Uruguay

Spot the beast 42

I am still thinking that Spot the beast 41 was too difficult! To make up for this, I am presenting you with this (more dangerous) creature we found while walking in Carmelo, Uruguay.

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It is a venomous snake known locally as “yara”, “yarará” o crucera (crossed pit viper)(Bothrops alternatus). It is found in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina and, although not naturally aggressive, it is an important cause of snakebite. The reason for this is its reliance on its comouflage for protection. It is then easy to either step on it or nearby causing a defensive reaction that can end in a bite.

The venom is haemolytic and can cause serious tissue damage although is not as deadly as it is generally believed.

 

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Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday started a beautiful day so our plans to show our friends Pepe1, Rosa and Alex -newish in town- some of the lesser known areas around Carmelo was possible. The idea was to visit Conchillas, a small town about 40 km to the south-east that happened to be the birthplace of my wife! After that visit we would wander around looking for a nice place to have a picnic. I had such a spot in mind but I was not sure that it would be feasible as I had last been there about 10 years before.

Conchillas is a special small town of about 500 inhabitants. It is special because it was, unusually for Uruguay, started by the British in the 1880s as a supplier of sand and stone for the building of the new port in Buenos Aires. The latter is located at about 40 km across the River Plate. After studies by the English company C.H. Walker and Co. Ltd. that discovered the Conchillas’ sand and stone deposits, the company started to develop the area bringing their own employees. Long stone houses were built and the Evans family -owner of the shops- even minted a special currency for the Walker Company to pay its workers. This unique currency would be used by them to buy goods from the company’s stores but it was also accepted in the rest of Uruguay!

After WWII -in 1951- the company sold the entire town, including its dwellers!, to two Uruguayan businessmen that, eventually sold the houses to their occupants and the public areas to the municipality.

We had a chance to visit the town and its cemetery where we could see the various tombs of the earlier British dwellers, including that of Mr. Evans himself!

After this cultural exercise it was time for driving in the countryside to find a picnic spot. I had an idea that I needed to test so I aimed for the place by driving through a road that follows the oriental margin of the River Plate in a north-westerly direction. I was aiming for a small stream where I guessed would be a suitable area to spend the afternoon.

I knew the Las Limetas2 stream from the 60s when we visited it for the first time while in High School. We had come back in later years while on holiday in Uruguay but I had not been there for at least 10 years and I had not really gone beyond looking at the stream from the small low bridge.

A surprise awaited. A new high bridge had been built as the old had been destroyed by a flood. The land around the new bridge had been cleared leaving a flat space where a picnic could take place. While the chairs and table were organized, I decided to explore the stream.

I knew a small secret: the place is well known by yielding fossils and to find some was my objective. Although I had no difficulty in finding petrified sea shells, I intended to surprise our friends with some special surprise: Glyptodon remains.

Glyptodons were large armadillo-like mammals that lived in this area during the Pleistocene epoch3. They were large mammals with a round shell that could reach the size of a small car. Glyptodons were buried in the area and sometimes they became visible in the sediment that formed the river banks. Pieces from the skeletons would detach and they would be found in the stream bed and surrounding area.

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A complete Glyptodon. Credit: Lankester, E. Ray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Different fossilized remains can be found but only the carapace plaques known as osteoderms are unequivocally from Glyptodons to the uninitiated. So I rolled up my trousers and waded up and down the river while my friends thought I had gone crazy! After a while I realized that there were no osteoderms to be found. However I was encouraged to see fresh tracks of capybara and coypu at the sandy shores.

I was about to abandon my wet search when I spotted an odd looking stone that I picked up. It was a petrified bone that, although I do not know for sure, I believe to have come from a Glyptodon limb. Although it was not an osteoderm, I was relieved that I could impress my friends with the find as I could always make a good story.

Satisfied after my fossil-hunting as I had something to show for it, I re-joined our friends and proceeded to explain my “madness” to them and to show them my priceless discovery. Although I really made an effort to impress, my glory was short lived as everybody was enjoying the lovely sunshine and about to have lunch and hardly listened to my story. After a while I decided to stop pretending to be a fossil hunter and tossed the bone aside to join them in their conversation and food. We had a great (and fossil-less) day together.

 

2  The only meaning of “Limetas” I found was “a fat and short bottle with a long neck”.
3  It lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.

Growing up

In November 2014 I shared with you the finding of a “River Plate zebra” youngster.[1]

Although I walked almost daily -when in Carmelo, Uruguay- through that area, I did not see it again so I had almost forgotten it. That is why I was pleasantly surprised when this week, almost two years later, I saw a similar animal, now almost an adult and still “approachable”.

At first sight I was convinced that it was the same horse. However, comparing today’s pictures with those above (from 2014) I had some doubts as the coloration had somehow changed. Although I would be surprised that another animal such as this could exist in my town, I consulted some “experts” with who I share beach afternoons and I was assured that changes in colour do take place when the animal grows.

I did not dare to get close and ask her if she was the same I saw in 2014. I was fearing “horse bite” and -much more importantly- possible rude comments from some readers, particularly those from “down under”. So, I only managed to take new pictures of her from a prudent distance and speculate on its real identity.

Growing up has somehow changed her but it is still an eye-catching animal!

 

[1] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/almost-a-zebra/

Animals on the runway

On 16 August 2016, the El Sauce International airport in the top beach resort of Punta del Este, Uruguay stopped functioning for a few hours. The stoppage was not caused by a strike of air controllers, airline crews or baggage handlers. Although cold for going to the beach, the weather was clear and the visibility was excellent.

Taking advantage of the nice day a dairy cow had squeezed through a breach in the airport’s perimeter fence and decided to have a different grass variety for lunch. Her feeding activity near the 01-26 runway was immediately detected by the control tower that initiated the relevant emergency protocol.

This resulted in the closure of the airport. Messages for flight cancellations/delays were sent to all airports from where flights to El Sauce airport would depart. Aerolíneas Argentinas flight AR 2346 departing for Buenos Aires was also cancelled and the passengers travelled by taxi and airline bus to Montevideo for a rescheduled flight. Meanwhile, oblivious to the chaos it created, the cow continued grazing happily!

Part of the emergency protocol included the capture of the intruder and, although Army personnel were quickly mobilized, they were not immediately successful and at some stage the tension escalated when the cow disappeared from sight! Eventually the cow, belonging to the Army’s herd located at the nearby military base, was captured and returned to its lair. The all clear was given and the airport was reopened[1].

Luckily this did not take place at a busy airport and the disturbance did not cost as much as when a family of monitor lizards, jackals and raptors entered the New Delhi international airport’s secondary runway and remained there for one hour before being evicted by an animal rescue team. The incident forced the closure of the airport and approximately 100 flights were delayed at a cost of several USD million[2].

I can just imagine passenger losing connections in other airports and trying to get compensation mentioning that monitor lizards delayed their flights!

Obviously, when flying to tourist destinations in Africa, wild animals on the runway are an expected occurrence. The pilots, almost invariably, do a first low fly over to scare intruders and only land the aircraft when they see that the landing strip is clear, at least for the time. It is common to see the animals coming back to graze on the runway a few minutes after the disturbance is over!

Bush “airports” do not close due to stray animals on the runway, the latter are part of its “personnel”!

 

[1] http://www.elpais.com.uy/informacion/vaca-le-complico-dia-aeropuerto-laguna-sauce.html and http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1928651-una-vaca-paralizo-las-actividades-del-aeropuerto-de-punta-del-este

[2] http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/JF21Df03.html

Horse Power

That there are horses in South America should not be a surprise to anyone. These beasts were introduced by the Spaniards in the 1600’s and they have been adjusting to their new environment and multiplying ever since while becoming invaluable in many agriculture-related tasks.

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The bushsnob pointing towards Carmelo at the origin of the River Plate in Punta Gorda.

Carmelo is located in the South-West of Uruguay, just downriver from the joining of the rivers Paraná and Uruguay, the start of the river Plate, “discovered” in the 1500’s. This is the place I was born and I am a proud member of this small town, full of character and characters. Carmelo is the only city in Uruguay founded by our national hero: José Artigas, a man far too advanced for his time.

It is here that a well-known barber, after having won the small local lottery, closed the shop and went home to rest. Before leaving, he placed a sign on the door that read: “CLOSED DUE TO EXCESS OF CASH”.

Carmelo was two hundred years old on 12 February 2016 and I happened to be there to enjoy the celebrations. I was an adolescent fifty years ago when its one hundred and fifty years were commemorated and I still keep some memories from that time.

I recall that we had an excellent home delivery system for many services, mainly food items but other services as well. The fishermen (no fisherwomen then) would carry their catch hanging from stick tripods and shout “Pescadooooor!”[1] while walking through the many streets of the town, selling their catch to the housewives that would wait for the calls to come out of their houses and argue the price for, usually, half a fish. There were also knife sharpeners, pot welders and kerosene-stove fixers doing their rounds either on foot or on bicycles.

There were also lots of horse carts. They came in various models: open or closed, with rubber or wooden wheels each delivering their goods: fruits and vegetables, meat, bread, firewood and milk. In particular I recall the time my mother got extremely upset when she found a small fish in the milk that was rather enthusiastically watered down from a small stream by the milkman! There were also carts to collect your refuse and those unwanted objects from your home.

Fifty years have passed and the horse carts are still here, together with the odd knife sharpener still playing its tuneful whistle up and down the musical scale to announce its arrival! They all contribute to build Uruguay’s reputation as the greenest country in South America[2].

In light of the above, I was not surprised when I read an article[3] found by my wife describing the vegetable sellers of Baltimore in the USA. Although they look more “upmarket” ours also have a few notable features worth mentioning!

Today, horse carts (from one to three horse power!) ride through the streets of Carmelo offering a variety of home-delivery services. Over the years they have incorporated notable improvements: better brakes and more asphalt-friendly rubber wheels, the accompanying dogs are better trained: they now trot under the carts rather than after them! Other notable advance is the displaying on the carts of cellular phone and even e-mail addresses where they can be called!

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A 1-HP model used for bread delivery.

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A more rugged 2-HP version.

Apart from those selling fruits and vegetables and the bakers, there are also others that can bring you firewood or building materials as well as removing unwanted items from your home such as rubble and rubbish. There is even a category that I would call “Man With a Cart”, able to perform tailor-made tasks for the customer.

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The tool of the “Man With a Cart” Note the cellphone No. on the horse’s harness!

One, belonging to someone that went to primary school with me, is usually parked a few paces away from home waiting for customers. I spent some time watching it. The first thing I noted was that the horse was in good nick and “parked” unrestrained! It carried orange traffic cones to demarcate its working space as well as a spade and a luggage-carrier on one side and gardening tools on the other. In addition it had its own feed bucket for the horse and canvas and tying ropes to secure its potential cargo.

It seems that, although the Baltimore horse and buggy fruit sellers seem to be gradually going out of business, those in Carmelo are only adapting to the changing times and they will probably still be here in fifty years time.

While I can easily see drones taking over the fruit delivery in Baltimore (and the rest of the USA!) I predict that Amazon will sub-contract their goods delivery to our greener -if slower- horse powered Man with a Cart if it wishes to keep its act “green” in Uruguay.

 

[1] “Fishermaaaan!”

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/03/uruguay-makes-dramatic-shift-to-nearly-95-clean-energy

[3] http://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/the-last-generation-of-baltimore-s-street-sellers

Stoned hummingbird

I was a young boy when this event took place. My father’s work as a Government’s Agronomist constantly demanded his presence in the rural areas. His responsibilities, among others, included pest control, crop storage monitoring and the development of farmers associations and cooperatives.

He used to tell us stories of his jeep Willys getting stuck while driving over swarms of locusts and I used to accompany him while inspecting wheat plantations for True armyworm (Pseudaletia adultera), locally known as “lagarta”.

It was autumn and the harvest of winter crops had been completed and the depots were full to the brim with wheat. His main job was to monitor the humidity of the grain to prevent post-harvest losses due to the normally high humidity levels prevalent in southwest Uruguay.

That day he needed to visit the large depot of a Farmers’ Cooperative in Tarariras, a small agricultural town in the Department of Colonia. Being a young boy, I usually played around while my father did his duty. I was a rather active youngster so the workers tried to keep me entertained while my father was busy. Not an easy task…

On that day, one of the workers who knew me gave me a bottle of a known local methylated spirit made of dark green glass with a stopper made of a maize cob, and announced that it contained a surprise. I did not see anything and was consequently unimpressed, as an empty bottle did not mean much to me. Before I could ask, the Manager of the cooperative who, together with my father were watching said, “Have a good look as there is something inside that I am sure you will like”. I strained my eyes and made out a tiny object rolling inside.

I removed the cob and gently shook the bottle until I managed to get the object out and on my hand. It was a wet and shiny green feather ball that on closer inspection became a dead hummingbird that still felt warm to the touch. It was a sad sight and I was not too impressed with the “present”. Before I could react though, the bird moved slightly and I realized that it was breathing and apparently asleep!

A Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird pictured at an artificial feeder in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, Corrientes, Argentina.

A Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird pictured at an artificial feeder in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, Corrientes, Argentina.

It was the common Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird (Chlorostilbon lucidus). Its slumber was explained by the alcohol vapours still present inside the bottle. So, suddenly, I was the new “owner” of a drunken miniature bird and became responsible for its welfare.

Close-up of the Glittering-Bellied Hummingbird.

Close-up of the Glittering-Bellied Hummingbird.

A second one lands on the feeder.

A second one lands on the feeder.

Another view of the bird with an unidentified one with its back to the camera..

Another view of the bird with an unidentified one with its back to the camera..

I held the bird on the palm of my hand where it rolled backwards and forwards until I was able to accommodate it better with a piece of cloth to stop its rolling. Once settled I spent the rest of the day holding it on my open palm being careful not to drop it as it was a very small bird.[1]

When my father’s work was done, it was time to get back home and I was still holding the bird. So I travelled the hour that it took to get home holding the bird and watching it as its efforts to regain normality became more and more frequent. By the time we arrived it was already over its alcoholic haze and it was ready to go.

So, as soon as I left it alone outside and it got familiar with its surroundings it hopped to a small branch to preen itself (and recover from the hangover?) and soon flew away.

[1] An adult bird of this species weighs between 3.5 and 4.5 g while a normal Bic biro weighs 9.0 g !!!

Picture credits: Mariana Cardoso.

An Amphibious Land Rover

I mentioned earlier that I worked as a veterinary practitioner in Uruguay for four years after my graduation in 1975. It was after a couple of years of this work that the events narrated here took place.

It was a luminous autumn day that, as usual, started very early with a mate breakfast[1] before going to work at the clinic. The latter, as most clinics in Uruguay, was a mix of agro-business (belonging to a third party) with our clinic attached to it. At the time we were three partners, myself being the newest.

The shop was a popular meeting place, close to the main bank and it was normally busy. Apart from customers seeking to purchase agriculture-related products as well as getting advice on veterinary issues from us, there were friends and hangers-on all the time. That morning was not an exception and, when I got there, Gerardo, one of my partners was talking animatedly with one of the visitors, Pozzo, a well known farmer from a neighbouring farming area.

The topic of conversation was the then-current situation of the River Plate which was undergoing an extreme low tide that, according to a veteran like Pozzo, had not been seen since he had “use of a memory” as he put it. Pozzo was known as a colorful character reputed to eat eighteen fried eggs for breakfast among other colourful stories attached to his name!

Clearly the situation was interesting and I suggested that, once the business of the day was dealt with, we should go and investigate. Pozzo said he would join us, as he wanted to see what the Carmelo coastline looked like at low tide. So, before lunch the three of us climbed in my car and left for the beach, located a few kilometres away. At the time I had bought a 1959 Series II SWB Land Rover, after trading in my first car, a beautiful red and black voiturette Chrysler 1931 that was too expensive to run on paraffin leave alone petrol!

On arrival at the beach it was clear that the situation was extreme and I had never seen a sight like that before. There was no water for at least a couple of kilometres into the river where only wet sand could be seen except for the navigation channel where the river was still “wet”! Spectacular situations require equally remarkable responses… and I rose to the challenge! For some reason I hatched the idea of going down to the beach and then to drive all they way to Conchillas to surprise my wife -then my girlfriend- with a glorious and an unexpected virgin voyage after 30 kilometres of beach drive!

With the agreement of my eager companions we set off driving over wet sand for a few kilometres without stopping, looking for possible Spanish galleons carrying gold that sunk during the conquest… Of course we found no trace of them but found a large and shallow lagoon where several rather large fish had become temporarily trapped. They were bogas (Leporinus obtusidens) a good fish both to catch and to eat. We watched their futile swims towards the normally deeper areas that ended in them almost coming out of the water! It was a unique sight as these were large fish, apparently doomed. After watching their comings and goings for a while we left to continue our journey.

The way ahead looked clear, apparently all the way and we felt encouraged to go on. So we climbed back to the car and I engaged first gear. The car did not move forward but rather down, or at least its rear end did. I revved the engine but -of course- made matters worse by sinking further into the wet sand. We got out to inspect the situation and realized that we were in a tight spot, particularly bearing in mind that the front wheel transmission in my ancient Land Rover had become somehow disconnected some time back and I had not repaired it!

So, it was a matter of digging and pushing, which we did for a while. After each attempt the car would move a bit and then sink again. We were in trouble! As if being stuck was not enough of a problem, we heard Pozzo say: “I think the tide is coming in”. As I revealed before, he had a reputation for being witty so we did not pay attention to his words and kept on digging frantically.

After a few minutes I could see that not only was he correct, but also that the water was coming in remarkably fast! After a few more attempts the water reached the wheels and the sand became liquid rendering all our efforts totally futile. As the loss of the car became a certain probability I reacted and decided to look for help ashore. “I will go and find a tractor to pull us out” I said not before agreeing with my companions that they would take out all movables from the car, preparing for the worst. I ran to the shore and, very luckily, found someone driving a tractor cutting bulrushes, taking advantage of the lack of water. My hopes increased when I realized that I knew him. A mixture of the absurdity of the situation and my heavy breathing due to the running did not help my explanation. Eventually he understood and agreed to have a look.

My heart sank when he announced that it was too risky to enter the water to pull the car because he could also get stuck in the river as the bottom would be very soft. I insisted but he steadfastly refused so I gave up. I believe that my dismay helped in his decision to take me in the tractor to seek further help. We drove up the steep bank to see if the owner of another tractor would dare to go in as they had a larger tractor.

Luckily the owner was there. This time I did not need to explain much as, before our eyes and into the river we could see my Land Rover being progressively denuded of its movable parts by my trip companions. “There is no way we can pull it with a tractor” he said and added, “If we get stuck, we lose everything!” Somehow my mind moved to what story I was going to tell the insurance company about how I lost the car and then the idea of bringing a wreath every year to the spot also came to mind but it was quickly discarded as superfluous!

“I will try to pull it with horses” the voice of the farmer brought me back from my total loss-related thoughts. “What?” I just managed. “Yes” he said, “I have horses and a pulling harness. I think the horses will pull it out”. He called a couple of workers to bring three horses, the harness and ropes and, before ten minutes had passed we were going down the bank towards the “sinking” Land Rover.

The situation was now desperate! The water has come in fast and it had already covered the wheels. My companions had been waiting, wondering whether I was coming back. We entered the water and walked towards the car with the horses. The car was a pathetic sight as all movable items were no longer there and the water was now covering the engine and flowing inside it! Realizing that time was not on our side we got to work fast and harnessed two of the horses to the submerged bumper. A guy sat on the bonnet with the reins and I sat under water behind the wheel as, although the engine was flooded, there was still a need to steer! A horse was kept in reserve and all other hands got ready to push.

Despite my strong reservations about success, we agreed to push and pull at the count of three. What happened next was unexpected. Under the strength of the horses the Land Rover rolled forward with ease and moved to the triumphant shouts of my rescuers! “Do not stop now!” I shouted, my adrenaline flowing while seated in water to up to my breast steering and watching the back of the farmer on the bonnet that was controlling the horses, our real saviours. Stop we did not and, eventually, we managed to get the car on dry ground and away from the highest tide line mark to a safe zone. I was a happy man and, at the same time amazed that two horses could move a stuck car so easily. Later I realized that the increase in water depth helped greatly in making the car lighter.

News moved fast and, by the time our rescue was over and we were wondering what to do next, my father had come and witnessed the action. Being a photographer, he took the only picture I have of the event that I present you with here. It is a bad scan of the print he took but I hope it shows the absurd situation I got into and, luckily, out of.

The speck in the background is the semi-submerged Land Rover then there is open water and in the forefront an extensive area of water covered with bulrushes.

The speck in the background is the semi-submerged Land Rover then there is open water and in the forefront an extensive area of water covered with bulrushes.

The aftermath was an anticlimax! My father towed us back to Carmelo where we arrived after dark and straight to the mechanic. After dropping the car and when we were alone, as expected he lectured me on my lack of prudence!

In addition to the failure to achieve the feat -and impress my girlfriend- I also suffered financial humiliation when the time came to pay the bill for the car repair!

[1] Mate is a traditional drink where hot water is drank after sucking it through ground dried leaves of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) with the aid of a bombilla (metal straw) from a calabash gourd (mate).

See also  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_%28beverage%29 for more details.

A Challenging Encounter (with art)

This animal "salad" was made with wood pieces. Included because my blog is on wildlife!

This animal “salad” was made with wood pieces. Included because my blog is on wildlife!

Restoring my family house in Carmelo, Uruguay is an important ingredient -together with blogging- prescribed by my children to delay the dreaded brain paralysis and avoid terminal boredom due to retirement. The closest hardware shop became a very frequented place as I was constantly looking for tools and materials needed for the task. To my satisfaction, I discovered that a new shop had been opened just fifty metres from my house and I visited it

The shop -that also sells house ware and ornaments- belongs to José (Pepe) and Rosa Castro. The latter takes care of it and deals with customers. They have a teenager son called Alexandro. After a few visits I met Pepe and we gradually got to know each other. He was -rather unusually- interested in my life in Africa and I listened to what he did. We lied to each other a lot and we knew it! One day Pepe convinced me to linger a few minutes so he could show me his work. I luckily accepted and I was privileged to gain a glimpse of his life’s achievement.

Noah's Ark.

Noah’s Ark.

I am aware that by writing this post I am completely deviating from the usual wildlife-related topics and that I am entering a territory I know little about. I hope you find this interesting. In any case, I promise you that my next post will be on the usual nature-related subject (what else?).

Pepe was born in Pontevedra, Spain 75 years ago and arrived in Uruguay in 1957. He worked as a cabinetmaker (“ebanista” in Spanish) in some of the finest furniture makers in Montevideo for many years while he studied technical and artistic drawing and various painting techniques. He started sculpting in 1965 and he gradually increased his output until his retirement when his life became almost solely focused on his work. More details can be found

http://www.escultorjosecastro.com/index.

As a veterinarian and a scientist the understanding of art is not my thing and not even several years in Rome managed to change this too much. For this reason I like what I like but I can also appreciate the work that goes into creating works of art! In Pepe’s case, despite being “brain-impaired” when it comes to art, I not only like a lot of what he did (and does) but also appreciate the work involved in achieving it!

What can I say? Its title is "Climbing".

What can I say? Its title is “Climbing”.

I learnt that, so far, Pepe has created over eight hundred pieces (carvings, artistic chairs, wood panels, boxes and other items) and I could see several styles although I am unable to comment or seriously criticize them!

HIs creativity outruns storage space!

HIs creativity outruns storage space!

Fortunately, as he got to know me, he started to show me his work and to explain it to me. To be able to look at art with the creator showing it to you is out of this world and I felt -aware of the possible differences- like a friend of Picasso being able to question him about details of his masterpieces!

Pepe explaining a work about Carmelo.

Pepe explaining a work about Carmelo.

Pepe describing another piece.

Pepe describing another piece.

Pepe has exhibited his work several times, he has been the subject of interviews and published accounts of his work also exist. Leafing through these I learnt that his style of work is defined as “Baroque” and that many of them deal with his life experiences and/or tell a story. Some of his works are so elaborate and full of detail that it takes several examinations to fully take in their meaning and detail.

Several pieces represent episodes of Pepe's life. This is a "haunted" house he secretly visited as a child.

Several pieces represent episodes of Pepe’s life. This is a “haunted” house he secretly visited as a child.

Since meeting him I have now talked to Pepe a great deal and also watched him working. Although he appears lighthearted and funny most of the time, when it comes to his work he transforms himself into a different man, guided by his inspiration and aims for almost impossible perfection! However, he transmits his mischievous view of life into his work that often has a jocose element in it that can become satiric in several of his works (keep reading!).

A great chair is not enough for Pepe.

A great chair is not enough for Pepe.

Not just a beautifully crafted chair...

Another example of a chair according to Pepe…

One day he called me, as he had to show me “something”. He took me to his workshop and, seeing it for the first time, I was really impressed. It is inside his “Cave” as he calls his workshop, that Pepe becomes the artist. “It is here that I feel really comfortable, it gives me pleasure, I have fun, I play”. This is his secret kingdom and where his ideas get transformed into art. It is also here that he keeps a vast collection of carpentry tools that are his pride and joy and are worth seeing.

Pepe's tool collection.

Pepe’s tool collection.

Once inside the Cave I noticed many pieces of wood and roots of several types, origins and shapes that are patiently waiting until Pepe decides to gives them the life or death he “sees” for them. In some, the final output is starting to emerge as Pepe works his way through them.

Inside his "Treasure Cave".

Inside his “Treasure Cave”.

I spotted a large tree trunk base with its roots still attached, to which he has wrapped carved branches and sticks of different colours. Questioned about it he said “I am looking at it and considering several options. I do not know yet. I have about ten ideas. The one on the surface at the moment is to place dwarfs peering through its holes. I do not know yet but it will be something creepy”.

Then he picked up another piece and starts to showed it to me. “Look” he said, “there is a tail here and a leg there” and suddenly, but only for a fleeting moment, I began to see what he saw. And then he said, “it is not a normal animal, it is some kind of a creature” and then he loost me again as I stayed with the tail and the leg and my conventional animal! Only then I managed to recognize the burnt and dirty dried fig tree we collected together!

A simple dried and half-burnt root (collected together) starts to gain shape.

A simple dried and half-burnt root (collected together) starts to gain shape.

When I told him, he laughed and moved on to show me the twelve “special” dining chairs he is making or his on-going depiction of the execution of another creature in the electric chair. “The victim will not be normal, it will be a being or something but I do not yet know” he said, and then added “it will be tied to the chair”.

"I do not know, it is a monster of some kind"

Pepe showing me another piece. The electric chair project to his left.

We walked through his house where his finished work is displayed. He said, “When the conditions are right, I would like to start a Foundation where not only I can display my work but also teach the young generations”. I can only silently hope that he succeeds and promise myself to help him in achieving his dream. Watching his finished works I can see that -like other artists- he can do what I consider to be “conventional” and beautiful sculptures as well as wonderful chairs that he decorates with his own unique creations of many shapes and forms.

As he knows my animal preferences and he picked a simple cow from a shelf to explain that he left it partly undone so that people could see it in different ways. It is however clear that he put great detail into it as, for instance, the milk vein is clearly there!

"Do not bother me, it is just a cow"

“Do not bother me, it is just a cow”

Some of his work I can understand (and admire) straight away (although more careful observation reveals more detail). Among these is the “Babel Tower” and “Noah’s Ark”. Even the clear animal suffering that “Extinction” depicts is evident to me as its subjects really reflect the agony of their fate! Other work passes over my head and it is only after Pepe’s patient explanations and comments that I start seeing things and interpreting what he means.

Extinction.

“Extinction”

Extiction.

“Extinction” from another angle.

I see several styles, elaborate carvings, combinations of wood and paint -my favourites- and others. Clearly “Climbing” at its near two metres tall is one of his greatest achievements but there are others that although smaller are no less magnificent: wooden boxes that fit into each other like Russian dolls, colourful wooden “cubistic” jigsaw puzzles made of wood trimmings, old silk thread cabinets filled with carved world famous figures many of whom you can easily recognize as you do with the five Uruguayan politicians that he wickedly calls “Four Politicians”!

Some works follows the options that a piece of wood offers, but in others the wood follows what Pepe wants to get out of it. I think this simply depends on the mood and will power he has on the day he chooses to work them!

We talked so much and I became so engrossed in his work that I got back home brain dead but happy to have spent time with him and to have a few -rather poor- pictures to illustrate the post. However, I also notice that I never saw what he wanted to show me in the first place! I decided to visit him the next day.

So the following day I returned and he showed me the piece. It is a wooden cabinet and when he starts opening it his wicked side takes over and, before I see it, I understand. I am in it, together with him and a crocodile inside a cauldron and surrounded by animals and African people. Somehow all my pestering of Pepe about Africa has curdled into art, even if clearly tongue in cheek. I am proud of being part of his work, although shown in rather uncomfortable circumstances… However, I now join the ranks of Don Quijote, Jesus, God and the Devil among others depicted in his works!

A simple old cabinet...

A simple old cabinet…

The cabinet open reveals its sinister contents...

Opening the cabinet reveals its sinister contents… (The Bushsnob is also shown above for reference purposes)

Beautiful Beasts

I came across this “flower” while walking in the beach by the river Plate.

cat tree

On closer inspection the real “flower” was revealed!

cat 3

caterpillars 1

They were in fact hairy caterpillars aggregated together in a bunch!

I will find out more about them and let you know.

 

Note: The caterpillars are Morpho epistrophus, a rather beautiful butterfly!

See:

http://netnature.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/ecologia-de-borboletas-morpho/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morpho_epistrophus

https://www.flickr.com/photos/grandma-shirley/6703808411/