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…