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.