The Cordilleras rolled out like centuries from one end of the horizon to the other. In front of them, clouds veiled the snowy caps. The rain rushed down off the mountain range and into the irrigation channels. The water rose by the minute and the sound of the rushing water could be heard from all over the posada. Dark patches on the sides of the adobe buildings would slowly grow larger from absorbing the cold rain.
The wind also came down from the mountain range every day at four in the afternoon. Like clockwork. The locals called the wind conchabado, which means hired, because of its taste for punctuality. We had to shut the windows and the doors before the conchabado came or else our blankets, curtains, tapestries and clothes would blow like mad around our room.
The roof of the porch was made from bamboo reeds. The wind, when it blew at just the right angle and speed, created the most maddening buzz as it bottlenecked in between two bamboo reeds on the roof which were loose. I heard it only on the first night.
The lounge on the porch was also made of bamboo reeds. Sitting on the lounge, wrapped in the soft brown blanket from the room, I could look out at the muddy foothills of the cordilleras, as they rolled down the horizon like centuries, and imagine nothing else existed. Just me and the cordilleras. Nothing else. But it was a lonely thought. The mountains are old and large and wise but they were not aware of me. Yet, I was aware of them. It was a one-sided friendship. Or at least a lopsided one. Like a man who keeps stray dogs.
It rained so consistently those two days, that the smooth mud face covering on the adobe walls of the buildings started to soak up so much water that the covering cracked from the water-logged weight and crumbled off revealing the crude, pocked muscle of the actual adobe structure.
In the mornings, I would take a cup of cafe con leche and Tania would have a pot of tea. Claudia, our hostess, would serve freshly baked scones, toast, jams, a little ham and cheese and a bowl of beautiful homemade yoghurt. The yoghurt was drizzled with locally harvested honey that was the deep colour of prehistoric amber. Claudia had a kind face, perhaps the kindest I’ve ever seen. Always smiling despite her brown, nubby teeth. She had kind eyes as well that angled down at the ends and her hair was always tied back in a pony tail. She called us mis tortuguitas domir, her little sleeping turtles.
After breakfast, we would go back to the room and read, or nap, or stroll around the grounds of the posada if it was not too rainy or cold. We’d lunch at the posada in the early afternoon. We’d siesta in the late afternoon, after lunching. When we’d wake up, we’d shower to wash the sleep off. After showering, we’d make love.
In the afternoons and at night with dinner, we would enjoy the local wines of San Juan. Grapes of the malbec and syrah variety grow well in that hot, arid climate and it was always easy to find a cheap bottle with great wine inside. It seemed almost sacrilege to drink beer. I was reminded of this nightly, by either Aurelio, our host, or Mike from the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, who was also staying at the posada.
When the mists and clouds that hung in front of the mountains cleared away, I could see the peaks of Cerro Mercedario, El Polaco and Los Siete Picos de Ansilta off near the end of the horizon. They had snowy caps. I imagined the rain rushing down from these peaks and snaking through the many crude irrigation channels around the posada. One afternoon, under light drizzle, we followed the dirt driveway away from the posada and through a tight corridor of poplar trees. In a clearing was a hundred year old adobe house. With crumbling walls and a sagging roof. It told the story of a thousand rural families, past to present, eeking out an existence from the land in the foothills of the Andes, here on the right bank of the Rio de los Patos.
After one entire day, one night and the following morning, the mists and fogs covering the tops of the Andes swept away and revealed impressive snow accumulation. The day we arrived, the snow only covered the caps of three or four peaks out of the whole visible chain, now, the tops of almost all the mountains were draped in a carpet of bright white, marbled with grey veins from the craggy rock faces. The view always changed, every time we looked out. It was always something new. In this way, it was very alive and it made us feel alive as well.
When the sun broke through the two day long overcast, it dried the adobe walls almost immediately. In fact, the sun was so strong when it was shining that it was like the seasons changed before your eyes. I could see the snow cover on the mountain tops receding back toward the craggy peaks. On this third day, after the sun broke through, we lunched outside. It was just a touch too cold to eat outside. Our hands grew slow and stung from the chill in the air. But to be out in the fresh air was worth it.
With the sun came the birds. Mostly small dark crane-like birds with bright white on the inside of their wings. They would chase each other through the air and shriek or awkwardly walk around on the grass on their spindly legs. When they stood still, they looked more like birds from the grasslands of Africa.
Scattered around the posada, on shelves or on knee-walls or on ledges, were old clay bowls and copper pots and wooden ladles. They were scattered so effectively, it was hard for me to imagine that a person had even put them there. It was easier to imagine that they had been there for a hundred years or more. Maybe they were half buried in the muddy grass like artifacts before the posada was even built. In a way, though, the posada seemed an artifact in itself.
At night, the peaks and valleys of the mountain chain were made visible only by the dense curtain of stars that could be seen around them. The mountains were simply black shapes amongst the stars. The scene looked as if a child created it. As if the mountain chain was black construction paper crudely cut out by a child with dulled, craft scissors. And the silhouettes of the poplar trees were perfect and uniform and on one night I even thought to myself: things look their most beautiful when they take the shape of how a child would draw them, that a child’s imagination could be the most beautiful thing in existence.
By Jeff Campagna. Get at him on Twitter.