A morning with the gauchos in northeast Argentina

This early morning photo was taken about an hour after we arrived at the farm.


Jose and Marco picked me up in their pick-up at 4:05 a.m. Jose greeted me with Hola! and Marco said ‘Hi John.’ Marco is 11 years old and he is my student. Jose is his father. After the brief greetings, they continued talking in Spanish. Jose is from partial Guarani stock, and grew up on an estancia, or Argentine ranch. His formal education ended at about 8th grade. He is congenial, with a ready smile, and often a hug. He understands a lot of English but rarely speaks it. At 43 years of age he is still a fit and handsome gaucho.

This is Jose, Marco’s father and mentor. Jose got his education in a one-room schoolhouse. Book learning was a luxury and took a distant second place to practical matters of survival.


As a student, Marco spent most of his class time with his head on the desk, acting as if he was asleep, and he would intentionally scribble his answers illegibly to an exercise, making it impossible to determine what his answer was, or whether it was correct. If I marked one of his answers wrong, he would invariably claim I had merely misread his writing. He was an exhibitionist, and loved to jump out of his seat to act out his responses to any questions. Fun loving, perhaps, but still a kid.  Today I saw a side of him I had not experienced before.

We stopped to pick up another gaucho, whose face I couldn’t make out in the darkness of the back seat.  Just outside the village, the car stopped, and Jose and Marco switched places. Marco, my boyish, mischievous, and bored student, carefully adjusted the rear view mirrors and we headed down the rutted country road with his head barely visible above the back of his seat. I idly wondered how long it would take the authorities to identify my mangled body and contact my next of kin. So this was how it all was going to end.

We stopped a few more times to pick up some more ranch hands, who sat in the back of the pick-up, bouncing around and hanging on to whatever was available as we recklessly zipped along at 35 miles per hour. It occurred to me that Marco and his dad had switched places outside the village to avoid problems with the village police. Even then I think their risk was small, since the village seemed to have no crime, and no one had any idea how the two local cops amused themselves while on the clock. The streets are dirt, and there are no traffic signals or signs. Not even any street signs.

We got to the farm at about 4:50 a.m.  Besides Jose and Marco, there were five other gauchos with their boots, chaps, and debonair hats. They had more stuff hanging from their belts than a telephone line staffer. One on horseback rounded up half a dozen horses and backed them into a corner of the corral, where one by one, the gauchos outfitted their mounts.

One of the gauchos selects his horse for the day.


Before dawn’s first light they rode off in all directions to find the cattle. Marco rode beside his father.

Marco, all dressed up for action. Marco’s father was, and still is a gaucho, and Marco often shadows his father like any good apprentice.



The insane traffic situation and other things you should know before visiting the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini on the edge of the Ibera Marshes, the 2nd largest pristine wetland in the world.

The Insane Traffic Situation

In the remote village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini and the roads leading into it, there are few rules that I am aware of. Humans and animals share the same spaces and seem to accommodate each other’s idiosyncrasies. No one knows whether the normal traffic pattern should be driving on the left or the right side of the road. It all depends on the depth of the mud and the ruts. There is a really big farm tractor with a winch that routinely extracts cars that get in over their head, so to speak. On the 120 kilometer dirt and sand washboard road leading into the village from the town of Mercedes, the drivers of cars, vans, buses, and trucks all drive wherever they think they will find the smoothest section of road. I haven’t quite figured this out, because going south we drive on the left side of the road and going north we drive on the left side of the road, which means we prefer the “wrong” side of the road no matter which way we are going. It also means that going in either direction the drivers prefer the side of the road they were avoiding at all costs when they were headed the other way, if you get what I am trying to say here. If I spoke better Spanish I would ask them about this. When a vehicle approaches from the other direction everyone seems to play a very polite game of “chicken” with warm smiles and hand waving all around.

RUSH HOUR. If you’re checking your rear view mirror, these two are pulling up on you fast. They are known for hogging intersections and road rage. I saw one of them kick a dog, except the dog was faster and got out of the way. As you can see, the filly is tailgating at high speed.


CAUTION: DUCK CROSSING. Not maintaining minimum speed and approaching traffic.


RAPID TRANSIT. Juvenile, joyriding, probably without a license.


PASSING IN A NO PASSING ZONE. Reckless driving. The horse’s back legs can do some serious damage to that bike. Never mind the driver. (Avoid night driving if you have cataracts.)


SLOW DRIVING IN THE PASSING LANE. Blocking oncoming traffic.


ROAD RAGE. No idea what’s going on here. Avoid eye contact and keep moving. It might get ugly.



Teaching merchandising and entrepreneurship to kids under 12 in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, Corrientes province, Argentina

Kids learning self-confidence and self-esteem, the most valuable languages in the world.


The school in our little village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini has no textbooks, no workbooks, no internet, and a painted sheet of composition board that is resistant to chalk. There are three instruction books, one for each of three grades, but there are no copies of the pages because the printer cartridges for the printer cost too much to use for anything but essential business. So every activity and exercise used in teaching has to be written out on the “blackboard” and then copied by each of the students in their notebooks, much as medieval copyists did before Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. So at least half of all teaching time is spent copying. You could call this a dreadful waste, except the kids are always learning, even when you were sure they weren’t.

There’s about 15 kids who are learning English as a second language. Some of them are not yet old enough to learn how to write in their mother tongue of Spanish. They all speak English at different levels of proficiency. Their worst English is better than my Spanish. Their brains are like hungry sponges and they learn without trying, as long as it looks and feels like fun.

Learning the basics of entrepreneurship from a vegetable stand

Last week we studied some basics of business and entrepreneurship. The parents of most of these kids are entrepreneurs, although I don’t think anyone ever told them that. They just do what they do. It’s called survival. This is a village of about 1,000 people confined in an area about ten blocks by nine block square at the end of the world. The village is completely isolated, with only two terrible dirt roads leading in or out of the village. It’s hours to the next place. Virtually everything is trucked in from outside the village. Everyone in the village in one way or another is part of the support system for tourism, and the big attraction; indeed the only attraction, are the birds. Everyone comes to see the incredible birds.  And a few other things like caimans and rheas and of course the capybaras, big, fat, overgrown rodents that sort of look like giant groundhogs.

So about one out of every five houses is a tiny country store selling a few vegetables or meats or pasta or bread or cerveza (Argentine beer). When there are no tourists they seem to sell to each other in the village. There are no banks and no ATM machines. To the best of my knowledge there is only one bar in the village, but it must open after I go to bed, because I rarely see it open. The electric, which is brought into the village from over 120 kilometers of soggy wetlands is erratic and goes out about every other day, for a few minutes or a few hours. It was on one of these dreary, rainy days, when we were sitting in the semi-dark one-room school with no lights and a chalkboard that was not cooperating, and I was wondering what to do with these kids who had way too much energy for the situation.


It’s about time.

Estefania Gulina, first time Executive Producer, from Cordoba, Argentina

Some live lives of unfulfilled promise; lives that could have been, but that didn’t happen. Sometimes because the individuals are too dull-witted to even conceive of their own possibilities, overwhelmed and  paralyzed by too many possibilities, too risk averse to take a chance, or lacking the industry and persistence to pursue their dreams with focus and stamina. None of this describes Estefania Gulina, a 32-year-old first-time Executive Producer of a movie to be filmed in Cordoba, Argentina, and a recent guest at Puerto Limon Hostel here in Buenos Aires. Her motto is “The way traveled was not wasted time if it has really been lived.”

Estefania is passionate about everything she does; she has little tolerance for a monochromatic existence, and if she is going to do something, she will hold back nothing as if subconsciously preparing for failure. She says her broad interests and passion for making things happen are the reason she has gotten involved and stayed with projects for years. But she is no fool either.