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, June 28, 2015

The Latest

So much has happened since I last wrote. Some good and some not so good, but almost all of them enlightening in one way or another.

A few of the best things were the acquisition of Samantha (goat) and two sheep, Lisa and Oliver. Samantha (in case I haven't already told you) was more of a rescue than anything. Poor thing was half-starved and I honestly thought she'd die before I got her home as she collapsed several times along the way. Thankfully, a few miles from home a neighbor helped me get her into a small shed, gave her some water and fresh alfalfa. After a much needed rest for both of us a friend with a van happened by and gave Samantha and I a ride the rest of the way home.

The first few days that Samantha was with me I kept her in a corral on the property and fed her as much as she could eat, which turned out to be an awful lot. After she had enough strength to walk a short distance I took her to another neighbor's farm, staked her out and let her graze for a few weeks. Boy! Did she ever get fat. Oops, guess she didn't like that remark!

Anyway, she's back in the corral now but not alone. I found two more lambs to purchase (the original Lisa and Oliver died from a sickness before I could buy them) and they are keeping Samantha company.
Lisa has a gray face and a very gentle disposition, while Oliver has a black and white speckled face, crazy eyes and is a bit aggressive when strangers (human or animal) come anywhere near Lisa. I reckon he's assigned himself the role of protector. Lisa and Oliver will be my breeding pair, which is why they have names, and hopefully early next year we'll have a baby from them.

I could not get a good picture of Oliver to save my life!!!

As far as Samantha and her breeding...well, I'm going to wait to breed her until we've built our house and move her to another property. It's one thing to move 2 sheep and a single lamb two miles away, but either a pregnant goat or a goat with 3 or 4 kids...nah. I'm not that impatient. Besides, I don't really have enough room in the corral for that many animals and I'm not going to build a corral on this property.

Yes. Move again. We knew this was not going to be a permanent location and when I was shown possible building sites (free) for a house, Rudy and I decided that since we'd have the money to build this year, we would. I think it's fantastic that we will have a house and no mortgage or rent payments. No electric bills. No water bills. No telephone bills. No bills. Period.

Granted, all of the free land for building homes is on the sides of the hills which means it's strictly desert land. The particular spot that we selected seems to be the safest of them all and the easiest to access from the road. What do I mean by safe? Well, it means there are no boulders or a lot of loose rocks and stones that would come tumbling down when (not if) earthquakes hit.

Here are some photos of the area. The formation is one that I've admired ever since I first laid eyes on it. The photo doesn't do it justice, but it really is lovely. Certain times of the day, it sparkles as though it were sprinkled with a million diamonds and when the sun hits it just right, it looks like it's covered in gold.

Also, we don't have to have the excavation done high alongside the hill, which means NO STAIRS. We'll be able to put in a foot path from the front gate to the road. That makes it nice for when we are hauling back our monthly shopping from Arica. Phew! I won't miss these stairs, that's for sure.

Honestly, the biggest problem will be hiring a reliable work crew and getting the materials from Arica. We'll do it though, one way or another.

We've also been presented with several opportunities to buy one of the many abandoned farms. I really wanted to buy a small one, remove most of the fruit trees and create pastures and vegetable gardens. My idea was to raise dairy goats and use the milk to make natural products such as soap, shampoo, and body lotion. Between the fruit oils, avocado, olive oil, herbs and flowers, I figured I could have a pretty wide variety of fragrances as well as something for every skin type.

My problem. Yep. This is one of the bad things. I realized that I am not physically able to do all of that on my own. Rudy has no interest in animal care. None. He's decided that he would rather take care of the house and yard and handyman kind of things. That's really fine with me. I think we should both do what we enjoy and he really does NOT enjoy working with the animals. Not even a little. Yes, he'll take care of them when I'm not around or I just need a day off, but he doesn't get the pleasure from it that I do.

Anyway, my younger sisters and I have been trying to talk to our brother about moving down here. If he came and partnered with me, I would certainly buy the land and we could work together. After all, this is the kind of life he's always wanted. With his knowledge and physical strength, I truly believe we could make a good go at something. Without him, I will settle for something on a much smaller scale.

What happened to make me finally accept that I would not be able to go anything large on my own was just last week as I was walking back from the pueblo and my back and hips were hurting so much so that when someone happened along and offered me a ride, I had to get a hand up into the truck. I was so horrified and so embarrassed. I've never needed an assist. I felt so decrepit. I had the same feelings when I finally accepted that my running days were over. I suppose if I still lived on flat land I could continue to jog—but not here. It's too hard on my joints and I need to be able to save what parts of me that aren't broken down to be able to take care of the animals that I have and will have later on.

So, I guess I will be content with two milking goats, a couple of sheep, and some rabbits. These will provide me with what we need for milk, cheese, butter, wool, and meat. I'll also have space for a vegetable garden and flower gardens. That's enough, right? Yeah, I think so too.

The month of May has more festivals than any month has a right to have. First there was the one for the Virgin Mary. A zillion people show up all over this valley, stuff their faces with food, drink until they puke and call it done. I wonder what the Virgin Mary would think of this.

Then, we have Vendimia. This is the wine harvest festival and when they make the traditional wine called Pintatani. It's a very sweet and very potent wine. One small glass and I'm out for the count. Anyway, there are typically 15-20,000 people at this event. Not this year. It was, as far as I'm concerned, a bust. Five days of back breaking work (not to mention all the work done in the months preceding this event), for nothing. We all had our asses handed to us. Rudy and I have decided that starting next year we will simply go have fun at Vendimia. No work. Just drunkenness and dancing. 'Nuff said.

Oh, and how could I forget 21 de Mayo?? It celebrates a war (or a battle) that Chile lost. Yes. I said “celebrates” and “lost.” Don't ask me, I don't invent these holidays. Perhaps one of my Chilean friends can explain the rationale.

Finally, we had the festival of the cross. It is essentially a repeat of the festival for the Virgin Mary except for this one we throw in the added fun and danger of a bunch of drunkards, along with a band which consists of a drummer, trumpeter, and some other brass instruments, heading up the narrow, steep trails of the mountains in order to decorate the crosses with carnations. Ok. Then, once the cross is decorated and a prayer said, the cans of beer and bottles of champagne open and the drinking begins anew...oh, this is accompanied by the band. The band members get pretty sloshed too and by the time they get to the fifth or sixth cross they are playing songs like La Cucaracha.

As you can tell by now, I'm not a big fan of the festivals here. Perhaps because I don't understand them. Perhaps because I don't understand the culture of the region sufficiently to appreciate them. Or maybe, just maybe, because I believe that religious holidays should be, well, holy. I guess I'm just an old fashioned fuddy-duddy.

I am so looking forward to having my own house on my own little bit of property. The cabin in which we are currently living is so small that it is nearly impossible to take normal strides and we have too much stuff in here (every bit of it is needed). One needs the grace of a ballerina in order to navigate without knocking something over—especially in the kitchen and especially since we put our own stove in. I probably could have done without the stove but I honestly could not share a kitchen with someone else any longer, even though Rudy and I are usually the only people here. It wasn't my kitchen and it was just a bit weird.

One thing I have figured out is that hallways are a massive waste of space. I am currently in the process of drawing up floor plans for our house and I guarantee you there are zero hallways. We will only have about 600 square feet (more than twice what we currently have—part of which is hogged by a hallway) but all of the rooms will be large enough to accommodate furniture and allow for easy, free movement. Trust me, I most assuredly do not have balletic grace.

Yesterday (Friday 26 June) I attended a course offered by the Civil Defense Search and Rescue group. That was probably the smartest thing this pueblo has ever done. Enough equipment was brought in such that all areas within a 6 mile radius of the pueblo will have easy access in the event of an emergency. The little storage area for our sector (Cerro Blanco) is now filled with backboards, carriers, professional first aid kits, megaphones, wheelbarrows, pickaxes, shovels, harnesses and mountain climbing equipment—and a bunch more—and we were trained on how to use the most important of the items. Even though I was trained in search and rescue while stationed in Belgium, it was an excellent refresher course and I feel confident that I could be useful in an emergency situation.

That is one of the things I really love about this area—the free courses that are so useful and so relevant to this region and our way of life. The basket weaving class was excellent, unfortunately I had to drop out due to time constraints. I did learn enough to make the sorts of things for which I took the course so it wasn't a total bust.

There was also a class in Guañacagua on making mermelade (I call it runny jam) from guava and tuna (no, not the fish—that's atun—but rather an outgrowth from a cactus), both of which are plentiful here. So, they can keep bringing them and I'll go to as many as I can.

There are also opportunities to learn skills from various individuals if you ask around. For instance, I like to crochet and use my knitting rings but I can't always buy good yarn. I was looking at my sheep the other day and wondered how one went about shearing them without electric clippers and then how one went about cleaning and combing the wool for spinning. As it turns out my friend, Philomena, knows how to do it and has offered to instruct me. She also knows where to buy a small spinner so that I can spin my wool into yarn after it's been cleaned, brushed, and dyed.

The really curious thing (to me, anyway) is that many people have sheep but no one shears them. Hmm. Maybe it just isn't worth it. I'll give it a go and if it turns out to be more work than it's worth, then I won't bother with it...but still...what a cool skill to have.

We have a little animal here that for the longest time I was calling a squnk. The first time I saw one was a few months ago as it was exiting the chicken coop with one of my eggs. No. I did not fight him for it. Anyway, its body-type and main coloring is like that of a very large squirrel, but its markings are like a skunk.

Turns out, they are skunks. And how! Pee-yoo!

Early yesterday morning while it was still pitch-black outside, the dogs were sent out to use the facilities and I heard a big commotion. So, off I went, flashlight in hand and went to see what the fuss was. The smell was the first thing I noticed and the second thing I noticed was that there was a third “dog” with Bob and Milagros. Closer inspection showed that it wasn't a dog at all but a very large fox. The three of them had this poor little squnk cornered. I, on the other hand said, “See ya!” and headed back up to the house. I wanted nothing to do with a cornered squnk and nothing to do with a big ol' fox.

Suffice to say, both dogs stank to high heaven. Bob was the worst because I guess he got shot directly inside his mouth. Now he has squnk breath and just having to breath the same air as he is pretty gross. No matter that I got the smell off their fur and skin—my boy needs a breath mint because he's stinking up the place.

We now have only the two rabbits as the rest have been butchered (except one). Because they are my breeding pair, they have been given names: George and Louise (the Jefferson’s). One of the rabbits I gave to my neighbor's, Roberto and Fabiola, who have two young children, Agustina and Mati, for a pet. The children named her Pilpintu, which means butterfly in Aymara. She is a large, beautiful brindle and is most likely pregnant. The family hopes so because they will be selling the babies as pets in Arica. If not, we'll have George make a house call, which I don't imagine he'll mind too terribly much.

I also gifted them the chicken, Lucy, because the amount of work involved in plucking chickens isn't worth doing. Besides, Agustina really loves Lucy and I know that both animals have a good home. Also since I found a butcher shop in Arica that sells butchered, farm raised chicken for about a dollar/pound it negates the reasons for raising my own, which was to provide hormone/antibiotic-free chicken for me and Rudy. I can also buy fresh eggs in the pueblo, so I don't need to raise chickens. Besides, cleaning the chicken coop was so gross. Chickens just crap their runny, smelly poop all over the place. Blech! I'll take tidy little poopers like rabbits, sheep, and goats. Nothing smelly and nothing....wet...just little beans.

After we move I'll be building a workshop where I can work with the hides. It really bothered me to toss all the hides because it just seems so disrespectful to the animals to not use every bit that can be used. It just wasn't practical here. Next time though, I'll have plenty of pelts to tan.

If a person has any sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder, living here will either cure them or kill them. I was more than a little OCD—I remember my son, Derrick, always telling me, “They have medicine for that.” – but I think I'm cured.

The reason is that absolutely nothing goes as planned. Almost every day I mentally plan the things I want to accomplish, yet I rarely accomplish everything (or anything for that matter) because something else will come up—a tool breaks, a water line bursts, etc—that requires your immediate attention and everything else has to go on the back burner.

This past week was filled with interruptions of my work. I had planned on cutting alfalfa Wednesday and Friday, but I could not because I had to take the time to walk to the pueblo to use the internet to get a response to a question I'd asked the week before...well, in order to make the walk without suffering heat stroke, I had to go in the morning which is the cool part of the day and the best time for cutting. So, I had to rearrange my week a bit. Then, Wednesday afternoon I had planned on cleaning the goat and sheep pen, but I couldn't because Samantha opened the door to the pen and let the sheep out and Rudy and I spent hours chasing Lisa and Oliver along the mountainside...until I remembered that Milagros was probably the answer.

You see, I had been training her to pull carts when I was in Arica and I realized that a lot of the commands could be employed to herd the sheep. It worked. By nightfall, the sheep were back in their pen with naughty Samantha, and Milagros earned a special treat. The pen has not been cleaned and I now have only today and tomorrow morning to get it done before I go to Arica. I also have a bunch of alfalfa to get cut before I leave.

That, at least, is the plan for today and tomorrow. I guess I'll find out in another hour when the sun is up how much I'll actually get accomplished. Fingers crossed.

My daughter, Margaret, and son-in-law, Noah, sent a most excellent care package. Thanks, guys! The knife has been getting quite a good workout, by the way. They also sent a desert backpack with a built in water bag. This thing is so well-made and allows me to take long hikes (climbs) on more treacherous terrain in which having both hands free is essential. It has just enough space that I can carry a few pieces of fruit and some treats for the dogs.

They also included some vegetable seeds—parsnips (can't find them here), sweet baby pumpkins, fennel (I've purchased it only twice in 9 years because it is only grown in the south and it is a virtual unknown here in the north), and carrots—atomic red, atomic purple, yellow, and white (how cool is that?).

The two one-pound skeins of yarn have been crocheted into a new poncho. I've decided not to use it for chores because I don't want it filled with hay and sticker-burs. I've been using it when I sit out at night enjoying a nice cup of tea and gazing at the stars.

So, despite many of the hardships and inconveniences of living this way, the rewards are so abundant that we can, for the most part, overlook or even ignore the bad. No bosses. No commutes. No real need for a clock. We do what we want, when we want, and how we want. Except when a water pipe bursts.

Until next time...

Oh, I almost forgot the pictures and video that I promised from my last post...the ones from the Membrillo (Quince) Festival:

Rudy with Membrillo Man

Video of Rudy and Beti doing the Membrillo Dance