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Chapter One

THE WHISPERING LAND

The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely passable, and hence unknown; they bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration through future time.

CHARLES DARWIN: The Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle[42]
The Whispering Land

We set off for the south in the pearly grey dawn light of what promised to be a perfect day. The streets were empty and echoing, and the dew-drenched parks and squares had their edges frothed with great piles of fallen blooms from the palo borracho and jacaranda trees, heaps of glittering flowers in blue, yellow and pink.

On the outskirts of the city we rounded a corner and came upon the first sign of life we had seen since we had started, a covey[43] of dustmen indulging in their early morning ballet. This was such an extraordinary sight that we drove slowly behind them for some way in order to watch. The great dustcart rumbled down the centre of the road at a steady five miles an hour, and standing in the back, up to his knees in rubbish, stood the emptier. Four other men loped alongside the cart like wolves, darting off suddenly into dark doorways to reappear with, dustbins full of trash balanced on their shoulders. They would run up alongside the cart and throw the dustbin effortlessly into the air, and the man on the cart would catch it and empty it and throw it back, all in one fluid movement. The timing of this was superb, for as the empty dustbin was hurtling downwards a full one would be sailing up. They would pass in mid-air, and the full bin would be caught and emptied. Sometimes there would be four dustbins in the air at once. The whole action was performed in silence and with incredible speed.

Soon we left the edge of the city, just stirring to wakefulness, and sped out into the open countryside, golden in the rising sun. The early morning air was chilly, and Dicky had dressed for the occasion. He was wearing a long tweed overcoat and white gloves, and his dark, bland eyes and neat, butterfly-shaped moustache peered out from under a ridiculous deer-stalker hat[44] which he wore, he explained to me, in order to "keep the ears heated". Sophie and Marie crouched in strange prenatal postures[45] in the back of the Land-Rover, on top of our mountainous pile of equipment, most of which, they insisted, had been packed in boxes with knife-like edges. Jacquie and I sat next to Dicky in the front seat, a map spread out across our laps, our heads nodding, as we endeavoured to work out our route. Some of the places we had to pass through were delightful: Chascomus, Dolores, Necochea, Tres Arroyos,[46] and similar delicious names that slid enticingly off the tongue. At one point we passed through two villages, within a few miles of each other, one called "The Dead Christian" and the other "The Rich Indian". Marie's explanation of this strange nomenclature was that the Indian was rich because he killed the Christian, and had stolen all his money, but attractive though this story was, I felt it could not be the right one.

For two days we sped through the typical landscape of the Pampa,[47] flat golden grassland in which the cattle grazed knee-deep; occasional clumps of eucalyptus trees,[48] with their bleached and peeling trunks like leprous limbs;[49] small, neat estancias,[50] gleaming white in the shade of huge, carunculated[51] ombu trees, that stood massively and grimly on their enormous squat trunks. In places the neat fences that lined the road were almost obliterated under a thick cloak of convolvulus, rung with electric-blue[52] flowers the size of saucers, and every third or fourth fence-post would have balanced upon it the strange, football-like nest of an oven-bird.[53] It was a lush, prosperous and well-fed-looking landscape that only just escaped being monotonous. Eventually, in the evening of the third day, we lost our way, and so we pulled in to the side of the road and argued over the map. Our destination was a town called Carmen de Patagones, on the north bank of the Rio Negro. I particularly wanted to spend the night here, because it was a town that Darwin had stayed in for some time during the voyage of the Beagle, and I was interested to see how it had changed in the last hundred years. So, in spite of near-mutiny on the part of the rest of the expedition, who wanted to stop at the first suitable place we came to, we drove on. As it turned out it was all we could have done anyway, for we did not pass a single habitation until we saw gleaming ahead of us a tiny cluster of feeble lights. Within ten minutes we were driving cautiously through the cobbled streets of Carmen de Patagones, lit by pale, trembling street lights. It was two o'clock in the morning, and every house was blank-faced[54] and tightly shuttered. Our chances of finding anyone who could direct us to a hostelry were remote, and we certainly needed direction, for each house looked exactly like the ones on each side of it, and there was no indication as to whether it was a hotel or a private habitation. We stopped in the main square of the town and were arguing tiredly and irritably over this problem when suddenly, under one of the street lights, appeared an angel of mercy, in the shape of a tall, slim policeman clad in an immaculate uniform, his belt and boots gleaming. He saluted smartly, bowed to the female members of the party, and with old-world courtesy directed us up some side-roads to where he said we should find an hotel. We came to a great gloomy house, heavily shuttered, with a massive front door that would have done justice to a cathedral. We beat a sharp tattoo[55] on its weather-beaten surface and waited results patiently. Ten minutes later there was still no response from the inhabitants, and so Dicky, in desperation, launched an assault on the door that would, if it had succeeded, have awakened the dead. But as he lashed out at the door it swung mysteriously open under his assault, and displayed a long, dimly-lit passageway, with doors along each side, and a marble staircase leading to the upper floors. Dead tired and extremely hungry we were in no mood to consider other people's property, so we marched into the echoing hall like an invading army. We stood and shouted "!Hola!"[56] until the hotel rang with our shouts, but there was no response.

"I think, Gerry, that sometime they are all deceased," said Dicky gravely.

"Well, if they are I suggest we spread out and find ourselves some beds," I said.

So we climbed the marble staircase and found ourselves three bedrooms, with beds made up, by the simple expedient of opening every door in sight. Eventually, having found a place to sleep, Dicky and I went downstairs to see if the hotel boasted of any sanitary arrangements.[57] The first door we threw open in our search led us into a dim bedroom in which was an enormous double-bed hung with an old-fashioned canopy. Before we could back out of the room a huge figure surged out from under the bedclothes like a surfacing whale, and waddled towards us. It turned out to be a colossal woman, clad in a flowing, flannel nightie, who must have weighed somewhere in the neighbourhood of fifteen stone.[58] She came out, blinking, into the hallway, pulling on a flowing kimono of bright green covered with huge pink roses, so the effect was rather as if one of the more exotic floral displays of the Chelsea[59] Flower Show had suddenly taken on a life of its own. Over her ample bosoms spread two long streamers of grey hair which she flicked deftly over her shoulder as she did up her kimono, smiling at us with sleepy goodwill.

"Buenas noches"[60] she said politely.

"Buenas noches, se~nora" we replied, not to be outdone in good manners at that hour of the morning.

"?Hablo con la patrona?"[61] inquired Dicky.

"?Si, si, se~nor" she said, smiling broadly, "que quieres?"[62]

Dicky apologized for our late arrival, but la patrona waved away our apologies. Was it possible, Dicky asked, for us to have some sandwiches and coffee? Why not? inquired la patrona. Further, said Dicky, we were in urgent need of a lavatory, and could she be so kind as to direct us to it. With great good humour she led us to a small tiled room, showed us how to pull the plug, and stood there chatting amiably while Dicky and I relieved the pangs of nature. Then she puffed and undulated her way down to the kitchen[63] and cut us a huge pile of sandwiches and made a steaming mug of coffee. Having assured herself that there was nothing further she could do for our comfort, she waddled off to bed.

The next morning, having breakfasted, we did a rapid tour of the town. As far as I could see, apart from the introduction of electricity, it had changed very little since Darwin's day, and so we left and sped down a hill and across the wide iron bridge that spanned the rusty red waters of the Rio Negro. We rattled across the bridge from the Province of Buenos Aires to the Province of Chubut, and by that simple action of crossing a river we entered a different world.

Gone were the lush green plains of the Pampa, and in their place was an arid waste stretching away as far as the eye could see on each side of the dusty road, a uniform pelt of grey-green scrub composed of plants about three feet high, each armed with a formidable array of thorns and spikes. Nothing appeared to live in this dry scrub, for when we stopped there was no bird or insect song, only the whispering of the wind through the thorn scrub in this monochromatic Martian landscape,[64] and the only moving thing apart from ourselves was the giant plume of dust we trailed behind the vehicle. This was terribly tiring country[65] to drive in. The road, deeply rutted and pot holed, unrolled straight ahead to the horizon, and after a few hours this monotony of scene numbed one's brain, and one would suddenly drop off to sleep to be awoken by the vicious scrunch of the wheels as the Land-Rover swerved off into the brittle scrub.


The evening before we were due to reach Deseado this happened on a stretch of road, which, unfortunately, had recently been rained upon, so that the surface had turned into something resembling high-grade glue. Dicky, who had been driving for a long time, suddenly nodded off[66] behind the wheel, and before anyone could do anything sensible, both Land-Rover and trailer had skidded violently into the churned-up mud at the side of the road, and settled there snugly, wheels spinning like mad. Reluctantly we got out into the bitter chill of the evening wind, and in the dim sunset light set to work to unhitch the trailer and then push it and the Land-Rover separately out of the mud. Then, our feet and hands frozen, the five of us crouched in the shelter of the Land-Rover and watched the sunset, passing from hand to hand a bottle of Scotch[67] which I had been keeping for just such an emergency.

On every side of us the scrubland stretched away, dark and flat, so that you got the impression of being in the centre of a gigantic plate. The sky had become suffused with green as the sun sank, and then, unexpectedly, turned into a very pale powder-blue. A tattered mass of clouds on the western horizon suddenly turned black, edged delicately with flame-red, and resembled a great armada of Spanish galleons waging a fierce sea-battle across the sky, drifting towards each other, turned into black silhouette by the fierce glare from their cannons. As the sun sank lower and lower the black of the clouds became shot and mottled with grey, and the sky behind them became striped with green, blue and pale red. Suddenly our fleet of galleons disappeared, and in its place was a perfect archipelago of islands strung out across the sky in what appeared to be a placid, sunset-coloured sea. The illusion was perfect: you could pick out the tiny, white-rimmed coves in the rocky, indented shoreline; the occasional long, white beach; the dangerous shoal of rocks formed by a wisp of cloud at the entrance to a safe anchorage; the curiously-shaped mountains inland covered with a tattered pelt of evening-dark forest. We sat there, the whisky warming our bodies, watching enraptured the geography of this archipelago unfold. We each of us chose an island which appealed to us, on which we would like to spend a holiday, and stipulated what the hotel on each of our islands would have to provide in the way of civilized amenities.

"A very, very big bath, and very deep," said Marie.

"No, a nice hot shower and a comfortable chair" said Sophie.

"Just a bed," said Jacquie, "a large feather bed."

"A bar that serves real ice with its drinks," I said dreamily.

Dicky was silent for a moment. Then he glanced down at his feet, thickly encrusted with rapidly drying mud.

"I must have a man to clean my feets," he said firmly.

"Well, I doubt whether we'll get any of that at Deseado," I said gloomily, "but we'd better press on."

When we drove into Deseado at ten o'clock the next morning, it became immediately obvious that we could not expect any such luxuries as feather beds, ice in the drinks, or even a man to clean our feets. It was the most extraordinarily dead-looking town I had ever been in. It resembled the set for a rather bad Hollywood cowboy film, and gave the impression that its inhabitants (two thousand, according to the guide-book) had suddenly packed up and left it alone to face the biting winds and scorching sun. The empty, rutted streets between the blank-faced houses were occasionally stirred by the wind, which produced half-hearted dust-devils,[68] that swirled up for a moment and then collapsed tiredly to the ground. As we drove slowly into what we imagined to be the centre of the town we saw only a dog, trotting briskly about his affairs, and a child crouched in the middle of the road, absorbed in some mysterious game of childhood. Then, swinging the Land-Rover round a corner, we were startled to see a man on horseback, clopping slowly along the road with the subdued aid of one who is the sole survivor of a catastrophe. He pulled up and greeted us politely, but without interest, when we stopped, and directed us to the only two hotels in the place. As these turned out to be opposite each other and both equally unprepossessing from the outside, we chose one by tossing a coin and made our way inside.

In the bar we found the proprietor, who, with the air of one who had just suffered a terrible bereavement, reluctantly admitted that he had accommodation, and led us through dim passages to three small, grubby rooms. Dicky, his deer-stalker on the back of his head, stood in the centre of his room, pulling off his white gloves, surveying the sagging bed and its grey linen with a catlike fastidiousness.

"You know what, Gerry?" he said with conviction. "This is the stinkiest hotel I ever dream."[69]

"I hope you never dream of a stinkier one," I assured him.

Presently we all repaired to the bar to have a drink and await the arrival of one Captain Giri, whom I had an introduction[70] to, a man who knew all about the penguin colonies of Puerto Deseado. We sat round a small table, sipping our drinks and watching the other inhabitants of the bar with interest. For the most part they seemed to consist of very old men, with long, sweeping moustaches, whose brown faces were seamed and stitched by the wind. They sat in small groups, crouched over their tiny tumblers of cognac or wine with a dead air, as though they were hibernating there in this dingy bar, staring hopelessly into the bottoms of their glasses, wondering when the wind would die down, and knowing it would not. Dicky, delicately smoking a cigarette, surveyed the smoke-blackened walls, the rows of dusty bottles, and the floor with its twenty-year-old layer of dirt well trodden into its surface.

"What a bar, eh?" he said to me.

"Not very convivial, is it?"

"It is so old it has an air of old," he said staring about him. "You know, Gerry, I bet it is so old that even the flies have beards."

Then the door opened suddenly, a blast of cold air rushed into the bar, the old men looked up in a flat-eyed, reptilian manner,[71] and through the door strode Captain Giri. He was a tall, well-built man with blond hair, a handsome, rather ascetic face and the most vivid and candid blue eyes I bad ever seen. Having introduced himself he sat down at our table and looked around at us with such friendliness and good humour in his childlike eyes that the dead atmosphere of the bar dropped away, and we suddenly found ourselves becoming alive and enthusiastic. We had a drink, and then Captain Giri produced a large roll of charts and spread them on the table, while we pored over them.

"Penguins," said the Captain meditatively, running his forefinger over the chart. "Now, down here is the best colony by far the best and biggest, but I think that this is too far for you, is it not?"

"Well, it is a bit," I admitted. "We didn't want to go that far south if we could avoid it. It's a question of time, really. I had hoped that there would be a reasonable colony within fairly easy reach of Deseado."

"There is, there is," said the Captain, shuffling the charts like a conjuror and producing another one from the pile. "Now, here, you see, at this spot it's about four hours' drive from Deseado all along this bay here."

"That's wonderful," I said enthusiastically, "just the right distance."

"There is only one thing that worries me," said the Captain, turning troubled blue eyes on to me. "Are there enough birds there for what you want for your photography?"

"Well," I said doubtfully, "I want a fair number. How many are there in this colony?"

"At a rough estimate I should say a million," said Captain Giri. "Will that be enough?"

I gaped at him. The man was not joking. He was seriously concerned that a million penguins might prove to be too meagre a quantity for my purpose.

"I think I can make out with a million penguins,"[72] I said. "I should be able to find one or two photogenic ones among that lot. Tell me, are they all together, or scattered about?"

"Well, there are about half or three-quarters concentrated here" he said, stabbing at the chart. "And the rest are distributed all along the bay here"

"Well, that seems perfect to me. Now what about somewhere to camp?"

"Ah!" said Captain Giri. "That is the difficulty. Now just here is the estancia of a friend of mine, Se~nor Huichi. He is not on the estancia at the moment. But if we went to see him he might let you stay there. It is, you see, about two kilometres from the main colony, so it would be a good place for you to stay."

"That would be wonderful," I said enthusiastically. "When could we see Se~nor Huichi?"

The Captain consulted his watch and made a calculation.

"We can go and see him now, if you would like," he said.

"Right!" I said, finishing my drink. "Let's go."

Huichi's house was on the outskirts of Deseado, and Huichi himself, when Captain Giri introduced us, was a man I took an instant liking to. Short, squat, with a weather-browned face, he had very dark hair, heavy black eyebrows and moustache, and dark brown eyes that were kind and humorous, with crow's feet[73] at the corners. In his movements and his speech he had an air of quiet, unruffled confidence about him that was very reassuring. He stood silently while Giri explained our mission, occasionally glancing at me, as if summing me up.[74] Then he asked a couple of questions, and, finally, to my infinite relief, he held out his hand to me and smiled broadly.

"Se~nor Huichi has agreed that you shall use his estancia" said Giri, "and he is going to accompany you himself, so as to show you the best places for penguins."

"That is very kind of Se~nor Huichi we are most grateful," I said. "Could we leave tomorrow afternoon, after I have seen my friend off on the plane?"

"Si, si, como no?"[75] said Huichi when this had been translated to him. So we arranged to meet him on the morrow, after an early lunch, when we had seen Dicky off on the plane that was to take him to Buenos Aires.

So, that evening we sat in the depressing bar of our hotel, sipping our drinks and contemplating the forlorn[76] fact that the next day Dicky would be leaving us. He had been a charming and amusing companion, who had put up with discomfort without complaint, and had enlivened our flagging spirits throughout the trip with jokes, fantastically phrased remarks, and lilting[77] Argentine songs. We were going to miss him, and he was equally depressed at the thought of leaving us just when the trip was starting to get interesting. In a daring fit of joie de vivre[78] the hotel proprietor had switched on a small radio, strategically placed on a shelf between two bottles of brandy. This now blared out a prolonged and mournful tango of the more cacophonous[79] sort. We listened to it in silence until the last despairing howls had died away.

"What is the translation of that jolly little piece?" I asked Marie.

"It is a man who has discovered that his wife has T. B.,"[80] she explained. "He has lost his job and his children are starving. His wife is dying. He is very sad, and he asks the meaning of life."

The radio launched itself into another wailing air that sounded almost identical with the first. When it had ended I raised my eyebrows inquiringly at Marie.

"That is a man who has just discovered that his wife is unfaithful," she translated moodily. "He has stabbed her. Now he is to be hung, and his children will be without mother or father. He is very sad and he asks the meaning of life."

A third refrain rent the air. I looked at Marie. She listened attentively for a moment, then shrugged.

"The same," she said tersely.

We got up in a body[81] and went to bed.

Early the next morning Marie and I drove Dicky out to the airstrip, while Sophie and Jacquie went round the three shops in Deseado to buy necessary supplies for our trip out to Huichi's estancia. The airstrip consisted of a more or less level strip of ground on the outskirts of the town, dominated by a moth-eaten-looking[82] hangar, whose loose boards flapped and creaked in the wind. The only living things were three ponies, grazing forlornly. Twenty minutes after the plane had been due in there was still no sign of her,[83] and we began to think that Dicky would have to stay with us after all. Then along the dusty road from the town came bustling a small van. It stopped by the hangar, and from inside appeared two very official-looking men in long khaki coats. They examined the wind-sock[84] with a fine air of concentration, stared up into the sky, and consulted each other with frowning faces. Then they looked at their watches and paced up and down.

"They must he mechanics," said Dicky. "They certainly look very official," I admitted.

"Hey! Listen!" said Dicky, as a faint drone made itself heard, "She is arrive."


The plane came into view as a minute speck on the horizon that rapidly grew bigger and bigger. The two men in khaki coats now came into their own.[85] With shrill cries they ran out on to the airstrip and proceeded to drive away the three ponies, who, up till then, had been grazing placidly in the centre of what now turned out to be the runway. There was one exciting moment just as the plane touched down, when we thought that one of the ponies was going to break back, but one of the khaki-clad men launched himself forward and grabbed it by the mane at the last minute. The plane bumped and shuddered to a halt,[86] and the two men left their equine charges[87] and produced, from the depths of the hangar, a flimsy ladder on wheels which they set against the side of the plane. Apparently Dicky was the only passenger to be picked up in Deseado.

Dicky wrung my hand.

"Gerry," he said, "you will do for me one favour, yes?"

"Of course, Dicky," I said, "anything at all."

"See that there is no bloody bastard horses in the way when we go up, eh?" he said earnestly, and then strode off to the plane, the flaps of his deer-stalker flopping to and fro in the wind.

The plane roared off, the ponies shambled back on to the runway, and we turned the blunt snout of the Land-Rover back towards the town.

We picked up Huichi at a little after twelve, and he took over the wheel of the Land-Rover. I was heartily glad of this, for we had only travelled a couple of miles from Deseado when we branched off the road on to something so vague that it could hardly be dignified with the term of track. Occasionally this would disappear altogether, and, if left to myself, I would have been utterly lost, but Huichi would aim the Land-Rover at what appeared to be an impenetrable thicket of thorn bushes, and we would tear through it, the thorns screaming along the sides of the vehicle like so many banshees,[88] and there, on the further side, the faint wisp of track would start again. At other points the track turned into what appeared to be the three-feet-deep bed of an extinct river, exactly the same width as the Land-Rover, so we were driving cautiously along with two wheels on one bank as it were and two wheels on the other. Any slight miscalculation here and the vehicle could have fallen into the trough and become hopelessly stuck.


The Whispering Land

Gradually, as we got nearer and nearer to the sea, the landscape underwent a change. Instead of being flat it became gently undulating, and here and there the wind had rasped away the topsoil and exposed large areas of yellow and rust-red gravel, like sores on the furry pelt of the land. These small desert-like areas seemed to be favoured by that curious animal, the Patagonian hare, for it was always on these brilliant expanses of gravel that we found them, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in small groups of three or four. They were strange creatures, that looked as though they had been put together rather carelessly. They had blunt, rather hare-like faces, small, neat, rabbit-shaped ears, neat forequarters with slender forelegs. But the hindquarters were large and muscular in comparison, with powerful hind-legs. The most attractive part of their anatomy was their eyes, which were large, dark and lustrous, with a thick fringe of eyelashes. They would lie on the gravel, sunning themselves gazing aristocratically down their blunt noses, looking like miniature Trafalgar Square lions.[89] They would let us approach fairly close, and then suddenly their long lashes would droop over their eyes seductively, and with amazing speed they would bounce into a sitting position. They would turn their heads and gaze at us for one brief moment, and then they would launch themselves at the heat-shimmered horizon in a series of gigantic bounding leaps, as if they were on springs, the black and white pattern on their behinds showing up like a retreating target.

Presently, towards evening, the sun sank lower and in its slanting rays the landscape took on new colours. The low growth of thorn scrub became purple, magenta[90] and brown, and the areas of gravel were splashed with scarlet, rust, white and yellow. As we scrunched our way[91] across one such multi-coloured area of gravel we noticed a black blob in the exact centre of the expanse, and driving closer to it we discovered it was a huge tortoise, heaving himself over the hot terrain with the grim determination of a. glacier. We stopped and picked him up, and the reptile, horrified by such an unexpected meeting, urinated copiously. Where he could have found, in that desiccated land, sufficient moisture to produce this lavish defensive display was a mystery. However, we christened him Ethelbert, put him in the back of the Land-Rover and drove on.

Presently, in the setting sun, the landscape heaved itself up into a series of gentle undulations, and we switch-backed[92] over the last of these and out on to what at first looked like the level bed of an ancient lake. It lay encircled by a ring of low hills, and was, in fact, a sort of miniature dust-bowl created by the wind, which had carried the sand from the shore behind the hills and deposited it here in a thick, choking layer that had killed off the vegetation. As we roared across this flat area, spreading a fan of white dust behind us, we saw, in the lee of the further hills, a cluster of green trees, the first we had seen since leaving Deseado. As we drew nearer we could see that this little oasis of trees was surrounded by a neat white fence, and in the centre, sheltered by the trees, stood a neat wooden house, gaily painted in bright blue and white.

Huichi's two peons[93] came to meet us, two wild-looking characters dressed in bombachas[94] and tattered shirts, with long black hair and dark, flashing eyes. They helped us unload our gear and carry it into the house, and then, while we unpacked and washed, they went with Huichi to kill a sheep and prepare an asado[95] in our honour. At the bottom of the slope on which the house was built, Huichi had prepared a special asado ground. An asado needs a fierce fire, and with the biting and continuous wind that blew in Patagonia you had to be careful unless you wanted to see your entire fire suddenly lifted into the air and blown away to set fire to the tinder-dry scrub for miles around. In order to guard against this Huichi had planted, at the bottom of the hill, a great square of cypress trees. These had been allowed to grow up to a height of some twelve feet, and had then had their tops lopped off, with the result that they had grown very bushy. They had been planted so close together in the first place that now their branches entwined, and formed an almost impenetrable hedge. Then Huichi had carved a narrow passage-way into the centre of this box of cypress, and had there chopped out a room, some twenty feet by twelve. This was the asado room, for, protected by the thick walls of cypress, you could light a fire without danger.

By the time we had washed and changed, and the sheep had been killed and stripped, it was dark; we made our way down to the asado room, where one of the peons had already kindled an immense fire. Near it a great stake had been stuck upright in the ground, on this a whole sheep, split open like an oyster, had been spitted. We lay on the ground around the fire and drank red wine while waiting for our meal to cook.

I have been to many asados in the Argentines, but that first one at Huichi's estancia will always remain in my mind as the most perfect. The wonderful smell of burning brushwood, mingling with the smell of roasting meat, the pink and orange tongues of flame lighting up the green cypress walls of the shelter, and the sound of the wind battering ferociously against these walls and then dying to a soft sigh as it became entangled and sapped of its strength in the mesh of branches, and above us the night sky, trembling with stars, lit by a fragile chip of moon. To gulp a mouthful of soft, warm red wine, and then to lean forward and slice a fragrant chip of meat from the brown, bubbling carcase in front of you, dunk it in the fierce sauce of vinegar, garlic and red pepper, and then stuff it, nut-sweet and juicy, into your mouth, seemed one of the most satisfying actions of my life.

Presently, when our attacks on the carcase became more desultory, Huichi took a gulp of wine, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and beamed at me across the red, pulsating embers of the fire, lying like a great sunset on the ground.

"Manana,"[96] he said, smiling, "we go to the pinguinos?"

"Si, si" I responded sleepily, leaning forward in sheer greed to detach another strip of crackling skin from the cooling remains of the sheep, "manana the pinguinos."


THE CUSTOMS [1] OF THE COUNTRY | The Whispering Land | Chapter Two A SEA OF HEADWAITERS [97]



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