Friday, November 11, 2011

Images for Sale?

In an effort to consolidate my photos, and a small attempt to even sell some images, I've started a photography website.  You can find it at:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

El mundo siempre gira... (The World Keeps Turning)

The world turns
Even as we look at it
Taunting us that whether we watch, or we don't
Time marches us unrelentingly forward
So many things we can't control.

But on occasion arise
When we can choose
A few of those marching steps
But this time I find myself afraid
Because I might fall and I could fail
And this time
It will be my fault
Not something, not someone, not an invisible force driving me I can blame
But rather
My volition, my will, my responsibility, my choice.

School has taught me to analyze, to judge
Weigh, distribute, balance, and rationalize
But the small, small heart that is just now learning to beat inside me
Cries softly, flutters brightly, and nudges me
To listen to my voice
To the things I know, the things that just are
And assures me that maybe, just maybe
Sometimes I should feel first, and think second.

Oh how I wish I could tell you I know I will be in the right
Assured and poised, passing this interview of life
Pressed shirt, polished shoes, neatly groomed
Suit and tie
But inside I just don't know
Knees are shaking
Knuckles white
Heart is beating
But I'm feeling
I'm Feeling
And that might just be alright.

So I plunge myself into darkness.  Or maybe light.
Taking flight
And risking
And daring
To see what I know
And what I have to learn
In Life.

This last week I supposedly "left" Chile.  However, when I got on the bus towards the North, I didn't feel ready to leave, not quite yet.  Being torn between leaving Patagonia and desiring to return, these were the thoughts and the questions that came to mind.  Thus, a poem.  I've decided that even though I did arrive to Buenos Aires, I'm still not quite done with the end of the world.  I'm going back...but I promise...not when...but that I will...return home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One More Time, Back to the Woods

I’m headed back up for what will probably be my last 2-3 week stint at Estancia Anita.  I can’t believe that I’m starting my 8th month in the Chilean Patagonia – but I am.  And unfortunately, it’s also time to start thinking about home.

It’s hard to capture the last few months riding with Juan Luis (local cowboy), but of everyone I know who rides horses, I have the most respect for him.  Training his own string of rope horses, from unbroken colts to superb working partners, in the most difficult terrain, is very admirable.  Bogs, rivers, forests, bushes, rocks, cliffs, mud – you name it, and Juan Luis has to deal with it. 

During my next ~3 weeks hopefully I’ll be helping in their year cattle round up, bringing cows and calves down from the mountains, and then branding, sorting, and tagging the animals.  However, all of this is weather dependent.  If it’s not cold enough, the rivers won’t go down, and we won’t have access to the herds, or be able to cross the sale animals to leave the estancia.  My fingers are crossed that the weather will cooperate, and I’ll have enough time to round out my estancia experience with a Patagonian cattle drive. 

I also want to be more intentional about capturing daily live, both on film and in writing.  I forget that in Colorado we don’t go to the barn and simply cut off the selection of meat I’d like for dinner.  Or that not all streams and rivers are potable and carrying a water bottle here is worthless when you can drink all the water you want.  It’s also delightful to live in a place where the only communication to the outside world is by radio, cutting out the otherwise daily noise of advertisements, television, etc. 

I’m living the opportunity of a lifetime.  Herding cattle by full moonlight below glacial mountains reflecting white against a navy-blue sky.  Waking up and falling asleep by the sunlight, and nothing else.  Sharing life with local people in a land I respect and adore.  So here goes it, one more tour between national parks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Birthdays, Changing Seasons, and Changing Places

Sunset on Chacabuco and Rio Serrano in front of Estancia
Family/friends -

I just wanted to send a huge thanks for all of the warm birthday wishes!  I had a great birthday in a small cabin in an estancia tucked away in the middle of nowhere, with some friends from here and clients from the trip.  No electricity, no running water, but good people, good food, and a great birthday time :) 

I feel like it was just the other week I sent out an update...but I don't think that's the case.  So I'll try and give you all another glimpse into what in the world I've been up to down here, and how I'm passing my time.  I still struggle sometimes with the Spanish, but I’ve certainly improved since when I first arrived.

Changing Seasons
Fall is in the air…the snow is falling lower, and the lenga trees are about to start turning from a deep green to various shades of yellow and red.  With the changing of the seasons, the tourists are becoming scare.  Thus, less daily horse rides and not much to do in Rio Serrano.  With the ending of the tourist season, other seasons arrive in Patagonia.  It is time for many round ups and gathering of cattle for branding, castrating, and changing from summer to winter pastures.  Thus, as of the middle of March I finished my “work” in Rio Serrano, came down to “town” – Puerto Natales – and made plans to change speeds for a while.
From Serrano to Estancia Anita (Pekin)
Me with Juan Luis (left) and Pekinn
There’s an estancia tucked away between two National Parks – Torres del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins.  The estancia is unique in Chile, in that it is the only estancia between two national parks; it is owned by Luis (Pekin) Guerrera.  With over 10,000 acres of pure wilderness, the estancia is accessible only by a series of 2 boats going downriver or upriver and then a vehicle transfer of 1.5 hours to town.  The surroundings are even more wild and more closed than the estancia itself, and I have an unbelievable opportunity to spend time with people who work daily with livestock passing rock precipices, crossing bogs and glacial rivers, and encountering wild bulls (I’m not joking).  Knowing I had this opportunity, last week I rode Clos (my horse) from Pueblito Serrano 4 hours by horseback to the estancia, whereupon Clos was directed by a boat to cross Rio Serrano.  Thankfully, my little horse crossed without a problem, and has a new home for awhile.

Clos in Lago Guiekie
There’s a lot of things that now seem normal, that have taken awhile to lean and assimilate.  It’s not that things are ­that different, insomuch that things are similar, with a  Patagonian twist.  A sampling…

-Stoves here are generally always “on” – whether that be gas or wood.  You cook things by putting a pot or a kettle closer or farther away from the hottest part of the stove.  Never leave a kettle with only a little water – it will burn.
-When drinking maté (local drink of yerbs served in a gourde with a straw and then passed counterclockwise) you say “thank you” only when you don’t want anymore – if you say “thank you” the first time you are served, you’ll be skipped every time.
-Food in the campo is mostly meat, meat, and more meat with potatoes, rice, or bread.  When you are lucky, there are also onions, and sometimes tomatoes.  People who are coming up from “town” are generally expected to bring treats, whether that be Coca-Cola, chocolate, fruit, or wine. 

On the Horizon
Lago Guiekie with Glaciar Tyndale behind
There’s still some things that I’d like to do while I’m still in Patagonia.  I’m hoping to spend the next few weeks up at the Estancia with some friends exploring an area called “Campo del Diablo.”  It’s 1-2 days of riding up into the mountains, and from there we hope to explore some of the interior, a place that few people have ever gone.  Shortly after that, there is an endurance horse race April 23, another 1-2 days of riding from the estancia, but this time in Torres del Paine.  There’s some of us who want to race the short race, 40km, and I hope to bring Clos.  After that, the leaves will really start changing colors, and with the rivers finally down, the round ups are in full swing.  That should take me to the middle of May.  Patagonia is huge – there is still so much more to explore.  But I feel that after investing more than 5 months here, and with some good friends, I’m finally a lot closer to being where I wanted to be in Patagonia than my job when I first came.  I am connected to an incredibly beautiful, and wild place….

From Rio Serrano to Estancia Anita (Pekin)

After passing nearly 3 months in the sector of Rio Serrano near Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, I left on horseback with Clos from Serrano to Estancia Anita, owned by Luis (Pekin) Guerrera.  This trip marks the changing of yet another mini-season of my time in the Chilean Patagonia.  From the map you can see Rio Serrano - we rode on the bottom side of the river (relative to the map), crossing 4 rivers, until arriving to the far side of Rio Serrano with the Estancia on the other side (the small house at the bottom of the map).  From here, we crossed in boat, and Clos was guided across by Juan Luis (son of Pekin).  Thankfully, Clos arrived safely to the other side of the river, starting a new life between the National Parks Torres del Paine and Bernardo O'Higgins.  I hope to spend at least the next month in this remote estancia, accessible only by a series of boats or by horse, learning how to work in pure mountain, rock, and forest while on horseback.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Southern Cross from Rio Serrano
I went outside last night and realized, with shock, the wind had blown all of the clouds away.  What was left was a moon-less and star-filled night.  This is an attempt to catch the Southern Cross with digital pixels.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Always Being a Guest: Days and Nights in Rio Serrano

Should I wipe of off the table?  I ask myself.  Or sweep the floor? 

Adita, the house grandmother, continues to sandpaper the top surface of an old wood-burning stove without looking up.  There are dishes in the sink, I could wash a few dishes, I think to myself.  Settling on dishwashing, I attack the pile in the sink, scrub sheep grease off dirty plates with hot water and soap, and leave the steaming pile to air-dry.  Maybe it doesn’t matter to her if I help with any of it, but as a constant semi-guest in the house, I feel obligated to look for small ways to continually be helping out.

It is interesting living up at Rio Serrano.  Interesting is the best, though rather non-descript, word I can find to contain the complexities of life up here.  An explanation of the dynamics must be preceded with the characters in this play:

Me (Andria): visitor/part-time horse guide and English-speaking representative
Aniseto Astorga: husband of Adita, 70+ yro., illiterate, grew up in the “campo” - countryside
Adita Astorga: wife of Aniseto; went to school until age 12, has lived in Rio Serrano since
Holmen: oldest son of Aniseto and Adita and has two children: Holmen Jr. and Bastian
Gonzalo: second son; married to Victoria
Victoria (Vicky): from England, wife of Gonzalo; they met 5 years ago when she came on vacation for a horse riding trip and Gonzalo was one of the gauchos
Holmen Jr. (“Gordo”): 11 year old son of Holmen, up in Rio Serrano now for summer vacation
Nicolas: 10 year old nephew of Gonzalo/Holmen; cousin to Holmen Jr.
Bastian (“Bastie”): 4 year old son of Holmen
The Neighbors:  anyone ranging for cousins to visitors in the nearby hotels
The Passengers (“Los Pax”): people who come for horse rides or are camping
Miscellaneous House Guests (2-6 at a time): random family and friends that show up unannounced that stay for varied periods of time

Horses (~30): mix of Criollo/Thoroughbred/Percheran/Quarter Horse crosses that make up a herd of tourist horses, working horses, and a few foals and youngsters yet to be trained
Sheep (~40):  a band of nearly 40 ewes, with fewer and fewer lambs every week as the corderos are eaten for asados (barbecued lamb)
Cattle (~150): Hereford/Angus crosses for meat
Dogs (20+?): assorted collection of mutts that help on occasion to move the cattle
Cats (3):  scavenge food, fight with the dogs and the chickens
Kittens (8?): they are hard to count, always hiding under the house)
Chickens + 1 Rooster: ~13, depending on how many the dogs have killed recently

A mixture of Chilean hospitality, very informal job expectations, and landing up with a family that communicates very informally (family time often consists of sitting silently on the couch and staring out the window, or sitting on the same couch and using binoculars to spy on the neighbors, inspect the new truck from Hotel Rio Serrano, or simply see who is coming up and down the main road) had made for a rather interesting time up in Rio Serrano.  Before I start in any deeper on this, you my reader must know that I have been and really am enjoying my time in Rio Serrano with the Astorga family.  The scenery is spectacular, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  I’ve had the opportunity to travel many places in the backcountry by horseback, places I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.  The family has been very hospitable to me, accepting me as one of them, and appreciating having someone else here to help cover the rides so they can work more with their small transportation business and with their livestock.  However, at the same time I am in the constant position as “guest” which leaves me in a position of not quite having a position.  It’s not like I was hired to do a job with a job description, expectations, rules and norms, and also an expectation of what my employer is also obligated to do.  It’s not that I’d rather have that situation, but the fact remains that living constantly in between can also be quite complex.  The blog entries that follow in the following days will contain short stories to shed light on life up here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meet "Clos"

My horse needed a name.  A Chilean name, since he's a Chilean horse.  Walking through Puerto Natales I saw a sign with a sale for boxed wine, specifically the brand "Clos."  In Chile, unlike in the U.S., boxed wine is mostly overproduction, and not the cheapest stuff on the shelf.  I thought well, my horse is pretty much the color of red wine ("vino tinto") and he was sorta the bargain-basement price, but a lot better than what he was sold for.  He's my cardboard boxed wine Chilean horse.  So, his name is Clos.  (for you non-Spanish speakers it is pronounced like "Close", with a long "o" but short "s" not a "z" sound).

From Puerto Natales to Rio Serrano by Horse

So…I’m adding another type of transportation to my list of –

And now…Horses

On Thursday of last week I rode “Clos” the horse 90km (55 miles) from Puerto Natales up to Rio Serrano where I am currently living/working.  It was quite the journey!  I left the city center at 8am, passing kids on their way to school, tourists taking my picture along the oceanfront, and all the major busses headed out to the park for the day.  The first few hours were great.  I rode along the grassy edge of the road, played tag with some cyclist that I would pass and then they would pass me, and roe  some local landmarks such as “Cueva Milodon” and “Silla del Diablo” (one a cave they found a mammoth-like skeleton in, the other a rock formation that looks like a giant chair). 

However, as the day wore on, and there became less grass to ride on and more “camino de ripio” – hard-packed gravel road – I became more and more worried about Clos’ hooves.  I had asked several people before I left town if it was OK to only have his front hooves shod.  They all said, “Oh, that’s fine.  That’s all you need.  Don’t worry about it.”  But it was not fine, and I should’ve got win my instinct to have all four hooves with shoes. 

Makeshift horseshoe

Kilometer after kilometer not only was Clos getting more tired, his back feet were also getting more sensitive.  In an effort to arrive with a horse, and not a lame animal that needed recuperation for several weeks up to a month, I had to proceed very slowly.  I walked most of the way, trotting on occasion, and stopping several times to take Clos’ saddle off to give his back a break and let him snack for 15-20 minutes.  I even pulled his bridle off several times and simply got off and walked alongside him for nearly 10km.  About 20km from the house, I ran into a broken down truck.  Desperate to save the horses’ hooves, I asked if they had any duct tape, to make an improvised horseshoe.  They indeed had duct tape, and also an old inner tube.  I cut out some horse-shaped rubber shoes, and duct taped the rubber to the horse’s hooves, in an effort to save his hooves as much as I could in the final stretch of the day.

As dusk came, and went, and became night, I arrived at Mirador Rio Serrano, about 2km from the estancia.  I was so relieved to see Rio Serrano and Rio Grey spread out before me, winding through the yellow pampa, now sprinkled with lights from the hotels, and lights coming from the end of the field where I was headed.  I finally arrived back with the Astorga family at 11pm – 15 hours after leaving Puerto Natales.  I was exhausted.  The horse was exhausted.  I pulled his saddle off and turned him out to pasture, praying I would still have the animal in the morning.  It was with great relief that I woke up with a start at 7am to see him peacefully grazing outside the window with another horse.  I fell back to sleep for several more hours, and woke up with my whole body aching from so many hours in the saddle.  Thankfully, Clos is doing great, and after several days of pure rest (i.e. fresh pasture grass and as much water as he wants to drink) he is back to his playful self. 

I’m not sure if there’s ever been a day I can say I’ve ridden a horse too long.  But last Thursday might be that day…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Horse

Horse in town - in front of Erratic Rock
Clos snacking in the backyard
I bought a horse today.  $250,000 Chilean Pesos, or ~$500 US Dollars.  I am thrilled :)  He still needs a name.  I road him into Puerto Natales today and we took pictures in front of the hostel I always stay at: Erratic Rock (  My new friend (I'm not sure if he knows that yet!) is currently eating in the backyard of a friend of mine while tied to a fence.  Tomorrow I'll ride him ~55 miles out to Rio Serrano, where he'll spend at least the next month with me before (hopefully) heading out on more adventures.  I am also including a video from a recent trip to Balmaceda with this post.  More later!  Love, Andria

Strike and Life Update in Patagonia

Hey all!

Just wanted to give you an update on what's been happening down here.

First off, the strike ended last week!  Wahoo!  So after living off of just meat from the cows in the field, and rice (we even ran out of potatoes!) it felt luxurious to come down to town and eat things like yogurt, apples, and zucchini.  We had all been planning on coming down to town the day the strike ended, so we were living off of about 1.5 weeks worth of food for almost 3 weeks.  Quite the adventure.

As far as what the strike accomplished for the Chileans, it was generally a success. 

1)  Instead of raising gas by 17%, they will raise it by 3%, and then re-evaluate in 10 months.  Gas is really important in this region because with only 4 months of "summer" (which isn't even very warm...) and monthly wages starting at $350/mo., if gas goes up, general living costs increase exponentially, when the price of things such as food and clothing also go up in price. 
2)  The rest of Chile, and the government, understands the power of the people in this region.  There are 12 "regions" (think states) in Chile.  Region I starts at the top, until Region XII (where I am, the last region).  Region XII is also called Magallanes, and they have their own flag.  They are also the only region with a flag (think "Texan pride" here).  What has happened in the past is that this region, that is the farthest away from Santiago and the least populated, is often forgotten about and left out.  As someone here described it to me, "Chiloe is Chiloe (an island off of Chile), Magallanes is Magallanes, and Chile is everything North of Patagonia."  There has definitely been some resentment building up between the people from here against Northern Chile, but hopefully the Chilean government will be more aware of concerns down here from here on out.

Even though the strike was a huge inconvenience for tourists (the news article that I sent previously was a bit extreme, but I couldn't find anything more moderate), the people from this region are content with how things turned out.  I think I have to defer to them in regards to the success or non-success of this.

I am enjoying very much my switch in jobs from where I was when I first came down, to the people I am now working with closer to Torres del Paine National Park.  I've had to chance to see some beautiful country, and hope to see more...

In other news, yesterday I bought a horse!  A "manso" (trained) horse here runs about $500 while the same horse in the US would easily be $1500+.  Small steps towards potentially riding around Patagonia for a while starting in March before returning home.  I didn't get a chance to snap a picture of the new horse (currently needs a name), but I will get one sent out soon!  It's apparently as easy to sell, as to buy (which was not very complicated) a horse down here.

Well, I hope you all are well.  Stay warm in the North!  Days are already noticeably shorter here than a month ago.  Spring is heading your way, and we are slowly walking towards fall.

:)  Andria

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back in Patagonia

Riding on the "beach" on Christmas day
I am back in the Chilean Patagonia 7 short months after leaving the first time.  However, this time, I'm back for the season.  I don't know what it is about this place, but some part of my soul connects here.  Between the inhospitable weather, and often relentless wind, the blue-grey of hanging glaciers, nameless lakes and rivers, and the open yellow-gold of the pampa grass between glacier-capped mountains, I have found a space I love.  I will certainly travel other places, but I will always return to the Patagonia.  It's good to be back :)

Horses saddled for a ride
I came down to work with a couple near the town of Puerto Natales.  They were great people, incredibly knowledgeable of the region, but there didn't end up being enough work with horses for both of us to be happy.  Myself, because I wanted to ride more, and them, because they needed more rides to justify my salary.  After two months working near the city, I went out to spend a week or two with some friends in Rio Serrano near one of the entrances of Torres del Paine National Park.  What started as 1-2 weeks has continued to 6+ a the moment.  I am enjoying the freedom of the open spaces near the park, and incredible views all day long.  My general thoughts are to stay around this area until the end of March, and then strike out, on horseback, looking for something else.