The New Normal

Rudy and I have moved to Cerro Blanco, a campo a few kilometers from the pueblo of Codpa Chile... this is our story.


Sunday, February 1, 2015


It's always something

I didn't make it to the posta or the dentist. Instead, I had to go to Arica. Again. This situation with my electricity just seems to have no end. Anyway, I talked to the vendor who had sold my equipment to me and was told to go to Arica that Wednesday in order to replace it. I had the damaged inverter, or should I say ill-constructed inverter, in hand and went to Arica. I stayed at the home of my friends Tomas and Pilar. I was given a room with a bed and a desk and a high speed internet connection. Who could ask for more?

That night, I contacted the vendor and we agreed to meet at Tomas' house at 10 am. Perfect, I thought. So, I made sure I was up early enough to be properly caffeinated and then I waited. And waited. And waited. I finally sent him a message asking if he was, in fact, going to come. I waited some more. No response. I was becoming highly agitated. Tomas took notice and messaged the guy. While we waited for a response, I tried to relax by reading. When the man did respond, he advised Tomas that he did NOT have the replacement. My mind went on lock-down. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. I could scarcely breath. I was really, rip-roaring mad.

I left for a few minutes to try to get some blood flowing to my brain. All I could think about were the people who were depending on me to salvage what meat we still had so that we could all eat: Rudy, Zoila, Julio the worker dude...myself. What I was spending in gas for a few hours of generator power each day, plus the few free hours of electricity the pueblo gives us poor hillbillies every night was certainly insufficient to properly preserve the meat, and the gas, at nearly ten dollars/gallon, was just ridiculous. A new inverter would be way cheaper. The problem was, I didn't have enough cash to buy a new one, and it was going to be another week before my pension check was deposited, so I was essentially screwed.

Fortunately, I collected my wits, called my sister Donna, and asked her to advance my money. Thank goodness she was in a position to do so. She wired the money and I calmed down considerably. I really did not want to go back home with bad news. We'd all had enough by then.

Finally, the guy arrived, checked out the inverter and couldn't find anything wrong with it, except that it did not work. Really? I must say, the construction of the thing was absolutely shocking. When I opened it to find the source of the problem, I'd noticed a screw that was touching a chip. Nothing wrong? I beg to differ. In a high voltage situation, that was certainly sufficient as to create a short-circuit at the very least. I pointed it out to him. He looked at me and said, “No, there's nothing wrong with that. You have a lot of static in the interior. It must be the static.” Anyway, that was all I needed to know about him and his level of expertise. I suppose I could have argued, but what would have been the point? I am after all, just a woman. What could I possibly know?

I asked for a refund of my money. He said he didn't have it. He said he wouldn't have it until it was sent back to the company from which it was purchased and he received a refund. Ok. Well, guess what, Bub? I need a new inverter TODAY. Not tomorrow, not next week, but T-O-D-A-Y. Tomas was clearly uncomfortable with this, but I could not just simply throw up my hands, give a grin, and say, “okay, no worries,” because there were plenty of worries. I let him know that I was going to buy a new one that day and that he could return the defective one for a refund and give the money to Tomas. He agreed. He also said he had a friend in town that sold this equipment and that he'd make sure I got a good price. We all agreed to meet in the city at 6.30 to go get it.

So, I got the new inverter and then I heard the guy tell Tomas that when the replacement came in, he'd take it to Tomas' house. What replacement? I wanted my money back. Of course, I wasn't going to make a scene out on the street, not with Tomas, anyway. Tomas put a happy face on it and said, “Well, at least you'll have a spare.” I suppose, I could resell it, but a part of me says, “nah, better keep it, just in case. Besides, I'll eventually be adding on and will need it anyway.”

This bit of relief was very short-lived. As soon as I got home, I noticed Bob had not come with Milagros and Chato to welcome me home. Odd. Very odd. I called for him and whistled, but it was nearly an hour before he showed up on our doorstep looking very tired. He came in and went straight to his bed and to sleep.

Meanwhile, I wanted to take a shower but there was no water. REALLY?!? I went out to check all the connections and find nothing amiss. Except, that water was flooding through one section of the orchards and I knew it was too soon for that. So, I asked the worker, Julio, if he knew what was going on. He did not, but he'd try to find the source of the problem. I was able to use the bathroom because I keep a large barrel of water there just in case the water is off and I need to use the facilities. One must flush, after all. However, I could not take a shower. Despite having a working freezer again, and despite knowing where my pets were, I was cranky.

The water was restored several hours later, but the day was not quite finished with me.

That evening Bob came to me for a pet, and when I began to stroke under his chin, I felt something wet. I pulled my hand away and saw that it was covered with blood. I immediately inspected him for injuries and found many. I began washing his wounds with peroxide and saw that whatever fought with him had sunk its teeth in so deeply, that the cartilage at the opening of his ear was visible and the wound was extremely deep. On the underside of his jaw and very close to his jugular, I found a tooth embedded in his flesh. I pulled it out and washed the whole mess with more peroxide. It was getting dark by this time and I knew it would be too late to try to get in touch with anyone to take me to Arica. I also knew that the vet's office would be closed. I knew that if I just stayed calm and thought, I'd likely be able to take care of him without having to take him to a vet.

I fished out the box of amoxycillin that I kept for the pets in case of emergencies, opened a capsule and poured it into water that I'd boiled and set aside to cool. I washed his wounds with that, then opened another, removed about 200mg and put that in some peanut butter and fed it to him.

The next morning, he had so much fluid built up in the side of his face and under his jaw that I became truly frightened. Again, I knew I just needed to relax and think. I gave him another 100mg of antibiotic with meat and a big bowl of water. I then proceeded to cleanse his wounds with peroxide and then the antibiotic solution. I expressed as much fluid as I could, and while he wasn't appreciative of my efforts while I was working on him, he seemed more relaxed and comfortable when I finished. I continued in that manner all day yesterday. I applied a pressure bandage to help prevent the build-up of fluids and to keep the wounds reasonably clean. I began to rehearse what I'd learned in the military when I'd trained for treating wounds in the field, on how to insert a drainage tube. I have a small suture kit, and I have a scalpel, but I was terrified that I'd have to open him up, insert a tube, and then stitch him without the benefit of a local anesthetic. Then, I remembered that Novacaine was created after doctors learned about the anesthetic effects of cocaine. I have a ton of cocaine leaves that I promptly mashed, boiled, and reduced until I was able to use a little on my hand and make it numb. I still did not want to do this. 

This morning, his swelling was almost gone. He has no new fluid building up, so he has been spared, thus far, any operation. Yes, I would have done it and if I have to, I will do it. I just pray that he will not need that sort of intervention. I'm keeping him as calm as I can, allowing him out only to use the bathroom and lay in the sunshine. Otherwise, he's inside with me.

Finally, nothing broken, no disasters, and a clean house. I decided to spend a few hours working on my book. Yay! Peace, quiet, and nothing weighing heavily on my mind and I could finally write. Who was I kidding? This is the boonies, after all, and each day is rife with challenges. I heard Zoila hollering for me.... “MayLee, MayLee.” I wanted to ignore her in hopes of finishing the chapter I'd started, but, it was useless. She came up and told me that I could not use the bathroom in my house for a while because her son-in-law was in the process of installing a new bathroom for tourists. Great. And wouldn't you know it—as soon as she said that, I had to pee. I guess I can hold it.


Well, wouldn't you know it? As soon as Bob was nearly mended he took off after a female, whose identity I will protect and simply call “Miss White,” who happened to be in season. There were several Bob sightings in the valley and I didn't worry too much as long as I knew that someone had seen him that day or if I heard him barking at night.

Ok. The burning question many of you have right now is: Why isn't he castrated? The answer: Down here they only use barbiturate anesthesia and greyhounds don't have enough body fat to metabolize it. Short answer—it would likely kill him.

Now that we have that all cleared up, I can continue.

Four nights and three days later, Bob made it almost the whole way home. I found him collapsed at the gate by the road. He could barely move. He was covered with injuries and was so thin that he made concentration camp victims look like well-fed fat-asses. After I carried him to the cabin and laid him down, Zoila and I went through the whole process of cleaning him and tending to his wounds, one of which required stitching. Gross...his lower eye-lid had been torn away and was kind of drooping halfway down his face. He was so weak he couldn't even lift his head to drink or eat, so we had to provide water and broth via a sponge for two days before he finally was able to eat something.

Thankfully, he is alright now. Sadly, some of the other animals have not fared so well. Chato, poor little sweet puppy suffered from the poison that someone left out. Also, the stallion died. Both senseless and needless deaths. It took me quite some time to get over my anger at the owners of the horses because I had been telling them that the animal was sick and that by keeping him so confined and him eating only dry hay was a recipe for disaster. Myself and many of the neighbors tried everything we could to save him, but it was just too little too late.

The Holidays With Neighbors

Country people and city people have different definitions of the word “neighbor.” Rudy discovered this the hard way. We have some neighbors almost two miles from us (three farms away) who invited us to spend Christmas with them. I accepted for both of us. So, Christmas morning after the chores were all done, I whipped up and apple crisp (some things never change—I still get pegged for the deserts), showered, dressed and was ready to leave when I saw that Rudy was dressed pretty nicely and wearing nice shoes.

“Um, Rudy,” I said, “you are going to kill your feet in those shoes and you are going to roast in those clothes. You really should change.”

“No, I'll be all right,” he told me.

I gave him a 'whatever' shrug and we left.

So, about halfway he started to complain a little and was asking where these so-called neighbors lived. I told him that we had almost another mile to go.

“You said they were neighbors!

And I was country standards they are neighbors.

Thankfully, he got over it after his first cold beer and a few minutes of resting his feet.

Dinner was great: Roasted turkey, stuffing made from dried fruits and nuts, papas a la huacayina, and a million other things. Everyone left stuffed and happy. At least the walk back home was all downhill :)
Abuelita...95 and going strong!

The sun was so bright, I know it's hard to see...Sylivia (76) and her husband, Juan, (74)


Fredi and Rudy still eating

Erika, our hostess

Chickens, Bunnies, and Lambs

We now have seven rabbits, three of which will be kept for breeding stock. They are all super cute and cuddly that I fear I won't be able to do what is necessary when the time comes. I must constantly remind myself that I cannot cuddle or name the food, but I can't help myself. Besides, I don't know which ones will be for breeding and I really do have to handle them so that they aren't afraid to be picked up. Trust me, you don't want a bunny that is so afraid to be picked up that someone blunders and gives them a bad death because they were squirming too much.

Many say they couldn't raise their own meat, but what I don't understand is how can they eat meat if they aren't willing to raise it? Even if they got someone else to do the butchery, which I think I'm going to have to do with the rabbits, they say that it would bother them too much to be responsible for the death of an animal. Now, you know I have an opinion about that, right?

If a person eats meat, they are responsible for killing animals. Period. If no one ate meat, no animals would need to be butchered. At least I will know that the meat I'm getting is from healthy, well-cared for animals. What's in yours?

Rudy and I have had a heck of a time trying to learn how to build cages and corrals. He seems to have a knack for it though. I'm glad he's finding his 'place' in this adventure. Our first attempt at building a rabbit hutch was less than stellar. I think 'disaster' is the word I'm looking for. Anyway, he eventually got the rabbit hutch squared away and we were able to sex the bunnies before they were able to start reproducing. I hope.

Rudy also brought me a wonderful surprise when he returned from his trip to Arica—laying hens!!!! Yay! Since they will be with me a long time, I've given them names: Ellie May and Lucy. Lucy is kinda mean and very bossy, while Ellie May is just really sweet and friendly. They aren't laying very many eggs—probably due to the stress of the move and change of altitude and climate. The eggs they do lay, though, are extra-large and sooooooooooo good!

We need to get a few more hens because it looks like Ellie May wants to be broody and I suppose that would be fine as more chicks means more egg potential and of course, meat.
Ellie May and Lucy

These next few days while I'm in Arica, Rudy will be trying to rehabilitate a dilapidated sheep pen because on Thursday I'll be getting the male half of my breeding stock for sheep. It's a white and I'll be crossing it with a black female that won't be ready to leave its mother for several more weeks. After the female has been bred, delivered, and free from the newborn I'll be able to milk her and finally have some feta cheese. You have no idea how much I've missed having that.

I'm still at least a month away from getting my first goat. I kept asking and asking one of my neighbors—ok! I confess, I hounded the poor man—to please sell me one of his baby goats. He insisted that he could get more money selling it in Arica or raising it and selling the meat. I really want goats from him, as they are Alpines and those bred by him reach weights of about 100 kilos (220 pounds) and produce a few gallons of milk each day with 3-4% butter fat. Good news for me because I want to make cheese, soap, and lotion from the milk. So, I'll start out with a baby girl and then in two months buy a pregnant female from him.

Question Answered

One of the hardest things I had to adapt to was all the junk and crap buildings all over the place. I finally figured it out: No one throws anything away that has even the remotest possibility of being re-purposed. Why? Well, we don't exactly have a Home Depot or even a small hardware store out there.

Need a spring? Hmmm... oh yeah! There's one on that old bed frame next to the sheep pen. Roof coming off the chicken coop? No worries—there's bound to be a sheet of tin or an old door that's just the right size.

The problem is, is that everything looks really horrible. But, I'm adapting. I caught myself picking up a piece of wire from the road this morning without even thinking about it. Just saw it, picked it up, and pushed it in my pocket. You never know when you may need it.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

About 6 weeks ago, we had a big fire. I guess someone must have been driving by and tossed a cigarette out of their window. It has been so dry and there is so much brush and so many dead trees that it was only a matter of time.

Of course, it had to happen after I'd showered, washed my hair, and put on a nice, new, clean nightgown. Rudy and I were enjoying a nice glass of wine when I heard this loud popping sound. It sounded like firecrackers going off. Rudy opened the door and all I saw was orange.

Since it was night, it was cold, and I grabbed my big sweater and just threw it on over my nightgown and then hiked on a pair of flannel pajama pants and ran out in my slippers. The fire was not in the orchards, but rather across the road and next to the corral where the horses are kept.

No cell phone signals, no landlines, and worse, even if we had those things we have no fire department or fire fighting equipment. So, while Rudy and a itinerant farm worker, Julio, ran for the buckets (yes, buckets) I went to bring the hose down through the orchards. Our neighbor, Marco, came to help. So, it was Rudy and Marco on bucket brigade and Julio on the hose. We gave that job to Julio because A) he's 76 and B) he's an alcoholic who was still shaking from 3 days of withdrawal.
I ran back up to the top of the orchards after handing Julio the hose, turned on the water and.............the hose broke. Good grief! It was dark. There was no light to see how I might be able to fix it and then no time because the fire exploded and the corral fence caught fire. Marco and I set the horses loose and then I headed back to the hose, which I had to hold together.

I was soaked and muddy, not to mention frozen. For hours, with buckets and a garden hose we kept the fire from spreading. When the flames were out, we had no choice but to stop because we couldn't see anything. Rudy and I sent Julio back to his bed and Marco back home. We stayed up all night and as new flames erupted, we'd put them out—one of us holding the broken hose together while the other one sprayed.

Finally, daylight came and we were able to find.................a piece of wire!!!! Yay! We could fix the hose. It took several hours of constant spraying to get the fire completely out. I honestly couldn't believe that buckets and a garden hose were able to contain that fire, but they did. And see how handy a little bit of wire is?

Strange Love

Last night, Bob pulled a disappearing act. Again. I called and called for him when it was time for the dogs to come in for the night but he never came. I was concerned, but not overly so. Sometimes, he just likes to be out all night. Later, before Rudy came to bed, I was awakened because he was calling for Bob. So, I got up and started calling for him again. Nothing.

This morning, still no sign of Bob. My heart sank because I hadn't heard him bark all night and he didn't come home for breakfast. So, with a heavy heart, I started my chores. After feeding and watering the horses, Milagros and I headed up to Marco's farm to tend to his sheep and pig while he was away in Arica.

Bob and Miss Piggy were together. He had been so fascinated by this pig that he would go to Marco's and stand in front of the pen and stare at her. Not an ounce of aggression. Just pure fascination. Well, the ground outside the pen is much higher than the ground inside the pen. He was able to get in easily enough, but he couldn't get back out. I hauled him out, wishing I'd had a camera to take a picture of him with her. It really was cute. It was also funny that he hadn't relieved himself while inside her “house” because the moment he was free he spent a long time watering a nearby tree. Afterward, he went to stand in front of the pen. They touched noses and he whimpered when I made him leave her.


Finally, I have to stop. I have been writing for hours and I'm tired. I still have to upload some photos—not great ones because I only have the camera on my tablet....but I think you'll get the general idea of how things look. 

More Photos

The kitchen is a separate structure as it is too hot and too dangerous to cook in the houses

old wood burning cook stove. works great

Milagros helping me with the chores

reserve water tank for irrigation

irrigation canal...the red plate controls the direction of the water flow

All these trees and more

Milagros checking the chickens (left) and my fruit dryer in the center of the path...oh, my shadow, too

fig trees grow like weeds here

Figs anyone?

bunny hutch

Rudy's work this this space for sheep and goats

small vegetable gardens planted within the orchards

a row of bedrooms for guests or workers

the chow hall

ok, chow hall + Rudy's gym

stairs leading up to my cabin...Milagros always wants to lay in the steps

stairs going down to the orchards

more orchards, more work

piles of supplies placed wherever there happens to be space

fresh alfalfa spread out over the steps of the terraces to dry

...and more alfalfa...after it is dry I have to gather it and haul it to a big cute cubes for us

soon we'll have some peppers!

grapes ready to harvest

tons of grapes...these ones need more time