Working the Land

Almost all planting and pruning work performed in the mountains revolves around the moon cycles. In particular, the two weeks of waning moon following the full moon plays a big part. This is called 'menguante', and the locals wait for this to occur before planting, transplanting, pruning activities. Presumably, this has something to do with the gravitational effect of the moon pulling fluids into the roots during this phase.

Cutting timber takes place at a different time of the month, at the new moon. If this is not done the timber supposedly loses some of its qualities. Anecdotally, I've seen termite infested teak rafters, which are normally insect resistant, as a result of being cut at the wrong time of the moon's phase.

Living in an agricultural area, machetes are very much part of what you see on a daily basis. While this may seem a little disconcerting at first, you quickly come to see that this is just the local version of a Swiss Army knife, used for anything and everything.

The local folks are born with a machete (‘cuchillo’ or knife) in the hand. They keep them razor sharp, and use them for anything from cutting grass and trimming bushes to chopping down trees.

This gets quite specialized, with particular blade sizes for particular purposes.

For clearing scrub and overgrown pastures, a machete of a certain length and weight is used in combination with a stick called a ‘garabato’. The garabato has a curved end to gather a bunch of grass and bend it at the base with the left hand, while the right swings the cuchillo, cutting the bunch low down. Certain grasses (and there are dozens of different kinds!!), such as Bracharia, used for cows to graze on, are tough hard grasses, which quickly dull the edge of the blade. The peons carry a ‘lima’ or file to periodically sharpen the blade.

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