surprised me. In La Rioja, I was in the desert for four months seeing cactuses and dusty plains. It was four months that my brain just could not form visual associations with any environments I had lived in in my past. When I found myself in the green and forested surroundings of Iguazú park after four months of desert, a trigger went off in my brain and a flood of memories gushed forth. My mind warped five years and ten thousand miles away to the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia. (I'm still kind of surprised at that association. I don't think Iguazú really looks much like the Blue Ridge. Maybe it was just the concept of hiking that was the trigger.) Wow! My feet are in South America on the border of Argentina and Brasil, but mentally I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail as thirteen-year-old Dave at summer camp. It was a really strong sensation. An adventure down memory lane.

But back to real time. The main attraction at Iguazú is a huge, Niagara-caliber cascade called La Garganta del Diablo ("Devil's Throat Falls"). But to get there you have to go through a bunch of smaller, less impressive falls. That's where we have just arrived now, at the first of the smaller falls. Iguazú park is small and a little over-developed, but I realize it's no less beautiful for it. It's cute.

Ollie takes out the map and pinpoints exactly where we're standing. If there's one thing Ollie loves to do it's plan things out. He planned every single day of his six months in Argentina with an extensive itinerary on an Excel spreadsheet. He is definitely in his element right now holding and analyzing the map. I watch him study the Iguazú guide, calculate carefully, and then trace with his index finger the optimum walking tour for the day.

Our morning is aesthetically pleasing. When you see pictures, you'll know what I mean. You have two views of the falls: From the sendero superior (upper path) and the sendero inferior (lower path). From the upper path you're level with the top of the falls and you can look over the edge. From the lower path you can walk underneath the falls and get wet. From both angles you can see tons of rainbows. (I'm trying to imagine how many rainbows are in one ton, based of the average weight of rainbows. It's probably a lot.) Rainbows are really cool. I noticed for the first time that they form perfect circles, except they're incomplete because they run into some obstacle like the ground or a cliff or whatever; but if the bow were to keep going, it would eventually reach the starting point again. That's the type of thing a physics teacher would tell you, I think. I would believe him now because I could sort of see it. They're nice to look at, those rainbows.

Next Ollie, Angelo and I take a ferryboat to a little island to eat our lunch. Buying lunch in Iguazú park would have been something like $15 (USD) each, which is expensive for USA but unthinkable for Argentina. So we packed sandwich materials in Ollie's bag.

Something I must clarify: Ollie is from the United Kingdom, and he is also white. "White" in this context is not a question of skin color. Angelo (from La Rioja) is just as fair skinned as Ollie but Angelo is not white. Being white, I leaned, is a question of how you make a sandwich. Allow me to elaborate. First of all, Ollie packed whole-wheat bread. That right there is enough to classify him as caucasian. But it gets worse- he packed fresh lettuce and tomato, "for the fiber". But the icing on the cake is when he leaves his sandwich open-faced, with no bread on top. Angelo, digging into a white-bread-ham-mayo sandwich, is confused. "Why don't you have bread on top, dude?" Ollie's answer: "That would be a bunch of extra carbs that I really don't need if I want to have a balanced meal." The whitest response you could hope for.

I had to explain to Angelo that open-faced sandwiches are extremely white. Angelo had been referring to Ollie as "pussy boy," which I guess is accurate enough. In Angelo's vocabulary open-faced sandwiches are "pussy food". It's the right idea.

After our gourmet paper-bag sandwiches, we follow pussy boy's exquisitely well planned route to Devil's Throat Falls. Iguazú park is beautiful, but tourists from all over the would would not visit just because the park is beautiful. They come because Devil's Throat Falls is incredible; it's among the 7 (or 8?) wonders of the natural world. Impresionante. That's the spanish word. It litereally translates as "impressive," but it conveys a little more. It's something that leaves an impression. It's something powerful enough to be impression-leaving. And that's what Devil's Throat Falls is, impresionante. When you first see it, -even when you first hear it- you feel tiny. There is so much water, and so much force, it kind of makes you feel like a potato chip under a marching band. I tried to fix my eyesight on one area at the middle of the waterfall; but I couldn't. The falling of the water literally pulls your eyesight down with the cascade. It's as if the sheer force of the water has a sort of visual gravity of its own, like a black hole. Impresionante.

Twenty gaping-mouthed minutes later Ollie, Angelo and I walk off feeling impressioned, all the way to the exit of the park. From there, pussy boy takes to planning the rest of our evening. First, we stop at a grocery store to buy vodka and coke -much cheaper alcohol than what you could buy at the hostel- and whole-wheat pasta. At the hostel we cook ourselves an Italian dinner, partly with our own food and partly with leftover stuff in the hostel fridge. The rest of the evening we spend at the computer, essentially. Ollie and Angelo are revising and re-revising their itinerary, and I play Super Mario. What a great game.

Yay for Igazú, I guess. Ciudad del Este was way cooler.


The Transition


There is a reason why I called the last post "Adventure #1". Adventure #2 and Adventure #3 are on the way, really. I already wrote #3, but I have to finish up #2 and post that one first, for chronology's sake.

But in this moment, Sunday June 28, I'm in a hostel in Buenos Aires. [well, now that I'm posting it's actually July 1. I'm in my house] Both adventures are long since over. My flight home is today. That's right. I'll be home tomorrow. The Argentina thing is over, like that!

The time passed flying, as everyone told me it would. I have a strange, sort of surreal sense of being in transition again, similar to what I felt when left home on February. "I'm leaving. I won't be back soon. This part of the world will be gone from me." But even when my feet will be back on North American soil, I don't think it's time to put away the blog. First of all, I have stories yet to be written and posted. For the past months I've been so busy living in Argentina I haven't had time to reflect and write. Now I'll be forced to reflect. Also, I think I will start realizing more things about Argentine once I'm in the United States again. I will be going through my second culture shock. The first culture shock was coming to Argentina as a North American. The second, coming to the USA as an Argentine. There should be plenty more to write about.

And if not, this blog might subtly transform away from a discussion of Argentina and more towards a discussion culture in general, or of adventures in general, or of being a teenager in general, or something. I'm done with Argentina, but I'm not done with this blog.

[Oh, and its good to be home.]


Adventure #1

Ciudad del Este

Igauzú is on the border of Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay. Due to bizarre tax rules, a Playstation 3 consoles cost about $200 less in Paraguay than in Argentina. Before we even think about Iguazú Falls, Angelo insists on going to Paraguay to buy a PS3. (Angelo is the kid from La Rioja on our adventure. He's a friend of the British kid Ollie. The three of us form a crowd of english speakers all with different accents.)

Going to Paraguay is totally illegal for me. It's no problem for Ollie or Angelo (Great Britain and Argentina), but for a US citizen it's almost impossible to travel without visas. I don't know about the legal standing between USA and Paraguay, but I'm pretty sure I need a visa to enter, which I don't have. By entering, I am possibly breaking international law. I am sure about the legal standing with Brasil - it's absolutely prohibited for me to enter without a visa. I don't have a visa for Brasil either, and by entering I am definitely breaking international law. And of course, as is always my luck, the only way to get to Paraguay is to go through Brasil.

Since Angelo, Ollie, and myself are all under the age 25 and relatively stupid, we decided to go for it. We hop on a bus destined for Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and hope for the best.

The bus ticket, which takes us through Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay, costs $1.50 pesos. That's ridiculous!! Forty-one cents of a US dollar to travel between three countries. Nice!

We catch our bus. The very first stop is the aduanas - the customs office. Everyone gets off the bus to have their passport stamped before they climb back on. You walk into the office from Argentina, and walk out to Brasil. Ollie, Angelo and I exchange glances. "Maybe they won't check?" We get in line. Ollie and Angelo get their stamp and wait. I hand over my US passport. The customs official leafs through it, checks my Argentine visa, looks at the ID page, confusedly examines the front and back covers a few times, and then gets out her stamp.

What a beautiful noise. Tap TAP. I'm in Brasil.

For a few fleeting seconds, I have my feet planted on forbidden soil. I get back on the bus, and the next time I step off I am in Paraguay. Ha ha haha ha.

Paraguay! Ciudad del Este! This is a nutty city. I don't know exactly how to describe it. You come in though a big three lane highway, and on either side of you are tall buildings. But before the tall buildings are four or five rows of sidewalk tents full of street vendors. On the road you're diving on are yet more vendors, peddling their wares on bicycle. You're first impression is that it's a city of street markets. It turns out to be a pretty accurate impression.

Angelo doesn't waste any time. We go immediately towards the buildings, and lo and behold are dozens of electronics stores. Some you can tell are official suppliers; others look like they obtained their merchandise by marauding the streets with baseball bats; others are somewhere inbetween. The hunt for a PS3 begins.

It's a difficult hunt. A lot of the vendors are charging the Argentine price, or more. Others are willing to haggle, but make complicated deals like "you have to buy a camcorder too." Others have intricate procedures, "Yes, I have a PS3 for you, but it's at another shop. If you go at four in the afternoon I'll meet you there, I can buy it directly from him and pass it on to you. I'll take $50, but in the end you get a cheaper price." We spend most of the day jumping from store to store. Angelo just isn't having any luck.

Of course there are other vendors besides electronics. We've got clothing vendors, plastic-toy vendors, DVD vendors, and various food peddlers. Pringles® are a huge deal for some reason. Tons of vendors are selling Pringles and mock-Pringles. I realized that day that I haven't seen a single pack of Pringles my entire four months in Argentina. I guess they're a precious item. It's also fun that people speak Spanish, Portuguese, and English; and accept money in Paraguayan pesos, Argentine pesos, Brasilian reales, US dollars, and sometimes Euros. There are some Argentines in Ciudad del Este, but there are a LOT of Brasilians.

At the end of the day, I walked out with the best deal. I bought a kilo and a half of bananas for two Argentine pesos (US 53¢). I also got my change in Brasilian reales, which is a unexpected but cool souvenir from Paraguay.

At six or so in the afternoon Angelo still didn't have a Playstation, but we decided it was time to leave. Half the hassle is trying to sneak a PS3 across the boarder; it's a complicated trick involving a taxi that would cost another $50USD anyway. We head back to the big highway that brought us here. We have no idea how to get home.

Supposedly the same bus that took us here can take us back, but it's kind of late and maybe the bus stops running at 5:30. A taxi would cost a lot, a price you'd only want to pay if you're smuggling electronics. I'm two countries separated from a location where I have a legal visa. What do we do?

Angelo walks over to a Pringles vendor and like a Deus-ex-machina he reveals that our bus will pass by our exact location in less than 10 minutes. Saved. Before long we are passing through the customs office again, and another confused customs official gives me another stamp. We're smuggling nothing except bananas and Brasilian reales. Angelo is disappointed, but I think it was a great day. Then again, I was the only person who managed to do something illegal.


The Escape 2

Well hello there, blog. It's been a while now, hasn't it?

I'll tell you, I haven't written for so long because I've been in La Rioja for weeks, pretty much doing the same old thing. I've escaped. Now I'm on a bus. The bus is going to Córdoba. In Córdoba I will get on another bus. That but will go to Puerto Iguazú, the home of Argentina's famous super-waterfalls. These waterfalls supposedly so super, they have earned the name "Niagara on Viagra".

That's impressive.

I'm traveling with a kid from England (Ollie), and a kid from La Rioja (Angelo). I just met them. I hope that by the end of this week I will have some crazy story to write about them.

Oh yeah! This trip is almost a week long. That's a long time! Wednesday just ended, it's 12:09AM on Thursday and we just got on the bus. I arrive back in La Rioja next Tuesday, six days later. This is kind of bad news because I'm leaving for Buenos Aires almost immediately after. And after that, I'm coming home. All in all, I have THREE MORE DAYS in La Rioja. The whole Argentina thing is coming to a rapid close and there's a lot of things I still want to do.

But back to the bus. To get to Córdoba is six hours. To get from Córdoba to Puerto Iguazú is twenty-two hours. What the hell and I going to do with twenty-two hours?? I ask you: Imagine yourself in the busiest part of your year. You're losing your hair trying to find time to do everything you need to do. And suddenly a bizarrre pink-haird fairy descends from the ceiling and grants you a free twenty-two hours to do whatever you what. What would you do?

Maybe you'd finish a research project that's due on Monday. Maybe you'd finally memorize your lines for the Musical, or learn your notes for Marching Band. Maybe you'd catch up on sleep. Maybe organize that bookshelf that's been such a mess for months, or finish up a home-imporvement project that's been suspended for ages. Or maybe you'd just chill, and watch the entire Lord of the Rings movie series... two and a half times in a row. Or all seven Harry Potter movies consecutively (3 hours x 7 movies = 21 outrageous hours of British wizardry). Or you could play the entire game of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from start to finish, I dare you. You could watch fourty-four episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or if you're from La Rioja you could sit in a park and do nothing for twenty-two hours straight.

But for all these miraculous possibilities, I honestly don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow on the bus for twenty-two hours.

[Twenty Two hours later]


So looking out the window I realized, "Oh look! Argentina actually has a nice countryside!" Things were green and nice to look at. It was something of a surprise; I've been in a dry dusty desert for four months. Why the hell did AFS send me to La Rioja, with all this beautiful country to choose from? Whatever.

Now we're in a youth hostel, which isn't too bad! We're paying $45 pesos a night (that's $12.03 USD); the 6-man dorm is filled with foul-smelling bunk beds, but the bathroom is nice. We have free wifi and computers with internet access, a spacious dining room with free breakfast, a decently-equipped kitchen for whoever wants to use it, and a room full of things to do when you're drunk (fuseball, pool table, pingpong, and big TV screens). Alcohol is an integral part of the youth hostel experience.

Tomorrow we hit up Iguazú falls. Either we'll have a super cool adventure and I'll write an exciting blog entry when I get back, or it'll be kind of unexciting and I'll just show you pictures when I get home. More on that later.



I´ve got some pictures up on Facebook.
Incase somebody doesn´t have my page, the username is David Pitt and the email address is uberchester004@gmail.com
Incase somebody doesn´t have Facebook, wow. Use somebody elses.


The Country

When I think of the country, I think of dirty houses, hot dusty weather, flies buzzing around in a shabby corner store, and intense boredom. (This is my prejudice as a kid from the suburbs I guess.) Well, one poor schmuck from Bangkok Thailand wound up out in the country for his exchange-student experience, in backwater town called Ulapes, five hours from my little La Rioja. He's stranded in a house with no internet, a school of 150, and absolutely nothing to do on weekends.
Mention the idea of living in Ulapes to any kid from La Rioja and he will put his fingers to his temples in a gesture of suicide.

Well, I came out to visit this kid for a weekend. Jett is his name, short for Jethaana. I'm writing from Ulapes on my laptop - I'm lucky to have found an electrical outlet. I've been here two days, which is quite enough for me. Jett's host family invited me for much more time, but I told them I had an obligation at the university (Academic obligation? In Argentina? Yeah right!). There is really nothing to do in Ulapes. Tomorrow I'll get on my escape bus for La Rioja, which I suddenly view as a thriving urban metropolis.

While my brief stay in Ulapes confirmed many of my general prejudices about country life (it being hot, dirty, and incredibly boring), I have a newfound appreciation for people who live there. Jett's host parents - Jorge and Mercedes - live the most perfect idyllic country life I can imagine. They are not rich, but they own a comfortably large house and an old (but decent) pickup truck. Jorge is a tall muscular 47-year-old who works most of the day in the grocery market he owns, attached to the house. In the evenings he drives out about three miles in his pickup truck to tend to his small ranch. In his spare time he plays cards with his amigos out on the back porch. Mercedes is his humble country housewife. She teaches math in Ulapes's tiny school. She is a very devout catholic, a loving mother of two, and a pleasant person to sit down with and talk about your day. I never hear her complain, she only gives thanks for what God has given her.

I can hardly describe what a admirable life they live - they are so happy in their rustic lifestyle. Mercedes always explains to me how grateful they are to live in the country, "It's quiet here. We know everybody and everybody knows us, they're all our friends. We leave the doors and windows open because we know no one will steal from us." Jorge explained to me, "It's great. In the city, you have to commute back and forth from work and there's no time to cook, so you eat from a can. No, here we walk home from work in three minutes. And we eat fresh cooked food, with fresh meat and fresh eggs, fresh bread. There's no other way to do it!"

At about 7:00PM last night Jorge was loading crates of scrap meat into his truck. "Gotta slop the pigs." He invited me along to see his ranch. We rode out a few miles in his rusty pickup until we arrived at a large field surrounded by a fence made of wire and tree branches. "This is it." He dumped the old meat into the pigpen with a grunt. This is what struck me: To him, working with his animals didn't seem like a tedious chore. Quite contrary, he seemed to love it. In some way, his work was an affirmation of his strong masculine identity. His work was a man's work. He was a man wielding power and control over his animals, a man bringing food to his family. He seemed proud. Not arrogant, just proud. Content, satisfied. "See the balls on that pig? I'll cut them off later this month. Meat from a pig with balls is always tough. Three years castrated, the pork will be perfect."

Out beyond the fence was a beautiful white horse. "She's old now, almost 13. But oh, she was a beaut when she was younger. Like a woman when she's 25," he kissed his thumb and forefinger like a chef who has just perfected his sauce. "Pure racing breed. She even won a few races in her day. And won't hurt you for anything, she's the most tranquil thing there is." A few other horses came galloping over, Jorge was doling out the fodder. "But it isn't worth it for her to have babies. With this breed, they need attention around the clock. You'd have to prop up the babe every 20 minutes or so to suck the tit, attention like that for months" You could tell without any words that he loved his horses.

Next he invited me into the cow pen. "Don't be afraid, if they're not hungry they won't do anything to you, and I keep them well fed." The troughs were almost empty though, so he called over his farmhand. "Give 'em some more feed." "But I already gave them double today." "It don't matter, if they're hungry give 'em food." So the farmhand he lumbered off to get more fodder. Jorge continued, "See these little ones? They'll make a fine steak. That's a cow for an asado. But those bigger fat ones, no. The meat's tougher and just not as good. I'll grind them up into hamburger or sausage. Nothing goes to waste."

On the ride back to the house he was explaining to me more about meats. He knew his stuff. I guess that's what comes from both raising with the animals and selling the meat as a butcher. As we pulled into the driveway he said "On the weekends my sons like to use the truck. They don't want to bring their girls into the house, they'd be ashamed. So they take 'em out to the field." He gave me a strong look, and something that resembled like a wink. It was as if to say, That's just how you do it in the country.

So while I could never live out here, and while I pity the kid from Thailand, I have to admire the people that do live here. It is hot, dusty, and boring; that stereotype remains. But if I had stereotypes about country folk - redneck, hick, or hillbilly stereotypes - they have been thoroughly dispelled. The people I met are some incredible people. Mercedes, gratefully tending the house and family. Jorge, proudly managing his animals and his shop. And their two sons, taking their girls out to the field in the pickup truck.