“You fell off a horse,” said a colleague in London.
“No, we wouldn’t put it that way,” we replied defensively. “Falling all implies carelessness or incompetence. We didn’t fall off. We were launched off…we were catapulted off… We went up in the air before coming down. We weren’t passive about it.”
It took a couple of days to recover.
Our next sortie was by truck, on springs and pneumatic tires. This time we were meant to go to Cafayate, a town about two and-a-half hours away, where we were going to meet a developer, and perhaps buy a building lot near a golf course.
One truck was not big enough for the entire family, so we took two. Your editor drove the lead truck. His son, Jules, who just got his driver’s license from the sovereign state of Massachusetts in October, drove the second one. The gravel road winds around hills, goes up through mountain passes and down along riverbeds. We drove for about two hours. During that time, we probably encountered two or three other vehicles, coming in the opposite direction. The odds of being in exactly the same place at exactly the same time as an on-coming car were vanishingly small. Still, that’s exactly what happened. Jules came around a turn…and there…was a Volkswagen! On the loose gravel, it was impossible for him to correct his position fast enough to avoid the other car. Or, more accurately, it was impossible for either of them to avoid a collision; so the Volkswagen ran into the side of Jules’ truck.
By the time we realized that we were no longer being trailed by the other truck, and returned to the scene of the accident, a middle-aged lady was already sitting beside the road, nursing an injured leg…and Jules and the other driver were already exchanging paperwork.
No one wants to have a traffic accident in a foreign country. Still worse is an accident in the middle of nowhere…far from any telephone service…tow trucks…or ambulance services. Still, your editor had with him one of the incredible Iridium phones – which works from anywhere on the planet (or so they advertise). He was able to get in touch with the local authorities and call them to the scene.
We were all waiting by the side of a very dusty road…under a very hot sun.
The couple in the other car were agreeable enough. The man was short, dark, about 60 years old, wearing a wife-beater T-shirt. The right side of his mouth bulged out, from a wad of coca leaves. He talked. But he talked fast, and with a Buenos Aires accent that we found difficult to follow.
Around the bend in the road was an adobe house, so simple and modest, we wondered if it was a house at all. It sat in dust, was covered in dust, and received a new coat of dust every time a car went by. In front, was an old car, covered with a tarpaulin. And under the shade of a makeshift porch, was a very brown, Incan-looking woman, with long, straight dark hair and skin like a western saddle. She was working with what appeared to be plastic balls, about six inches wide, each with dozens of pods sticking out from the center.
“What are those?” we asked.
“They don’t look like onions.”
“No, they’re not the kind you eat…they’re seeds. They’re the seeds from onions. I’ll plant them soon and grow onions.”
Across the road was an oasis…a green valley, shouldered in between dry brown hills. In the valley, we could see a plot of land that looked as though it had been tilled – it must have been her garden plot. There were also fruit trees – including the largest fig tree we have ever seen…and what looked like a small corral, made up of crisscrossed logs, which was empty.
About an hour after we placed our call to the emergency services, an ambulance arrived. The medicos packed up the woman, chatted briefly with her husband, and took off. No one was particularly concerned about her…least of all her husband. She had what appeared to be a bruise on her leg and walked over the ambulance herself.
Then, the police arrived.
Again, the driver of the other car began talking. He talked to each of the police. The lead cop was a cute woman in her early 30s. She took notes.
“It is pretty obvious what happened,” we told her. “I don’t think there is any dispute about it.”
No one had any dispute about anything. Still, we had to wait…and wait.
We studied the two vehicles. Our truck had its drive shaft knocked loose. It was immoveable. But the other car merely had a flat tire and a dented fender.
“Why don’t you just change the tire,” we suggested to the other drive. “I’ll give you a hand. And then, at least you can continue your vacation.”
“No…we’ve got to wait. We have to have the car towed away. Otherwise the insurance company may not cover it. They may say I damaged it by driving it. And besides, we have to wait for the ‘recriminalistas.’”
“The recriminalistas…they need to take measurements and do a report.”
Another couple of hours went by.
Finally, the recriminalistas came…including a big man in civilian clothes, whose shoulders slouched, and who seemed to be in charge of everything.
More statements were taken. More time passed.
The recriminalistas got out their measuring tapes. They took their measures…carefully documenting the position of the cars, drawing detailed pictures.
“But you need to know where they were before we moved them,” said the man with the coca leaves in his jaw.
“What do you mean, ‘moved them?’” answered the Argentine Kojak.
Jules and the other driver looked at each other.
“Well, we couldn’t leave the truck in the middle of the road, so we pushed it to the side,” said Jules.
“Oh for Pete’s sake…we’re wasting our time,” said the head man.
He and his team mounted back into their squad car and drove off, down the dusty road. We turned to the policewoman who remained.
“What now?” we wanted to know.
“We just have to wait.”
“What are we waiting for?”
She gave no reply.
More to come…
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