The dogs seated themselves before we did before we rode out
All pictures of this post were taken by Alfredo Pourailly, a very talented young man that was so kind to share a few weeks of his life with me.
My buddies at the ferry (we were on first name basis at this point), woke me up on the ferry at 3:30 AM for our arrival in Caleta Ferrari (CF). Sleepy eyed, I hopped off with Alfredo while some other passengers boarded. Thanks to the ferry lights, we were able to see exactly where we were, which was in between the ocean and a rock wall with a little dilapidated hut hugging the cliffs. I saw no sign of someone there to meet us. If no-one showed up, we would just have to pitch our tents where we were, because we had no idea which direction to go in during this otherwise pitch black night. However, Jose, the gaucho otherwise known as Machuca, hopped off the ferry after having helped the passengers load their luggage. Very direct, he mentioned he had only expected me. So, who is this Chilean? Alfredo had the awkward task of explaining that he had wanted to come also and had hitched along.
The somewhat annoyed
The most beautiful home I have ever seen
gaucho quickly started making his way to the farmhouse with the house guests trudging behind. I was loaded with an oversized bag of fruit and vegetables and therefore much slower. I eventually had to ask the gaucho to help me with my offering, or else I would be left behind in the dark. Sleepily, he grudgingly helped me. He quickly deposited me and my plus one at the house they used for "guests", showing us that here were some mattresses, see you in the morning. Gauchos are not known for garrulousness or friendliness. So, I was not at all surprised. I gladly laid my head down to rest, toying with the idea that if there were mice, they could crawl all over me.
Around 11:30, I was awoken with a ravenous hunger. I desperately wandered over to the main house, laden with goods, hoping it was soon lunch time. I was met with a bustling of activity. We were heading out to the puesto (cabin) on horseback as soon as possible. Lunch would be had, but everything had to be arranged first, so that we could head out immediately after eating. I therefore got to working. Again, I was
This is what I looked like for about a week
doing my usual dishes and putting the food we brought away in the pantry. The others were rounding up the horses. Lunch was had, dishes were done, and the team mounted up. With as light a pack as possible, we rode out into the valley. I was told that it was only a 4 hour ride. I was not, however, told that it was 30 km we were riding. 30 km as a relaxed tourist takes a bit longer than the pace we were going at. But this was no problem whatsoever. I had ridden quite a few horsies in Patagonia and I found galloping to be quite fun.
The ride was absolutely gorgeous. We crossed a couple of rivers and passed through llenga forests. Mustangs were everywhere. There is something very powerful in seeing a herd of horses gallop at full speed with such a magnificent backdrop. My mount had a very solid step and listened well to my commands. The gaucho's dogs, however, were another story. Two of them went chasing after a guanaco and did not return. This was the first time I had ever seen a guanaco, and that was from the backside only. Nonetheless,
The inside of where we ate and slept in the puesto
another item was checked off of the list, even if it was only the animal's pooping side. With 8 dogs only, we rode on.
Every valley we rode through, I thought, or rather hoped, that the puesto would be at the end of this one. I was wrong every time. We started riding through the dark which meant that I was yet again getting nervous. I couldn't see a thing and I had to trust my horse entirely. Hecho Zero, as he is named, was doing pretty well up until sunset. Then he started going on different routes than the other horses. This is great for him because he is able to get a better footing in some parts. For me this is not so great. The way you ride a horse in Patagonia is that you have one hand holding your reins and the other hanging uselessly on the side. So, you prevent falling off of the horse by pinching the saddle with your thighs. Add absolutely no visibility, and the nonconformist horse "forgets" that it has a rider and is ramming me into tree branches.
We finally made it to the puesto. I gladly hopped off
Gaucho and friends
The gaucho and his dogs
of the horse while caressing my face to assess the damage. I am afraid that Hecho Zero did add a few scratches and scars to the repertoire of markings on my deformed face. But at least we were there. We unsaddled, built a fire, and started cooking. Gaucho, his lover Anemi, the 8 remaining dogs, and I would be in the main room of the hut and Alfredo and Marcel would be in the side room. Oh, this is a juicy story I have not mentioned yet. Marcel used to be Anemi's partner while she sailed around the world many moons ago. However, she has been living with the gaucho for the past five years and Marcel was there for a long-term visit with his yacht. Yet another Chilean soap opera...I have no idea how these guys make it work. I can't imagine how uncomfortable that has to be for Anemi and Jose.
We got to making dinner whilst passing around a wineskin. With the kind tutelage of the gaucho, I learned to play slap the bag, campo style, without spilling any wine on my chin. Bellies full and spirits happy, the normally quiet gaucho got to sharing more about the puesto and his purpose for being there. The puesto, as it turns out, has been there for likely about a century. This is amazing, as this region of South America is, to this day, highly isolated. Imagine what it was like during World War I. I would have loved to be here then. But I imagine my descendants will say the same about my era. It’s all relative...Our purpose for riding out to the ancient puesto was to try to catch some of the wild cows that litter the valley and the mountains. Of course a piece of beef is absurdly delicious, but there is a greater goal in mind. You see, our Doug Thompkins, founder of The North Face Company and Esprit, wants to turn this land into yet another one of his Patagonian/Fuegian national parks. It was therefore the guacho's job to remove the land of its non-native inhabitants. Of course the pretty horsies that roam the hills should also be eradicated, but who likes to eat horse meat? So, if the weather allowed, we would be chasing cows in the hope of wrangling one of them. With dreams of looking like a complete badass the next day, I went to sleep with 3 dogs sharing my bed with me. Oh, and by the way, Anemi, Jose, and all 8 dogs snore.
These dreams were crushed by dismal weather. There was a non-stop torrent of rain. So, I spent most of the day napping and warming by the stove, which was an old oil drum with a pipe connected to for a chimney. Very, very crafty idea. Everyone basically stayed inside. The gaucho showed me how to make fried bread as we were running out of house baked bread. There is really nothing to report from this day other than the fact that I learned all of the dogs' names. There is Vago (lazy), Listo (ready), Cuervo (a type parrot), Nano, Bigote (moustache), Pirata (pirate), Vasco, and Guantas (gloves). Vago is an old dog and would not be accompanying us on the hunt, while Listo and Bigote were sick with some sort of pneumonia, preventing them also from working. But we all spent the day in rest with the occasional walk outside.
The next day we headed out into the valley as early as possible with only 5 dogs, i.e. one per horseman/woman. I did my best to follow and did fairly well. Coming down a particularly steep bit, Alfredo's horse slipped and he actually fell off of his horse, saddle and all. Foolishly, he didn't call out when he fell and we were a bit ahead of him, worrying about where is unorganized self was wandering. Marcel ended up wandering back to look for him and discovered him, thankfully, conscious and trying to re-saddle. Regrouping, the gaucho sternly told us to stay very close and call out if anything happened.
We rode further. We crossed deeper rivers than I ever had before and climbed mountains steeper than I had ever attempted at least on horseback. Finally, we encountered a cow! This is where the real magic happened. I, my friends, have only ever been on a horse for funsies. I have never galloped on a tall mountainside, jumped over fallen trees, and skirted up absurdly slippery hills at full speed while engaging in equestrian activities. This all happened in 30 minutes, and this is probably the most dangerous thing I have done, ever. I have never accumulated so many badass points in such a short amount of time to this date. I was not wearing a helmet and I am pretty much clueless as these things go. But amazingly enough, I managed to follow closely behind Marcel and Jose with Anemi and Alfredo chasing me. The rush of adrenaline was invigorating. Hecho Zero and I were finally working as one. I read his muscle contractions and appropriately shifted my weight to permit him to follow the dogs and the gaucho at full speed. We were in sync. And then Hecho Zero did one of his non-conformist moves that ended up with the two of us stuck comically between two closely situated birch trees. This instigated a stream of foul four-letter words in several different languages on my part. We eventually wiggled loose, but we had lost the others. Anemi and Alfredo caught up with me, and we now had the task of finding the rest of our crew in this wild forest.
We rambled on through this wild trackless forest. It was a strange thought to know that other than the five of us humans, our five horses, and five dogs, there was no-one else in this paradise. If a flood drowned us all, no-one would know, at least not for a few days. We were entirely and utterly alone in this beautiful wilderness. If you haven't noticed by now, this is the kind of place I look for in my travels. I want to be in those spots where I find myself with nothing else but my thoughts and my senses. I somehow loved lugging my horse and myself through muddy pits, struggling to keep my boots from getting stuck in the bogs when I had to dismount to pass through certain parts. There was nothing but the wind brushing the leaves and mustangs breaking new trails. Every 5 minutes or so we would holler and try to hear a response from Jose. Eventually we picked up their voices and met up for lunch. Unfortunately they were unlucky with the cow they had spotted. This was likely because they were really hurting from not having the four other dogs there. Nevertheless, we strengthened ourselves with a lunch of fried bread, cold meat, and hot tea. And off we set again.
It was not long before the dogs caught the scent of something else. This time we were struggling down a hill instead of up one. I am not sure if I mentioned this in a previous blog, but I accidentaly broke my nose/smashed my face when I slipped and crashed down a waterfall a few months ago. I am still slightly paranoid of walking down wet stairs. So, you can imagine how I was freaking out, crashing down a mountainside, on horseback, through loose soil. Not to mention crashing through a frozen lake the week before. For a moment I stopped and let Anemi and Alfredo pass me so that I could get a grip of my fear. I had gone from being an excited daredevil on this chase to being nothing short of shit scared for my life. Funny how your position on a hill can do that to you. However, I had no choice, as Anemi reminded me. I had to follow. So I held my breath and let Hecho Zero lead the way. My heart was racing for a different reason now. I clenched my teeth and went down, down, down the mountainside.
Again we were unlucky. But I was relieved. I felt like I had shaken a little bit of my paranoia off with that downhill rush. Every small step I take to conquer my fear helps. The last thing I want is to be psychologically crippled for the rest of my life by an accident that occurred when I was 22. So, into the sunset we rode with empty hands, crossing the rivers and trotting through the valley until we reached the puesto once again.
After the day's hard riding, we were all starving. Anemi announced that she would make a quick dinner that would determine whether Jose still loved her. On the menu: couscous with tuna and tomato sauce. Personally, I thought it was rather delicious, but Anemi ensured me that I should cook this if I ever doubted a man's love for me. A mental note was made to test the recipe when the appropriate occasion arose. With a plan to ride back to the farm house early in the morning, we all turned in rather early. I spent a few minutes watching the stars with Alfredo outside, but eventually my tired eyes and sore muscles got the best of me and I also tucked in among the many dogs that were trying to stake a claim to the warm spot behind my knees. Guantas once again won out while Nano claimed the place next to my face.
A quick round of mate and a cold breakfast was had before we headed back to CF. This morning I was confident enough to saddle my own horse. However, I had Marcel check my work, just to make sure I wasn't screwing anything up. The last thing I wanted was to fall off of my horse. He gave me the thumbs up, and I waited for the rest of the team to get situated before I mounted my horse. Hecho Zero had been behaving relatively well up to this point, but that sneaky bastard pulled the oldest pony trick in the book on me that morning. When I was tightening the saddle, he filled his belly with air. So, when I went to mount him, the saddle slipped to the side and left me where I had started, on the ground. Jose got a very good laugh out of this. I angrily tightened my saddle and this time mounted successfully, although with a slightly bruised ego. I was not very impressed by the horsie's antics.
Normally the ride to the farmhouse was around 4 hours. The horses, as well as the hungry gaucho, were antsy to return. We therefore trotted back. Trotting is not so bad, right? Wrong-o. When you walk or gallop a horsie, your tooshie moves with the rhythm of the animal. This makes for a relatively comfortable experience. Trotting on the other hand, has your arse banging against the back of the saddle continuously. Trotting can come in various rhythms. There is slow, medium, and fast butt smashing, in addition to everything in between. So unless your deriere is already calloused, three hours of trotting results in nasty, unctuous, pussy saddle sores. Furthermore, Hecho Zero decided that when we were galloping, he would "forget" his rider yet again and crash through trees that had a nice walkway underneath the branches. I am relatively certain that at one point I was maybe a centimeter from being "clotheslined" by a tree due to his misbehavior. But I returned the favor. When we were a mere 500 meters from the stable, it was the perfect time to gallop gallantly back to his lady friends. I instead forced the sneaky bugger to walk back super slowly the whole god-forsaken way. I was not going to allow him that pleasure after the mutilation he had incurred on my face and my backside.
Revenge served, I merrily unsaddled my pissed-off pony when I met a friend of Jose who had recently docked his yacht in the bay. Brise is a French sailboat captain that takes Frenchies to see the southern tip of the continent and Antarctica. He had just made a turn to Caleta Ferrari to allow his clients a view of Tierra del Fuego and to celebrate his longtime friend Jose's late birthday. Since our hunt was unsuccessful, Brise offerred to throw in a lamb for the festivities and I baked savory bread for the occasion.
It has been quite some time since I have spoken French. My vocabulary was therefore extremely rusty, but I found very eager ears among Brise's clients. There were 11 people on their yacht, of which 4 were women, and two of which were single although one was well into the retirement age. Therefore Francois, Frederic, Jean-Pierre, and whatever other silly old French name you can think of, were very excited to solicit my ears. My French slowly picked up speed and I was soon discussing healthcare issues in US politics with one of the friendly gentlemen. Soon my attention was caught by our silver single lady. She was very excited to have someone to listen to her. She told me her entire life story in this evening. She shared her love for her three sons, the job she had, the job she quit when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, the seven year struggle they endured until they finally bid their farewells, and the traveling she has done for the past seven years in an effort to rediscover herself. And all of that was in French while indulging in a Chilean lamb asado. Not bad, eh?
I have made a disclaimer in the description of this blog that I am writing with an adult audience in mind. So, please consider this while continuing to read. Again, I am a firm believer that traveling makes your kids awesome, but while doing so you also need to share the reality of the world out there with them. And that is exactly what I hope I am doing with you, not that you are the spawn of my womb. So, I am not sugarcoating any of this. Rant aside, please continue reading my conservative little children.
Post asado activities included much wine drinking and further conversation between me and Brise. It wasn't long until some sweet Mary Jane was being passed around. If there ever was a time that I would have agreed to smoke weed, it would have been then, in the moonlight of the large island of Tierra del Fuego, in the company of French sailors, gauchos, and an eclectic film student, among others. I thought about it for a brief minute, but honestly, it has never been something that I have had the least inkling to try. I didn't want to try it when I was offered pot in high school or university, and that moment was not any different. I was perfectly fine with my perception of that moment. So, I politely declined the offer to join the passing of the grass. More for the gauchos and the sailors. Instead I retired for the evening and snuggled into my sleeping bag in Tierra del Fuego one last time.
After packing my bags, I joined Brise on his beautiful yacht; he had offerred to give Alfredo and me a lift to Puerto Williams since this would make it exponentially easier for both us and Jose and Anemi. Otherwise we had to radio the ferry company to stop by Yendegaia and we had to take a 2.5 horseback ride to the police station. My butt was very grateful to ride the waves instead of a horse. We bid adieu to Jose, Anemi, and Marcel, and settled in with our French friends. Coco, Brise's partner, had made a traditional Christmas lunch in May while the rest of the team was horseback riding with Jose in the morning. I think I love the French Christmas lunch. It consists of blood sausage, apple compote, cabbage rice, and noodles. I know it sounds gross, but I'm a fan.
The rest of the trip was spent between enjoying the gorgeous scenery out on the deck and defrosting in the kitchen between bouts spent with my jaw at my waist each time we passed yet another beautiful mountain in the Beagle Channel. Soon the sun had set and the stars were out. It was a perfect day. Barely any clouds, a magnificent sunset (I am running out of synonyms for "amazing"), and a star-strewn sky. The southern stars are just something different. The northern hemisphere just doesn't hold a candle to what you can see out here, especially without light pollution. And hitchhiking is not such a bad thing, especially not if you are picked up by a million dollar yacht. Oh yeah!
I snuggled in next to the Frenchy steering at the time and got to practicing my precarious French yet again. Turns out he was a radiologist at a private clinic just outside of Paris. Score. We had plenty to talk about and he seemed to be a little less loose-minded than some of his compatriots. Every now and then I really need a deep and sensible conversation. And Phillipe gave me the intellectual stimulation I was craving at that moment, even if it was in French. Or especially because it was in French.
I wouldn't have minded if the yacht ride went on forever. If it were in my control, we would have sailed to Antarctica, but we were anchoring in Puerto Williams. I quickly exchanged details with the Chilean deck hand, Rocio, the other single woman on board. We made promises of meeting when she next came to ski in Colorado. Brise dropped us off at the harbor and Alfredo and I started the walk back to the Refugio El Padrino on the deserted evening streets of Puerto Williams.
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