accompanied by his wife and several 'arrieros' (mule drivers) had arrived whilst I had been
outgrazingthehorses.Thisimportantgentlemanwasa mulatto ,andhisappearancewasstrik-
ing if not convincing. He wore a blood-red shirt, light yellow boots and leggings of the same
colour; his thin beard had not seen a razor for many days, and his skin was greasy. His wife
had a greenish-yellow complexion and was fat enough to compete with the heaviest the world
has seen. Her shoes were several sizes too small for her, but this would hardly trouble her as
an unfortunate mule had to do the walking for her.
In the evening I was sitting in the only hut where they had offered to cook for me when
the couple squeezed their way in through the small door. The man objected to eating in the
same room with me, and as he was obviously of great importance and unlimited power I was
iors, comparing them according to Darwin's theory. These mule drivers gave me some good
information about the trails ahead, and I found them very genial and pleasant fellows.
I had heard many hair-raising stories about the despoblado of Olmos, stories of bandits,
starvation, dying of thirst, condors swooping down to attack dying travellers. However, these
tales were not new to me, and the only things that disturbed me during the night were numer-
ous rats. One of these even went as far as to nip one of my ears. In the morning I found my
saddlebag with a big hole in it, the pests having gnawed their way through to get at the sugar
and biscuits, in spite of the fact that I always took the precaution of greasing all leather things
with castor oil, which rats and mice dislike, and usually hung them up to prevent hungry dogs
from eating them.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip through the despoblado. Thanks to the almost miracu-
lous rains of the two previous years there was an abundance of high grass, so high in places
that I could not see over the top unless I stood on the horse. The trees were literally covered
with beautiful creepers that formed natural tents, and parrots were flying about in flocks and
wood-pigeons cooed mournfully. Where the country was open and rocky, large green lizards
habit of moving one of the front paws as if beckoning one to approach. Occasionally a snake
would silently glide away, frightened by the heavy steps of the horses.
There are a few solitary huts in this region, but these are only inhabited when grass grows.
huts are big, deep, wood-lined wells, called norias . Long after the grass has dried up, animals
their thirst. The climate being hot, the huts are merely made of sticks stuck into the ground,
to which two others are fixed lengthways. Across these are placed a number of sticks, which
are generally loose.
Late one afternoon, as Iapproached one ofthese huts, a woman came running towards me,
obviously in a great state of excitement. When she had sufficiently recovered her breath to