This is gaucho country

Argentina 2007

Stopping off at a gaucho’s house, Nadia and I come across something unexpected. City-living this is not

The detached head of a goat, hanging upside down

Goat’s heid. Oh. Right. OK. Er. What?

Este es el último baño, he announced. We were barely two hours into the wilderness, and this was the last bathroom. From here on we wouldn’t see another soul, let alone a toilet.

It was a gaucho house. A tiny, single-story building, thrown together. Three children played outside in the dust. Animals — horses, chickens, dogs — stood outside, not moving because they had nothing to move for.

The bathroom was an offshoot of the house, round the back. There was no running water. Next to the toilet was what passed for a shower: a home-made watering-can attached high on the wall. Pour water in and stand under the spray. I wondered if they heated the water during the winter.

Once I’d finished I took the bucket of water from outside and poured some of it into the toilet. A manual flush.

I walked out into the yard, where Nadia was taking pictures. It was extraordinary.

There were a few trees, little more than dead, shorn of their leaves. From each one hung the severed heads and hooves of goats. On one tree there were piled six or seven heads. You could see where the spinal cords had been sawn through.

Cold, bloodshot eyes stared back at us. They hadn’t been pecked out, so they were starting to disintegrate. It seemed the first stage was to peel.

Thank you for letting us use your bathroom, we said. Can we offer you anything? No, esta bien.

And with that the gaucho climbed on to his horse and trotted off into the desert.