Walking, walking, walking for the whole day. We only have mote to eat. Mote is just what we call anything made into a stew. I don’t do the cooking and I don’t ask what goes into it. It’s pretty foul though. Today we had a treat in our mote – Ricardo shot a sort of rat creature and we added that. It wasn’t good but it was meat at least. We only have enough food for another couple of days – if you can call this food. Pombo tells me it’s just fuel to keep the body going. It certainly doesn’t keep the mind from thinking of milk and meat and proper food… but it’s all we have. I hope that soon we’ll come to a house and then we’ll be able to buy some food.
I finished off my rations of mote for breakfast. Then we walked for hours and my stomach was grumbling. Relief when we arrived at a farm which had loads of stuff – grains and sugarcane and a mill and rice. We made a meal out of what we found. Then we went on and met some peasants from another farm. We took them prisoner but only to tell them about our goals and to make sure they didn’t report us to the army. We decided to stay here overnight.
We are on the move every day – hoping that we’re getting closer to Joaquin. There’s still no sign or word of him and his group. You’d think that the peasants would have heard something – they are quick enough to discover us. When we come to a farm the peasants run and hide, I think they are afraid of the army, because when we eventually find them they seem friendly enough and say that they support us. One of the men here didn’t want to sell us food – that made some of our men angry – but in the end we persuaded him. I think Inti told him that either we could buy food from him or we could take it. We bought a large amount of beans from him in the end. We were going to have food one way or another. Later some men came along with pigs – they had gun so we let them pass. We have to hang hammocks to sleep in because there are so many chiggers around on the ground and if they bite you it itches like crazy. It was a hot day at least, though chilly when the sun goes down.
Turns out the man with the guns are not pig merchants but soldiers. Inti went to root them out. He told them that they had twenty minutes for the officer to come out or they would all be shot. The officer came out right away and he was crying. He was so scared for his life. Like so many of the soldiers we meet he says he didn’t want to be a soldier, doesn’t believe in their cause and begged us not to kill him. I hope I would have more guts if confronted by the army and faced with death. Che decided to show leniency and didn’t shoot them but sent them away with a flea in their ear and a lesson in the conventions of warfare. He said we will only shoot the front man and the officers in command.
But once they had gone Che started asking questions about how they even got to where we were. Ancieto, Lucio and Julio were supposed to be on sentry duty. It turned out that Ancieto and Lucio had fallen asleep and then Ancieto had abandoned his post to take a message to Julio at another sentry post. They were punished by seven days kitchen duty and on top of that they were banned from eating meat for one day. That was harsh because we had plenty of roast and fried pork and a huge stew thanks to the pigs that had come as decoys. We let the soldiers go, but the pigs – that’s another story. Men have to eat meat. A couple of the men have bad teeth though, and were getting pain eating the meat so Che had to put on his guise as Fernando the tooth puller again. I am glad my teeth are healthy because it’s not a pretty sight watching a tooth being pulled. And worse to be the one having it done.
We bought some hens yesterday as well as getting hold of a mule and Che rode it. Not because he is the leader and taking privileges, but because of his asthma. He is still struggling from time to time and he has very little medicine left. So we went on our way. We left a note with the peasants and asked them to post them when they next go into a town. One of the men came along with us, he pretended he was a prisoner but he had agreed he would take some messages out for us. His name is Paulino.
After what felt like the whole day walking we came to a water hole. Paulino should have been able to tell us where we were but he was as lost as the rest of us. I sometimes wonder if Joaquin and his men are close by and we are all just circling each other. It would be ironic but quite possible in this terrain. I so wish we had not lost contact with them because we don’t seem to be doing anything but going round in circles looking for them and trying to find food as we go.
We are climbing up a hill and at the top could see the Rio Grande. It was a beautiful sight but I wish we could get a sight of Joaquin – that’s who I want to see.
Today was even worse than yesterday. No one has any idea where we are and we keep losing what trail there is. This is supposed, by legend, to be the coldest night of the year but it wasn’t too bad. Maybe I am just used to it by now. Che’s asthma is bad which is worrying for me because I know how little medicine is left and I don’t know what will happen to him if we run out. Riding on the mule helps but it’s not the answer if he goes into a full attack. Then we have to stay where we are until he gets better – because no one can find any more medicine out here. I know that Pombo is worried though he tries not to show it. I hope that Paulino might be able to get some medicine and bring it back – but he doesn’t seem that sensible or reliable. He is not much older than me but he is a poor specimen.