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Sunday, March 25, 2012

THE LOST CITY HIGH IN THE ANDES

 
 Bob Pratt
Passengers on airliners flying high over the Andes between Chile and Argentina sometimes spot what looks like an ancient, abandoned city on one mountain top.
 
The locals know there is no city up there, lost or otherwise, but the rumor pops up from time to time and makes it into a newspaper somewhere. On one trip to South America for the National Enquirer in late 1978, the “lost city” was one of several stories I was assigned to look into in Argentina and Brazil.
 
In Argentina I investigated reports that “Martians” had kidnapped a man and his grown son in the city of Mendoza, and that a lost city existed near the town of Malargue some distance to the south.
 
Mendoza is on the eastern slope of the Andes six hundred miles west of Buenos Aires. The story there turned out to be a good one, even if no one could prove Martians were involved. The lost city tip, though, didn’t pan out but it did lead to a nice little adventure.
 
Malargue (Muh-LAR-qway) is a small town up close to the Andes two hundred miles south of Mendoza, and it was there that I went after winding up the Martians story. With me on the drive down was Kenneth Ukrow, a young Chilean who had been visiting Mendoza on business. He spoke English, had some time to spare and offered to go with me to interpret.
 
In Malargue the curator of a museum told us the “lost city” was just a strange formation of rocks eroded by wind, rain and sleet that looked like structures, at least at a distance. The provincial police said the same thing. I believed them, but I had to make sure myself or my editor would never believe me.
 
So, with the help of the deputy chief of police, Kenneth and I rented horses and hired a young man to guide us up into the mountains. It was an all-day trip and a struggle, even if the horses did all the work.

We climbed higher and higher until we were up among the condors and clouds. At one point I was startled to come across sand dunes around the ten thousand foot level. I thought dunes were supposed to be in deserts and along sea coasts.
 
When we reached the top of the mountain, we found that the curator and the police were right. Up close, the “buildings” obviously were simply weird rock formations, boxy and shaped like houses (below) that seemed to be arranged along broad boulevards and side streets. But there was nothing unnatural or supernatural about them.
 
It was an entertaining little adventure but it came with a price. I was unfortunate enough to have had a child’s saddle with stirrups so high that my knees got in the way. No other saddle was available. It was all right going up the mountain, but coming down was painful as I fought all the way to keep from sliding down onto my horse’s head.
 
Worse, it was a bright sunny day with few clouds. I had no hat and only belatedly tied a handkerchief around my forehead. By then the damage had been done, and for a week after I sported water blisters the size of marbles on my head.
 
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HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY

The first full day we were in Malargue, several dozen provincial police officers were having a picnic in a grove of trees just outside of town. They invited Kenneth and me to join them. I don’t know what the occasion was but in the United States it was Thanksgiving Day.
 
They had roasted a goat, and had several jugs of wine cooling in a shallow stream. There were no forks and the only utensils handy were knives that were used to cut off chunks of meat. Only a few glasses were available and they were passed from hand to hand.
 
In ignorance, I committed a faux pas. None of the men were in uniform. Kenneth and I were guests and we stood in a circle with a dozen or more men as one officer offered me a glass of wine. They all watched as I sipped and smiled in appreciation, still holding the glass and wondering why I was the only one drinking.
 
Then Kenneth whispered, “Take a drink, Bob, and pass the glass on – it’s the custom.” I did, making an apologetic gesture, and only then did the others start drinking.
 
But it was a friendly, pleasant afternoon and a delightful way to spend Thanksgiving.
 
● ● ●
 
SHOWER CURTAIN?

It was in my small hotel in Malargue where I first encountered something that was, to me, very unusual. There was no shower curtain in the shower. The commode was next to the shower and there was no way to keep it or much of the rest of the bathroom dry when taking a shower. Water sprayed everywhere.
 
It was a problem I never solved (or understood), even when I ran into the same thing in two or three other places in Brazil, including one private home.
 
● ● ●
 
OUR TEN-YEAR-OLD TOUR GUIDE

Before going to Malargue, I spent six days in Mendoza on the previously-mentioned father-son Martian case, with Jane Thomas as my interpreter for the first four days. Jane was a multi-lingual secretary in Buenos Aires and was then my main source for UFO news in Argentina. She flew to Mendoza with me to interpret on the father-son case.
 
Mendoza is a lovely city with a jillion trees lining the streets and almost as many sidewalk cafes. I remember having breakfast at one such cafe one morning and was introduced to what Jane called media lunas, or half moons. Back home we called them croissants.
 
One afternoon when we couldn’t reach any of the people I wanted to talk to, Jane and I visited a park on the west side of the city where there is a large sculpture of soldiers and horses in battle action. It was in honor of José de San Martin, one of the liberators of South America.
 
We were the only visitors at the time, and a ten-year-old boy hanging out there eloquently explained to us who San Martin was and what battles he fought in. The boy was confident, poised and quite intelligent. He clearly knew what he was talking about.
 
The boy said he and his family were refugees from Chile. They had fled to Argentina because his father had supported President Salvador Allende, who was killed and overthrown in 1973 by armed forces under the command of General Augusto Pinochet.
 
Jane was an excellent interpreter, but on the fourth day, two days before I went to Malargue, she had to fly back to Buenos Aires and return to her job. A few years later she moved to California after marrying Hal Guma, an Argentinean living there. They now live in Glendale, Arizona.

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