Two liebres hop out on the track ahead of me. I stare up the gradual ´Subida´, cut through the pine forest like a well cut cake. The mountains behind me are in shadow, adding to their towering, brooding, watchful gaze. I feel their eyes on my back, my eyes dead set on the track ahead. The sun is still shining on the mountains to the east, lighting them up like a performer called to the stage, to perform one last act, before the closing curtains of sunset call an end to the day. The sun´s light gives the snow capped mountains a bubblegum pink colour. They have a candy floss, cartoon feel, omitting the sharp and dangerous look those shards usually possess. They don´t look so unconquerable now, almost childlike, playful even. The crest of the ridge above the chacra is lit up too. Impenetrable rows of pine trees standing to salute, unwavering in the last hour of light, before the sun dips and vanishes behind Cerro Perito Moreno.
Those liebres would make a fine meal, I think to myself. If only I had brought a rifle. If only I had a rifle. They hop along the track calmly, positive in their estimates of my hunting skills. I climb steadily up the ascent, passing the house with the dogs, receiving my usual ear full of hellos. There is always activity at this household, in what is normally a quiet area. Hidden cabins with hiding inhabitants to match, to see who can lose who. I put a hand on the rubbish post, this post marking my arrival to the Machelet chacra. All that's left is the winding driveway. I lean on this post like a dear friend, and catch my breath, sucking in that clean, crisp Patagonian air.
I wonder what Alejandra has cooked. All food tastes better when you're cold and hungry but some of Alejandra’s meals have been the warmest hugs my belly has ever recieved. Hongos perhaps, as I make my way towards the cabin, noticing their absence in the mossy undergrowth. They are elite hiders however, their absence meaning nothing. Two cows scowl at me as I near the cabin. This isn't even your land you bastards, don´t give me that look. Pablo´s workshop looks the same as it always does. His father´s guitars hanging in a line, still as statues. Their smooth necks coated in a thin layer of sawdust. They look as if they are playing dead. I like to imagine they come alive at night, the whole workshop, all of us oblivious to it.
I nudge the door open slowly – it's never truly closed. The shouts of ´Ron-een, Ron-een´ greet me first. The cabin is mostly dark. In the corner the wooden kitchen table is illuminated by a low-hanging light, hovering over it. Benicio swings back and forth in his wooden hanging chair, gurgling and chewing his fingers. They are all positioned around the table. A small trail of smoke is coming from a pot in the middle. Francesco is reaching into it with a thick slice of bread, scooping out a thick sludge of what looks like stew.
‘Ronan, como va? Sentáte, vení a comer.’
I take my place at the table and grab a plate.
‘Sírvete Ronan,’ Alejandra says.
‘Gracias Ale, tiene muy buena pinta,’ I respond, and get stuck in. It is stew. Not hongos. They live to fight another day. Just like me.
Chingk – chingk – chingk.
‘It seems weird to me that most people in Ireland don´t speak their native language, given your relationship with England.’ Pablo says to me, swinging his machete low against the log he's holding - chingk -chingk -chingk.
‘Yeah, I can see that, but it's complicated. When you're younger and in school you don't see or value the cultural importance of your native language. it's only after you get a bit older that you see it.’ I respond to Pablo, propping my log against my shoulder and chopping down at the lower part, removing a clean sheet of bark.
‘It's all in the wrist che’ says Pablo. He is much quicker than me, effortlessly swinging his machete and removing clean sheets of bark.
‘I grew up with a machete in mi mano,’ he says to me, smiling.
It's all in the wrist, all in the wrist I say to myself mentally, adjusting my technique so as not to fall too far behind Pablo. He makes it look so damn easy. I´ve a while to go yet I think to myself.
Chingk – chingk- chingk- the dull sound of the steel on wood echoes around the farm.
‘Everyone should speak their native language,’continues Pablo. ‘Even more so in your country´s case.’
‘I agree’- ‘But what language do you speak Pablo?”
‘Are you Spanish?’
‘No. I'm Argentinian.’
‘Well, what is the native language of Argentina?’
‘Hmmm, Mapuche I suppose. There are indigenous dialects.’
‘Do you speak Mapuche?’
‘No, no I don´t.’
‘Well...I think everyone should speak their native language.’
He looks at me and grins, lifting his machete above his head and swinging it down towards the log.
Chingk – chingk – chingk...
‘My father loved to build....to create. He was always making things with his hands. He built this house’ Pablo says, gesturing to the cabin with his head. ‘He always encouraged us to be creative. Whether it be art, music...writing. He didn't send me to school either. He was different in that way, but still expected me to study. Self – study. Lo que sea.’ He hands me the mate. The two logs lay beside us – naked and bare. I take a sip of the mate. Slightly less bitter than usual, with the addition of sugar- the way Pablo likes it. I´m really growing fond of mate. The ceremony of it more than anything.
‘Do you miss him? Do you miss them?’ I ask Pablo, as I pass him back to the mate.
‘Por supuesto.’ He replies, lifting the flask to add water to the mate. He looks over to their gravestones, a stone's throw from the house.
‘My parents were great storytellers. After dinner we would always sit around the table and share stories, my father always leading it. He would open one of his home- made booches and sit there for hours.......my mother as well....they were a good match. She would tease him too – tomar el pelo, viste.....but he was well able for her, and her for him.’ He takes a final swig of the mate. The squeak of the straw signalling the moment to refill it and pass it on. There are rules with mate. I learned this very quickly.
‘Like the Irish no?’ he asks, turning his head to look at me.
‘Yes,’ I respond. ‘I suppose we are good storytellers.’
‘Well...tell me a story.’ He says grinning, passing me back the mate.
‘What kind of story?’
‘Whatever you like...you have lots of myths and legends and folklore verdad?’
‘Pues tell me one of those.’
‘We might need some more logs then,’ I say to him, turning, and we both laugh.
‘I´ve always liked the Irish, you know that? Buena gente’ He tells me, nodding his head. ‘There are lots of Irish influences here, a lot of history. Guillermo Brown for example.....he was an Irishman and he set up the Argentinean Navy. We are very mixed here – a country full of mongrels.’ He chuckles to himself. ‘Mi papa was german...mi mama hungarian. They both came over just after the war started.’ I hand him back the mate. ‘Lucky they did..... I think they wanted to forget Europe a bit, that's why they hid themselves halfway up a mountain in the woods. My dad became an argentinean quite quickly, almost a proper gaucho – like a duck to water. My mother not so quick. Theÿ were happy here though..........very happy.’
‘Have you ever been over there Pablo? To visit Germany and Hungary?’ I ask him.
‘No. I´ve never been to Europe...not even close. The furthest I´ve been is Brazil. Alejandra and the kids have never even seen the sea. I want to take them there this summer. It's not right that they haven't seen it.’ He shifts on his log, readjusting his seating position. ‘That's why I´m working a lot at the moment. To try and get the money together. Before I was doing more hours in the co-op up the road, but at the moment it's quiet with the holidays.....and then on Thursdays and Fridays I'm up in El Bolson.’
‘Do you stay there overnight?’ I ask, taking the mate from him once again , taking a long sip from the straw. That bitter, earthy taste hitting the back of my throat.
‘Yeah.’ He replies, picking some blades of grass from the ground and tossing them away. ‘It's not worth going back and forth. With how long that bus takes....plus.....they're family friends. Me conocen.’
‘What about that?’ I signal to the old blue four by four beside the workshop. It's quite old and it's missing a tire. The bonnet is open with an old rusty engine resting inside. A complex array of pipes and tubes stick out, I know nothing about cars but it doesn't look beyond repair.
‘Ah it needs a bit of work,’ he says, glancing over to it, slightly squinting his eyes to focus more on it.
‘I can't drive anyway,’ he added.
‘You can't drive?? But everyone in the country drives.’ I say, laughing.
‘I know how to drive, but I can´t drive – they won't let me. I have a problem with my vision. I failed the test.’ He puts a hand over one eye and mimics an eyesight test, saying letters aloud.
‘Yeah,’ he says.....’Mostly I see well. It's just with letters. I have problems texting too. That's why I always send audios. I would chance driving around here, they wouldn't catch me....and I know most of the police, but I need a car first.’ He pauses. ‘Need to get the plata together first. One thing at a time eh!’ He turns to me chuckling and claps me on the shoulder. ‘Vamos. Let's go eat. Tengo mucha hambre eh.’ He gets to his feet and offers his hand out to me, pulling me to my feet. ‘We´ll finish these later,’ he says, nodding to the remaining logs, lying in rows awaiting their fate. He throws his machete towards the ground, spinning it in the air, and it lands point first in the soil, upright and slightly rocking back and forth, like a pendulum.