The only sheltered places to camp at night are the steel-blue glacial lakes that scar the stony dry earth. The russet-red grass is flecked with guano and the delicate rainbow feathers of parakeets, who gather each evening in the canopies of the prickly araucania pines to feast on nuts and night-insects. Their screeching is unbearable, a constant raucous thunder. It becomes impossible to sleep, speak or think. Only the Piquenche, the funniest people in the world, can tolerate it for the length of a journey without going even madder than they already are. They roam the plains on horseback, in war-troupes and nomadic bands, hunting half-deaf glyptodon and macrauchenia with their ludicrously tiny feathered spears. Their short lives are devoted to comedy and war.
The pox-priests of the Doleful God, who eternally mourns the wickedness of His children, have their missions in the mountains. Slaves from the fertile seaward lands quarry copper for their house-sized Inevitable Bells, hoisted high as possible to broadcast doom-laden peals for miles around. Knights, prospectors, gauchos, bandeirantes and inquisitors gather in shanty-towns at the mountains' edge, hoping to play their part in opening the plains up to cattle-grazing and general exploitation. So far they have had little success.