We thought about not coming back.
Hard against the Andes, wine makers such as our next-door neighbor, Donald Hess, are making some of the best wine in the world. Next-door is a long way away – about a 40-minute drive. But it’s worth it. Not only can you stock up on wine, Hess operates a great restaurant too.
Later, after we returned home, we sat in front of the fire and dozed off.
Maybe it was the lack of oxygen, (it takes a few days to get used to the altitude), or maybe it was Donald Hess’s Malbec wine… Whatever the cause, we drifted into such a state of relaxation that Juanita, who tends the kitchen, thought she should sound the alarm.
“Señor Bonner?” she asked.
Then, seeing that we awoke readily, she was reassured, and offered us a cup of tea – mate, of course. We drank it, put a few more sticks on the fire… and drifted off again.
In the morning, we had mounted up and ridden out to a little valley about two hours’ ride to the east.
“That’s where I was born,” said Jorge, pointing to what appeared to be a pile of washed out adobe bricks. Jorge, now 54, had such a broad smile we wondered what kind of a childhood he must have had.
“I lived there until I was 17. Then, we moved down into the valley.”
We had been riding for about an hour. The place where Jorge grew up was an hour’s horseback ride from the ranch house, itself a 40-minute drive away from the closest neighbor, which is more than four hours from the nearest major city. Jorge must have had no other means of transportation except horseback. He must have had no access to school… or not much. He must have had little or no access to TV or medical attention.
Even now, as foreman of the ranch, Jorge gets a house to live in – basic, but not bad. He has no television, but he does manage to get a weak signal on his radio. His electricity comes from the same source as ours – a power plant we installed on the property last year. His hot water comes from a solar heater on his roof.
(Solar power was supposed to be cheap. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Something is always going wrong. And each time something goes on the frizz an engineer has to make the 5-hour drive from Salta to fix it.)
We know Jorge’s finances too – since we pay his salary. He earns less than a trash collector in America… less than a hamburger flipper… all of $500 per month. But our bet is that his net worth is higher than most Americans. Jorge can’t spend money – and can’t borrow it either. There is nowhere to spend it. And no bank would lend to him. And yet, there he is – a picture of health and happiness, a smile always on his lips, ready with a kind word for everyone.
Which makes us think the whole thing is a fraud. Worrying about money, we mean.
“You really should give Jorge a raise,” said our business manager down here. “He hasn’t had a raise in three years, and inflation has been running between 10% and 20% per year. Nobody knows for sure because the government lies about the numbers. But anyway you figure it, Jorge should get more money.”
“Of course… of course,” we replied. “But Jorge is already richer than any of us. We have never met such a good natured, happy fellow. Obviously, money has nothing to do with it.”
*** Meanwhile, USA Today tells us that top CEOs may be presiding over disasters, but they are not about to share the misery of the shareholders. The pay of the chief executives of America’s 50 largest corporations averages about $15 million says the paper. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the shareholders are making money or not. Take the CEO of KB Homes, for example. The company lost $929 million last year. Its share price fell 70%. Still, CEO Mezger got paid 1,000 times more than Jorge.