I belong to a generation that did not lose telephones. The first ones I remember were known as crank phones (you needed to turn a handle to call the telephonist and tell her (I do not remember men doing this job!) the number you wished to talk to or, more recently, the dialling type. The arrival of the cell phone not only gradually made landlines obsolete but also placed phones, together with car and house keys and reading and sunglasses, among the losable items in our daily lives.

I do not like phones of any kind, and I admit not being very careful with cell phones misplacing mine quite often! Most of the time these are often only mild panics that disappear once the phone rings when called by Mabel and we reunite again.

The day before yesterday we went to Salta town in the morning. Mabel had a dentist appointment and I needed to get my hearing checked. After we completed our respective tasks, we met in town so that, together, we got some good (sugar-free) breakfast cereal. After that we drove to the shopping mall to get a few more things, including our laundry. The last stop was in Vaqueros, about 10km from our farm to get some of the great sausages that our butcher produces.

While waiting for Mabel to return with the susages, I noticed that my phone was not at its usual place in the car. As it has a tendency of falling from its place and hide under the seat I decided to search for it there, convinced that I would find it. When Mabel returned, I was undergoing a mild panic as the phone was not where I expected. A thorough inspection of the car and shopping bags produced no results. The same happened when we call my phone several times. Things were turning for the worse. The obvious conclusion was that I had left it in one of the shops we visited earlier or someone had taken it from my pocket while walking in town!

Before I go on with the story I need to clarify some technicalities. We have no cell phone network at the farm (being rather remote and surrounded by hills that interfere with the signal) but we do have a basic internet service that enables us the use of WhatsApp and Skype for phone calls. It is there where my MacBook resides from where I could look for my lost phone through the web.

Before we headed home, we decided to retrace our earlier movements in town and the shopping mall but we did not make any progress so, we drove to the farm to attempt to locate it from my computer. In its computers, tablets and phones, Apple places an app called “Find My” that is used when things like this happen. So, at the end of the afternoon we arrived at the farm and immediately “operation recovery” started!

After initial toothing problems I managed to get the app to work and found my phone. It was stationary at a shop in Salta town. I could see the shop (by using the street level view), but I failed to contact them by Skype to tell them that they had my phone. So, we decided to go back to Salta to visit the shop first thing in the morning.

After about an hour I looked again at the app´s map and, to my surprise, my phone was wandering through town! Spellbound, I saw it moving slowly for a while but then it gained momentum indicating that whoever had my phone walked for a while and then got either in a car or bus! I followed my cell phone journey for about an hour until it eventually stopped after nightfall. My phone had arrived to its new home! The fact that I knew where my phone was, made me somehow optimistic about recovering it.

The map from the “Find My” app showing both the location of my computer at the farm (top right) and that of my cellphone (bottom left) at night.

An enlarged image of the precise location of my cellphone.

The app indicated that my phone was “locked” and it offered me two options, to place a message so that the person could call me back or to apply the more drastic “erase” command. The latter would vaporize all my information from the phone if someone tried to unlock it. I chose the first option and placed a message, aware that we were not reachable at the farm, but hoping to get an SMS in Mabel´s phone when we were in town the next morning.

The news of the loss spread and friends and relatives recommended that I erase the phone and forget it as it would be impossible to recover it as the Police was unlikely to assist much. I took that into account but decided not to place the order to erase until the following day.

The morning brought a welcome heavy downpour as Salta had been going through a severe drought. However, the rain created an unexpected and serious drawback: the stream that we need to cross to leave the farm swelled and we could not cross it! That meant that we would not check for messages from the phone, increasing the risk, of someone breaking it. In view of this, I decided to place the “erase” command and, as recommended by friends, forget the phone and start planning for a replacement.

The swollen stream at our farm.

The day I lost my phone, and after my hearing exam I was recommended to start using a hearing aid on my right ear and this needed further tests to choose the right gadget. I tried to do this that same day but the place was busy so I could only do this three days later. I booked the appointment in the understanding that they would call me if there was a cancellation and they could see me earlier. While waiting for the stream to allow us to cross it, I decided to place a Skype call to them to see if an earlier appointment was possible.

I talked to the same receptionist I had seen who mentioned that she had called my cellphone several times to offer me an earlier appointment and that, eventually, a very concerned lady replied and informed her that she had found the phone on the street but could not contact its owner! Wisely the lady, called Eva, had left her cellphone number that the receptionist gave me.

From then on, it was all very easy! I called Eva and agreed to meet at a place in town where she returned my phone. I was very lucky!

Clearly, the world would be a great place if we would all be like Eva!

Cheeky birds

We try to get our farm house’s surrounds as bushy as possible by planting as many trees, shrubs and plants as they would grow. We have had many failures as last years we had severe frosts that took care of many of the tender trees we planted such as jacarandas, bombax, fig trees, olives and others.

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Luckily the past two years have been benign in terms of temperature and we have witnessed an almost luxurious growth of almost every seedling we have planted. Knowing the place, we are ready for the next bad winter that will even things out again!

In the meantime we are enjoying the Crataegus and Cottoneaster in fruit at the moment that are attracting several species of fruit-eating birds such as the Plush-creasted jays (Cyanocorax chrysops) and the occasional Toucan (Ramphastos toco)! Apart from plants we have placed several artificial nests that have been occupied at various times by different occupants such as House wrens (Troglodytes aedon), Saffron finches (Sicalis flaveola), Sayaca tanagers (Thraupis sayaca), rufous-bellied thrushes (Turdus rufiventris) and others. As bats were seeing perched under our verandah, we also built a couple of houses for them after Googling for modern designs.

We also feed the birds and the Plush-creasted jays are constant visitors to the feeding plates together with the Rufous-collared sparrows  (Zonotrichia capensis). In addition we also have the visit of Gray-necked wood-rails (Aramides cajaneus) that have a running battle with the plush-crested jays for the dominance of the plates.

Despite their rather small size the Rufous-collared sparrows are by far the cleverer though. They are fearless of humans and although the jays let you realize when the birdseed is finished the sparrows come to let you know that they are hungry!

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This year they overstepped the mark and for the first time they dared to come inside the house in search for food. I knew that they were known for doing this at the rural kitchens in Uruguay but it had not happened at our farm yet.

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One evening we heard strange noises near the place we normally seat to read and talk and to our surprise a sparrow was walking about the house, tic, tic, tic their small jumps on our dry cow hides while walking about in search of dead or dying moths, an abundant source of food at our house as they tend to mass in the lights during the night and enter the house all the time.

After chasing and feeding on moths for the first few days, the bird discovered the small container with broken maize seeds that I used to fill the bird feeding plates, the  bottom half of a large soda bottle. It did not take long for it to get inside and pick the best morsels!

After a couple of days of visits, a second bird came and the pair went straight for the kill, getting inside the maize seed container without any delays.

They are now so confident that they either walk in or even fly in and out of the house depending on their desire for food! They have also got used to enter either from the back or front doors or, if they so wish to fly through the house avoiding us at the last millisecond but giving us some frights by brushing themselves against our faces!!

They are now part of the household inhabitants and we hardly noticed them, except when the time comes to clean their tiny droppings from the floor.


Wet blogging!

Probably, through earlier posts I gave you the impression that living at the foot of the Andes is a dream. While this is true to a very large extent, it also has climatic and technological shortcomings that need to be accepted to enjoy it.

The climate is dry and cool in winter with most days being sunny and warm in the middle of the day when it is possible to be outside wearing a short-sleeved shirt. At that time some frost does take place at night, responsible for our failures with our tree and plant growing efforts but otherwise life is great at that time. Unfortunately, we visit Salta in summer and autumn!

The summer is hotter and rather humid. The rain in some areas reaches up to 2,500 mm (2.5 metres!) and cloud forests are the predominant kind of vegetation around us. For a cloud forest to be such the clouds must meet the trees and we are in the middle of this get-together as our farm ranges in altitude roughly from 1,300 to 1,900 metres. As these meetings take place rather often, sunshine is not the most common phenomenon around here now!

As a consequence of this heavy precipitation the area gets waterlogged and the water must drain somehow towards the larger water bodies, in our case the Mojotoro River in the gorge below. As gradients are marked, water runs wild and swells up fast. Sometimes this surprises you as it may rain higher up in the hills and you get the water rush but not the rain.

The entrance to our small-holding crosses a small watercourse that in winter is just a small dry ditch. The fun takes place in summer when, once the rains arrive, it again becomes a stream. This adds a touch of beauty to the farm until we have heavy rains! When this happens, the normally peaceful stream “comes out of the bottle” and transforms itself into a torrent that we can only watch while waiting for it to subside. This normally takes a few hours during which our lack of communication is wide-ranging.

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For a few hours we are either in or out!

This brings me to the technological issues. The high hills surrounding us interfere with the telephone and Internet signals at the best of times. Well, there is a cell phone signal 3 km away on the access road and, of late, a basic Internet signal across the road, at the door of the public primary school. While the lack of communications makes the place a true nirvana to read and write, it has a negative impact on blogging and “Instagramming” productivity that, at this time, tends to be rather infrequent as you have probably noted by now…

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The bushsnob taking advantage of the public internet to reach the world.

On the bright side, a recent study in the farm next door[1] detected the existence of 152 species of butterflies (Hesperioidea y Papilionoidea), 14 spp. of amphibians, 23 spp. of reptiles, 216 spp. of birds and 28 spp. of native mammals.

Believe me, it is worth getting your feet wet to be able to reach our communication “hot spots” when you can watch new creatures daily while reaching them!

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One of the frequent photographic interruptions getting to the cell phone signal.


[1] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014, julio de 2014. Proyecto de Conservación de Bosque Nativo. 55p.