It was about a 45 minute drive from Buenos Aries to the ranch, the main high ay was fine and the white house and bare trees blended away behind me until after about 20 miles I turned right away from the civilised road and onto a gravel track. The car windows were down and highway’s relatively smooth road-hum was replaced by the gravel’s crackle and cackle and the speedometer fell to 20 or less as a series of potholes, missed by the gravel began to emerge. Behind me a satisfying cloud of dust was roaring nicely emphasising the feeling of progress that I was enjoying and like some self induced cavalry smokescreen heralding my eventual arrival at the ranch house itself.
On either side there had been thorny hedges, these thinned and dwindled until there were only the dry grassy fields, occasional spindly trees and no livestock or obvious agricultural industry to see. Then a sign pointing left signalled my arrival “Estancia Santa Rita” pointed towards a low and wide, creamy bungalow encircled by more gravel driveway and glaring green from behind the house and large and luxurious looking lawn. I drove up to the dark wood front door and parked alongside a red pickup. Around me and the car the dust began to settle as I took a few moments to regard the house, garden grounds and the odd artefacts and tools scattered around the front yard. There was a sense of faded grandeur and enterprise, a permanent veil of rust and a coating of forgotten sweat and rain stains splattered across everything. I felt at home.
I got out of the car and patted my jeans and chest to remove some of the travelling dust, then walked to the doorway and pulled on the bell. A fain ding ding echoed back from somewhere inside the house. I could feel the cool interior drawing me in even before Ernesto opened the door.
A small grey lizard scuttled across my brown boots, over the concrete step and into a bush. I didn’t get his name.
“Ernesto” I shouted as he opened the door. We greeted each other in the mother tongue that is Portuguese. The language of sailors, explorers and adventurers, the brave, greedy and often foolish men who opened up this vast continent and if truth be told ruined huge parts of it. Before I had my bearings in the house Ernesto thrust a three finger glass of whisky into my hand “Explorers and thieves!” he cried, as some impromptu toast and so we drank to their disconnected, collective memory.
“The car looks fine to me” he said peering at it through the window, “ we shall start out in a few days, you need a break and tonight the family shall return and we’ll all eat together and plot a little more”. I smiled and nodded. The few days rest, here in this green oasis sounded ideal and the sharp, rasp of neat whisky had already decelerated my thinking processes and begun to relax my limbs. In a few days I would be ready for the road.