Journal from Condor Valley – (2/4/2013) – (4/29/2013)

Leland Torrence Condor Valley

Leland Torrence
Journal from Condor Valley – (2/4/2013) – (4/29/2013)

List of packed luggage

  • 5 pairs of pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • Bathing Suit
  • Rain Coat
  • 2 Sweat shirts
  • Pull over sweater
  • 5 T-shirts
  • 2 Tank tops
  • 4 L/S Shirts
  • Under Wear
  • Lots of Socks!
  • Hat (This is your protection from the sun)!
  • Towel
  • Hiking Boots
  • Work Boots/ Cowboy Boots
  • Sneakers
  • Head Lamp!
  • Sunglasses
  • Head Phones / I-pod
  • Laptop
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Toiletry
  • Books / Journals
  • Goods
  • 3 Bottles of Whisky
  • 2 lbs of Pistachios
  • ½ lbs of Coffee
  • 10 pairs of work gloves (Work gloves are like gold on the farm)
  • $8,500 (Bringing dollars from the owners in the States to Argentina is very helpful!)


Week One

My trip started on February fourth (2013), from New York City. I had a cross over in Atlanta, GA and then in Buenos Aires finishing my flights in Salta.

(2/5/2013) -There are freedoms in Argentina that do not exist in the United States. I learned this when I stepped off the plane in Salta. The rugged terrain is very tough to tame and the people are a reflection of this. The land, people, and government are very wild!
I had no way of contacting Martin when I got off the plane. I had no Pesos or phone. When I walked towards the exit of the airport he was waiting there! I jumped in his truck and he began explaining some of Argentina’s history and politics. He is an excellent guide and storyteller! We drove to a motor bike shop, in Salta, and put a down payment on a new motorcycle. Martin’s sons Bruno and Dario were waiting there. All three of them were extremely kind and hospitable from the beginning. After the bike shop we had a few beers and headed to the Hosteria in Chicoana. There I was given my room, number 7, and given a very warm welcoming first evening. The following morning we would leave for the farm for the week.

(2/7/2013) – I did not get to write my first night at Estancia la Bodega because by the time I went to sleep at midnight I was completely exhausted. The property is a paradise! We drove in through dirt roads, small rundown towns, and into the massive valley that is Estancia la Bodega and El Tipal (Condor Valley). It is like no place I have been before, a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains in the north west of Argentina with people living and working off of the land. With no electricity, wells, or cell phone reception! It is a very different style of life than I am used to and I am loving it!

– Martin and his boys speak perfect English. They are very in tune with nature. Martin is full of interesting philosophies and views of life and nature. I can listen to him tell stories forever. Today we hand seeded a large field and re-routed water ditches to water a field. At lunch we had pork prepared in a big mud brick oven and a mashed vegetable side dish, and then soup, and then a pear based dessert. You eat a lot here! I had never seen so many flies and mosquitoes in my life as I did today. I am really swollen and itchy.

(2/9/2013) – Last night Martin left for town (Chicoana) and Bruno and I stayed on the ranch. Bruno is very intelligent and nice. He told me “I always finish what I start” (and I learned this is very true). He is a very hard worker. Between Martin and his sons Bruno and Dario they are some of the most cultured and interesting people I have ever met, yet they spend most of their weeks completely isolated from the world, out on the ranch.

Notes from week one

‘Although there are so many deadly things on the ranch (animals, reptiles, bugs, plants, weather, etc…) they don’t seem to matter. What I am realizing is in life something is always working with you and against you, and here that is nature.’

I am used to camping but have never been isolated from modern technologies for extended periods of time, especially when working. But I am loving it, it forces you to be more creative.

It is amazing how useful some of the dogs are! They aren’t just pets, they are great workers!

Week Two

(2/10/2013) – Last night (Saturday) we went to two birthday parties that were very nice. One was for a little girls first birthday. There they played gangnam style 5 times! The language barrier and lack of alcohol made it difficult to communicate at the parties but I had a very good experience. Today I went to a sort of farmers market / traditional dancing / and concert in the central plaza across from the Hosteria. I helped Olga and Pilla (good friends of Martin) set up a jewelry stand and we traded some gems. Also I bought a very nice bracelet from them.

(2/11/2013) – Today Bruno picked me up and we went to El Tipal which is 12 kilometers past Estancia la Bodega, on Condor Valley. I drove from la Bodega on an ATV following a tractor and truck, it took about 1.5 hours to get there. As I right this the cook is cooking steak and rice over an open fire.

(2/12/2013) –When we woke up at 7 today Bruno’s truck had a flat tire. We have no jack here, on El Tipal, so we jacked the truck up with a long stick (like a lever). We spent the rest of the day digging a water ditch.
Tonight is very nostalgic. The table, which is made out of a door, is lit up by a mason jar full of diesel with a rope stuck through the lid, the shadows from your headlight cast shapes across the desert landscape, the stars light up the sky brighter than I have ever seen, you can see every constellation, and shooting stars.

(2/15/2013) – So much is going on and it is difficult to write it all down. Wednesday at El Tipal the tractor broke, the breaks on the truck broke, one of the tires on the truck popped, and while driving back to la Bodega to get tools one of the ATV tires popped forcing Bruno to walk a good distance. Everyone kept high spirits throughout and arranged repairs for everything. The following morning at la Bodega Bruno and I woke up at 5:30 am to harvest grapes for wine. We had a cup of Yerba Mate and some bread and then went to the vineyard with headlamps and raincoats. It was completely dark when we started working and thundering and raining. It was great to work harvesting grapes, they are such a tasty treat for a weary worker. Around noon Martin and I took all 750 kilos of grapes to Cafayate, about 150 k from the farm, to Carlos for wine production. It took about 3 hours through amazing landscapes and geological formations. Cafayate is a beautiful little wine town! We unloaded the grapes, had lunch, and headed back to the ranch.

Notes from week two

– Bruno’s Rhodesian ridge back Rujna is one of the best dogs I have ever encountered. She can hunt, heard, and guard very well.

– Carnaval (a traditional sort of parade) was very fun. Everyone sprays each other with silly string and throws water and flower in each other’s hair. There are many dancers, costumes, and festivities, I had a lot of fun. I went with Dario Lopez the nephew of Sylvanna (the wife of Martin). I was very lucky to catch it for it only occurs once a year in Chicoana!

– Chewing coca leaves is very helpful while working.

– Picadillo is chopped and canned horse meat!

– Two other interns, Charlie and Nina, arrived this weekend and are very nice. It is nice to have some Americans around!

Notes from week three

– This week Tati (the head gaucho on the farm) gave us a ride from Chicoana to Condor Valley. It was a very tightly packed car ride!

-Another Intern Hana Fancher arrived this week. She seems very nice and seems to know a good deal about horses. She has much more experience than I with cattle and horses, she grew up on a large ranch in Wyoming.

– Back at El Tipal this week Bruno and I grew very sick. I woke up with a very high fever (my piss felt like lava and my dreams were very scary and twisted) I had a bad stomachache, cramps, diarrhea, joint pains from head to toe, and a splitting head ache. Also Bruno and I had a few good spider bites and were pretty swollen so I decided to stay back from the ditch digging and start cooking lunch. By the time the crew got back for lunch I felt like I might die and Bruno even said he was feeling pretty terrible. So we took the motorcycle back to la Bodega and spent the rest of the week in bed and then the entire weekend in Chicoana in bed. Finally recovering for the following week of work.

Notes from week four

– During our drive into the ranch this week we saw a dead coral snake on the road. We stopped and bagged the little deadly serpent. When we arrived at the farm Bruno taught me how to skin the snake and we laminated the side frames of my sunglasses with coral snake skin!!

– When I arrived I had very long hair. The heat and dirt turned it quickly into an uncontrollable mess so Nina gave me a nice hair cut this week.

– Louis and Pachi (gauchos) slaughtered a cow this week! I had never been involved in any sort of slaughtering before and it was an unbelievable experience. This was the sort of thing I came for. Living off the land and being connected to the origin of my food. We had a delicious dinner that night and it felt great having been involved in the process of turning an animal to food!

– This week on El Tipal while working on a water ditch we discovered an Indian funerary krater. Martin believes it to be over 500 years old! We excavated the site finding hundreds of pieces of other pots, suggesting that it might be an old Indian graveyard and even found some bones!

Notes from week five

-I would call this week the Week of the Shovel! I worked harder this week than any! I spent everyday digging holes for fence posts and water ditches. All day everyday this week, at El Tipal, digging!

– On Friday Hana and Nina brought horses out to El Tipal and Charlie and I got to ride back to Estancia la Bodega! This was my best experience yet, here. I had so much fun!!!

– The shovel, the machete, and the knife are the most important tools here and allow you to do 90 percent of your daily work. You will have these three with you always.

Notes from week six

– This was Charlie and Nina’s last week on the ranch. Charlie came to El Tipal to work for the week. Bruno let us take it easy and didn’t work us much since it was his last week so we spent a lot of time talking and drinking wine.
In between boxes of wine and cigarettes we were digging a massive water ditch all week.
Sunday was Charlie and Nina’s last day. It was Saint Patrick’s Day and Martin had never celebrated it before! So we gave him a very nice first Saint Patrick’s Day enhanced by two liters of whisky, a box of wine, and two liters of beer!

Notes from week 7

(3/18/2013) (Monday) – Today we went to Salta for buying parts and searching for materials to start my hoop house project. Running around Salta is fun but can be very frustrating. Trying to find common things in Salta can turn into an intense scavenger hunt. My day in the city made me realize what sort of temptations you face in urban/ industrialized areas.

(3/19/2013) – Today Hana and I cleared the space where the hoop house should go and burned the chopped brush.

(3/21/2013) – I heard an airplane fly over the farm today. Being way out on El Tipal, feeling like civilization is very far, this reassured me that I was not lost in time. Also today I was walking a water ditch and 4 meters in front of me stood a fox starring right at me. We looked at each other until I moved and he darted into the bush disappearing in seconds.

(3/24/2013) – Today Hana and I went with Tati Gonza and his family to a ‘rodeo festival’. It was actually a lot like other sorts of festivals I have been to, people selling everything you could imagine, food stands, and partying, except the main event was a guy riding a wild bucking horse. Tati was famous at the rodeo, everyone knew him. The announcers were spending half of the time announcing and the other half talking to Tati through the microphones. There was a traditional folk guitarist doing a live score of the entire festival, non-stop, singing and doing a poetic narration of what was happening. During the rodeo there were two close calls but no one was seriously injured. It was weird sitting there and watching so many great horse-man get on untamed bucking horses and hoping well ‘I hope one of these guys takes a good fall or one of these poor horses just jumps into the crowd and runs away’. The event was a great experience! I learned a lot about the gaucho culture here. On the ride home from the rodeo there were 8 people in the cab of the truck and 4 in the back!

– Hana’s new nickname is Chata which translates to flat.

– The area we cleared for the hoop house is tilled and hopefully we can get the materials to build soon.

– The reservoir we have been working on at El Tipal is done and we released the water to start filling it up. Watching the water pool at the bottom of the reservoir that we have been working on for months, was a great feeling, I had goose bumps.

Notes from week eight

This week on the way to the farm Martin and I nearly hit a dog in the middle of the road, in Moldes (the last town before the ranch), only to watch the truck behinds us run right over the dog.

We went to El Tipal and the Reservoir is completely full! Again my hair stood up!

This week we spent a few days closing off fields, fixing fences, and rebuilding a few.

Dario (Martin’s younger son) returned from Austria this week. He is my age and since his return we are having a great time drawing and listening to music together.

Sunday was Easter and we had a great asado (BBQ). There were lots of friends and family of Martin and I really felt at home.

Notes from week nine

This week we went to a trout farm and bought fresh trout for dinner!
Martin, Hana, and I were working on repairing a fence out in the bush when we completely lost our orientation. It was like we walked one way and ended up right where we started, marking every wrong trail with our machetes, leading to even more confusion. It was like the forest was enchanted.

The gauchos have a very odd relationship with animals. For the most part they train dogs and horses with fear rather than trust. It is very rough and tough, the life of a gaucho!

Notes from week ten

Hana, Bruno, Dario, and I went to El Tipal for the week. When I opened the door to Bruno and my room at El Tipal, a snake tail slithered into a hole in the corner of the room, as I peeled back my sheets to check for intruders I noticed a rat nest dug through my sheets and into my mattress with six baby rats inside! I killed these little guys and flipped my mattress over. Since everyone had started calling me Ernesto because they thought I look like a young Ernesto Che Guevara I now became ‘Ernesto de las rattas’ or ‘Ernest from the rats’.

I became friendly this week with Sal Fina (fine salt). A tattered, dirty, old dog with almost no teeth. He is very funny because he tries to be aggressive and hunt wild boars but since he doesn’t have most of his teeth he is constantly getting beaten up.
This week Hana and I rode out of the farm in the bed of Bruno’s truck on Friday night. It was beautiful looking out over the Dique Cabra Coral as the sun set and stars began to reflect off the water’s surface and drinking Salta beer. I have really fallen in love with this place.

Notes from week eleven

– This week Hank and Erik arrived. It was great to finally meet Hank and we had a slow work-week since they were visiting. We got to go on a horse outing for a day and relax. Both Hank and Erik were very nice and we had a wonderful week with them

-Many nights I find myself walking to the colonial house around midnight (from the loft) mysteriously intrigued by the eyes glowing red and white off the side of the trail, from the gleam of my head lamp. Other times I find myself very afraid especially when I think the red eyes looking at me are that of a rabbit and just as you get closer the eyes take flight and you realize it was a bird. This is where common sense and folklore make you a little jumpy on some of the walks at night. Horses have been killed by mountain lions on the farm! I saw jaguar tracks a few weeks ago, which is a good reason to fear the night. Also the locals are very superstitious about spirits and creatures of the night.

– This weekend I went to two large asados (BBQ’s) they were so delicious and there was so much meat that I could not stop eating beef for about 12 hours. Unfortunately I ate so much that I threw up!

My last week

My last week Bruno, Dario, Hana, and I made a road trip to Catamarca to put a down payment on a few thousand nut trees! The journey took three days and twenty-four hours of driving! It was a great experience and I got to see some of the other provinces of Argentina and some great natural land-marks! We returned to the ranch Wednesday for the rest of the week.
On my last day Hana and I rounded up two horses and rode all day. We rode all over the property and it was a great conclusion to my first and hopefully not last stay at Condor Valley. This night was a full moon and all of the creatures came out to bid me a farewell. I saw a viper, an alacran, a tarantula, and a san Jorge! The following morning while leaving and saying my goodbyes I had an experience that I will never forget. One of the workers Nato looked at me and knew I was leaving. He put his head on my shoulder and started crying as if I were his brother going off to war. He then took his hat off and gave it to me and I took mine off and gave it to him. It was one of the most touching and memorable moments of my life. I couldn’t believe a man that didn’t know me very well could care so much about me. It was unexplainable.

I had a wonderful last week and am very sad to go. I feel like Condor valley has become my home and the people on it, my family. I remember feeling heart sick about leaving my girlfriend for three months but now I feel that way about leaving my family here. I cannot wait to come back!

Quotes from Condor Valley

“My Rhodesian Ridge Back had 10 babies, one survived so I named him decimal.”- Martin Pekerek

“The bugs here are painfully bad. It is hard not to itch but at the end of the day I am too tired to anyway” – Leland Torrence

“Blood is hot here” – Bruno Pekerek

“Virtual friends? Its like Bruno does no facebook, no e-mail, no phone calls, cut all of the shit and focus on what is in front of you!” – Martin Pekerek

“The sound of bugs buzzing around my head has started to sound like monks chanting, when I focus.” – Leland Torrence

Condor Valley Notes

Before arriving at Condor Valley I had no idea of what to expect. Pictures and testimonials cannot manage to capture the spirit of the land or the vastness of its beauty. On my second day in Argentina we drove into Estancia La Bodega (the main farm of Condor Valley) and there really are no words to explain the drive in. You snake around one of the biggest water dams in northern Argentina (the Dique Cabra Coral), following a road into a giant canyon with beautiful cliff faces on either side (this is where the property begins). There is an unbelievable amount of wildlife, cows standing in the middle of the road, horses running, massive towering cactuses, and many components that build the beautiful and breathtaking landscape that is Condor Valley.

I came to Condor Valley anticipating that building a simple hoop house for the ranch would be a relatively cheap and simple job. I was wrong.

The land here is beautiful, the culture fascinating, and people very nice, but the government and police corruption is unbelievable. As someone coming from the United States who has never lived in another country the way things work here is just so very different. Getting spare parts or any specialized parts/ materials can prove impossible due to the import regulations in Argentina. I had a very difficult time attempting to execute my planned project (which was to build a hoop house). So just a word of advice to future interns planning a project, don’t assume materials are similar in price or availability, in Argentina to the States.
For me a person, coming from the north-eastern States, many things here were foreign leaving so much to absorb and learn about. The climate is completely different, the language, the culture, the work etc… Just the change from a life surrounded by electronics and my cell phone to being without electricity most of the week is a drastic change but has been a great experience. It has really made me realize how modern technologies have changed the way of life everywhere, over the past century.

One of the things that fascinates me most is the native Americans here. In the United States so much of the native culture has been wiped out but in northern Argentina it is alive and strong. You can recognize natives versus people of foreign heritage. There is a strong cultural link to Pacha Mama (mother earth) and everyone is very respectful, every time you drink a beer with the locals the first sip goes to Pacha Mama and is poured on the ground. Also Condor Valley is just full of Native American artifacts. There are arrow heads to be found, grave sites, pottery, and on one of the farms (under Condor Valley), in Chicoana, there is a sort of buried city!

My overall experience at Condor Valley was ideal. It was the best thing I have ever done and completely changed my life. I am permanently grateful towards Hank, Martin, Bruno, and Dario, along with everyone else that I met in Argentina. Martin really developed into a mentor for me, and his sons my brothers. I learned so much from all of them! This sort of experience might not be for everyone but it couldn’t have been more perfect for me, I plan on and cannot wait to return!

While on Condor Valley:
Buy a Knife
Buy a Belt
Watch a cow slaughter
Go to the waterfall
Climb Mt. Creston (didn’t get to do this, but next time I will!)

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