On Saturday morning we arrived at the casita to find two ‘mountain cattle’ in our corral.
One steer and one young animal. Perhaps Carlos — who lives in the valley and looks after the grapes — had left them there.
We gave a shrug and went on with our work…
We remind readers that we are just writing about the goings-on at the ranch this week.
Only in case of emergency will we discuss finances. And the only emergency we can think of is a stock crash — which we’ve been warning about almost forever.
Our little ‘getaway’
Carpentry and masonry can be difficult. But there is rarely any mystery when something goes wrong. The evidence is right there in front of you.
Not so with plumbing and electricity. Leaks can be hidden or inaccessible. Problems can be puzzling.
Our power at the main house is still not working right.
We replaced a ‘regulador’, but it made no difference. We’re going to have to call in an ‘experto’. The system is far too complicated for such a remote place.
Our little ‘getaway’ casita is a two-hour horseback ride…or 45 minutes in our pickup…farther up the valley from sala, the ranch headquarters (an even more remote location, in other words). There we decided to do something much simpler. We are sticking to 12 volts.
Visitors wonder why we would want a getaway when we are already an hour over dirt roads from our closest neighbour. But the little valley where we have our vineyard is such a delightful spot. It seemed to call out for a place where you could spend the night.
Besides, it can be bitter cold and windswept at the sala. The getaway is lower, warmer, and more protected.
We built our little casita there a few years back, with the help of two sons and five ranch hands.
It cost about $30,000 altogether — mostly for the workers, the cement and lime, and the windows and doors.
Keeping it simple
It was always meant to be ultra-minimalist.
The heat comes from the sun. And our hot water heater — a metal tank, painted black with no moving parts — is the simplest ever designed. (Still, the water yesterday got so hot we couldn’t put our hands into it.)
We cook over an open fire in the fireplace. And our electricity comes from a single 12-volt battery, hooked to a small solar panel.
We bought two overhead lights — LED lights designed for motor homes — two LED reading lamps, and three receptacles, where you can plug in a computer or fan — the same sort that you have in your car. The whole system cost us about $70.
We spent Saturday installing the system, splicing the wires, connecting the lights, and running a wire to the battery. Then, it immediately shorted out.
Why? What was wrong? Had this been Fed policy or foreign policy, we might have spent the next 10 years arguing about whether we had made a mistake…about what went wrong…and whether we needed to try something different, or increase the voltage.
There would be theories aplenty. Along with hidden agendas, scams, and nonsense. There would be debates, votes, and opinions in the Wall Street Journal. Candidates would take sides, angling for positions that would appeal to the lumpen voters.
In other words, it would be an expensive, time-consuming circus.
But this is the ranch. Things are real here. There was no point in arguing…and no one to argue with.
On Sunday, we took the system apart, found the short, and then put it back together. It worked perfectly. Now we have heat, light, hot and cold running water — all the comforts — at almost zero cost.
Skinned and gutted
Later, as we were getting ready to leave, we noticed a flock of parrots making a racket. They were circling around, landing in the trees and bushes higher up the hill.
The cattle were gone.
Then, we heard voices in the general direction of the parrots’ hubbub. We walked up to investigate.
The mystery of the disappearing steers was solved. Life for them was real here, too — too real. The two animals were now hanging from a lone algarrobo tree. They had already been skinned and gutted.
Around the carcasses, three men busily cut them into smaller pieces. And on the ground nearby, two heads lay still, with horns in the sand, looking up at the three assassins working away with butcher’s saws.
‘Hola,’ we said.
We like to keep track of who is on the ranch and what they are doing. There are 25 families who live on the premises. Each has cousins and uncles who come up from time to time.
‘Hola, Señor Bonner.’
It was Carlos’ brother, Omar.
He had gone up to get a couple of steers from the mountains yesterday. They left them overnight in our corral. Now, they were cutting them up.
A white pickup truck was parked nearby; it would take the meat back to the city.
The mountain cattle are unsalable in commercial markets. They are too tough for modern consumers. But they are tasty.
For Markets and Money, Australia