Thursday, 19 November 2009

Of bean and table-top mesas

These updates have become a bit of a rarity these days, although with my tendency to write small novels each time perhaps you're all grateful rather than sad? Maybe you're still digesting the last one. Well, clear your palate with a bit of mental sorbet (pear and mint is supposed to be a good combination, so think really hard about juicy pears and minty freshness), because here comes the next in the series.

As many of you already know, Joel and I are expecting an addition to our family of the baby variety! I clarify that it will be a human baby (in as far as both its parents are), because what with our track history of adopting baby animals you could be forgiven for thinking that it might be another furry quadrupedal orphan. We have in fact just acquired a little black kitten, sex unknown, who we found in a carpark... It was all sad and crying and lost and wee and fluffy and so now it lives at our house. The dogs LOVE it. They think it smells just divine. Bonny just likes to sniff it, but Aquilito likes to fit the whole kitten in his mouth at once. He doesn't bite down, and is just playing, but the poor little cat comes out drenched in dog slobber, and protests vociferously. Benjamin has named it Pelusa, which means 'fluff', like the weird balls of fluffy dusty kind of stuff that accumulate on wooden or tiled floors, in corners and under beds; or the fluffy pollen that flies about in spring. I have been expressly forbidden to hold or touch or pat or be anywhere near the cat, because of the risk of toxoplasmosis (which can cause a miscarriage), but it is so little and cute, and if I don't feed it who will? A friend who is a vet said it is unlikely that such a small kitten would have toxoplasmosis as it is contracted by eating raw meat, like dead rats, mice, pigeons etc, and such a wee kitten is unlikely to have come into contact with contaminated beasties. I hope not, because what's the point of having a kitten you can't play with? I am definitely the only cat person here, so who else is going to show the poor thing some love? But no, I get told off.

I also got told off the other day for going rock climbing and risking my life and the life of my unborn bean. (I know, very unorthodox and not very dignified to call the baby a bean, but lets face it, that's about the size and shape it is right now. I have promised solemnly to give it a more dignified and gender-appropriate name when it is born, but for now it is the bean.) Joel and I went with his good friend Ivan and his girlfriend Paola to a nearby mesa in the desert, the same place we went the summer before last when we were here. The excursion involves a hike through the spiny, prickly, thorny, unfriendly (and did I mention spiky?) scrub that is the vegetation in this part of the world. Luckily there is not enough water or nutrients in the sand for them to grow too close together, and we managed to push through with just a few scratches. Next you come to a narrow pass, which is exactly like something you would see in an old western movie. The walls of the pass are high and rocky, and the path you have to walk takes a few twists and turns, so you can't see the the exits when you are in the middle. There is only one entrance and one exit, and you can just see the indians blocking them, and appearing from behind the scrub up high on the rocky slopes, to rain down arrows on the hapless pilgrims. The walls of this cut are particularly interesting though, because the strata are all turned on their side, and some of the layers are pure fossil. Millions and millions of little dead sea-beasties. Joel says that while it is plain as day that the area was once under water, scientists are finding it hard to say when and how come - it apparently doesn't add up in the Pangea theory that this particular area was under sea. Who knows, all I know is that with the quantity of fossils scattered around in the sand, and cemented in the rock, there is no doubt whatosever that it was once sea-bed.
Once we had come out of the little canyon, hale and hearty and not scalped by indians (Joel looks native, they probably thought we were neighbours) the land starts sloping up towards the vertical walls of the mesa. First the slope is gradual, then rather more extreme, and all the while I am thinking that the reason there is a slope here in the first place is that rocks and sand are falling down off the mesa. And by standing on these fallen rocks we are just encouraging them to do what they have a natural inclination to do... But we got up (and obviously down, or I wouldn't be writing this) without incident, and found ourselves at the narrow and vertical cleft in the rock face that is the only way up to the top. Ivan and Paola had stayed down on the flat after the canyon, collecting fossils, so it was Joel and me and our trusty canine companions. Bonny decided she was tired halfway up the slope and Joel had to keep lifting her up the hard bits - Aquilito climbed up no problem, but later on the way down he froze in terror and I had to carry him. Poor thing, he had his head buried in my shoulder as if saying 'don't look down, don't look down'! We left the dogs tied to a rock on an outcrop below the cleft we were to climb, and to the sound of their whimpers and whines we climbed to the top. The trick is to brace your back on one wall of the cleft and your knees and feet against the other, and using outward pressure to gain traction, shimmy your way up. I made it a bit further than halfway up when, deciding that my life was worth more than my pride, I accepted Joel's hand from above to aid me in the last bit of the climb. It always surprises me how strong he is for such a small person, he had no trouble hoisting me up. The view at the top is worth the effort and the heart-in-mouth, because you can see forever in every direction. The Andes, stretched out along the whole western horizon, the endless desert plains, perforated here and there by the path of a river, and studded with hills and mesas, but mostly flat, flat flat... Buzzards circling up above waiting for us or that little juicy brindled dog to fall and die, and beetles the size of your thumb trundling about their business in the sand (probably also waiting for us to fall and die, what do I know about their eating habits?).

The wind up top was pretty strong though, and the flat top is completely exposed, so as there was a real risk that I could be blown off the hill, we made our way down. Down is so much easier than up, and to the ecstatic yelps of our canine chorus we made our way back to the outcrop and down to the flat again. Aquilito would have jumped for joy, but he had hobbled himself quite effectively with his leash and was trussed like a pig on his side. Possibly he was tying himself firmly to the rock after taking a look over the edge, so as not to fall. Perhaps he is not as dumb as I thought? I otherwise think he was starved for oxygen in the womb, because he is a bit of a doofus. Well, seven puppies does make for a crowded womb, I guess. One of them was bound to miss out on some vital nutrients... On the walk back to the car we saw a couple of drovers on horseback rounding up their cattle and goats for the evening, and the sky was starting to turn pretty colours as we headed home - all in all a really lovely afternoon. Well worth the telling-off I got when we got home and Graciela found out I had exposed the bean to mortal danger. I think the bean would have enjoyed it though, had it been conscious, and will one day be proud to say it climbed big rocks when it was just a bean. It will be a hybrid super-baby anyway, everyone knows about hybrid vigour, right?

I am now embarking on the adventure that is the health care system in Argentina. Here in Zapala the best medical care is found at the hospital (as opposed to private clinics), where it also happens to be free. Everything I need, including medication, is covered by something called Plan Natal - even though I am foreign. For a country with issues, they sure do get a lot right. The problem is that you have to wait a goodly while in queues. Specifically, you have to queue on Thursdays to make an appointment to see a doctor the following week, and it pays to be there early, because otherwise all of the times for the doctor you want to see might be gone. And then you either have to see someone else, or wait another week. To take a blood test I have to be at the hospital at 6.30 on Tuseday morning! I blanched, stated outright that no, this was not going to happen and she grumbled that as long as I was there before 8am they would take the blood. I have an ultrasound on Thursday, to see that everything is progressing normally and how many weeks the bean is at (I'm not too sure, somewhere around six or seven is my guess), and then back to see a gynaecologist on Friday with all of the results for interpretation. I am a little paranoid though, because the doctor gave my belly a bit of a prod at my first check-up, and it hurt a bit. He frowned, got out a little machine that make clicky noises and passed it over my belly and frowned some more. Then he said we'll have to wait for the ultrasound because neither his prodding nor his clicky machine had told him anything. And now I'm all worried that the bean is ectopic or has too many limbs or something worse. But I'm sure the bean is fine, and it is just first time nerves.

Well, that's all for this November instalment. If you count the random five photos that's two in one month! Not a feat I have managed often... Well, til next time, y'all!