EstrellasdelaSur Leave it to Beaver Chris’s Pony Ride Bonanza CrucelosDedos CuerpoMilitar
My horse was named Rambo – a magnificent, tall and buxom fellow with the most appealing chocolate brown woolly winter coat. He was the largest of the fair and was known for carrying the heavier load.
At last we had arrived at the end of our road – with quite enough gas but too few tires. We don’t quite know how we are getting home from here. Waiting there for us was “German” – pronounced “Hairman” – with five horses. He was a slender and rustically weathered lad of 60 years with stark green eyes and rosy red cheeks, wearing a light brown green felt hat pulled tightly with a string under his chin and a long leather trench coat – a picture perfect fit for the ride through the woods. We packed our necessities, mounted as necessary and trekked through the forest toward our temporary and remote lake home.
Although we have gone many miles, met many new friends and seen many wonderful things, I have been waiting for an opportune moment of inspiration to write forth my experiences which had until now eluded me. I have arrived with Christopher and Brian at what cannot be possibly described in contemporary terms – but I am blessed and enlightened by what I am now witnessing and what I have fortunately and thankfully been able to share with them – who will indeed never be quite the same upon their return home.
We are about as far from civilization as one might choose to live here – some 250kms into the wilderness of the very Southern reaches of Tierra Del Fuego. We are the guest of “German” and his wife “Marysala” who live here on a family homestead on the shores of lake “Fagnano” – pronounced “Fanyano” – a deep turquoise blue glacial lake just one mountain range North of the Beagle Channel in Chile and stretches far from here into Argentina. German calls his wife “Mujer”
Our horses carried us from the road head through the forest, through mountain streams, across dense red and iridescent green moss bogs and through fences to the Estancia. German has lived here for 40 years, often alone in the woods, building his home and carving out a living running this small and extraordinarily remote 4000 hectare ranch. The house is made of local wood, which was logged and milled right here in the yard on a sawmill attached to the drive of an old tractor. Every other implement was hauled here by horse or oxen some 70 km through mountain valleys and passes – including the most exquisite one hundred year old wood burning stove – “stufe” that sits in the kitchen and churns out fresh bread half the day. There is no electricity here, no running water or video game of any kind. There is a short wave radio that runs on a solar panel and battery. We are here in the woods, living like the settlers of the West must have done back in the day.
As we sat at the dinner table warmed by the heavy iron stove, German asked us if we minded eating late. He said he had planned a large bonfire and barbecue for us. As soon as we said no and that we did not mind, out the door he went and into the woods. He returned shortly thereafter with a freshly slaughtered male sheep – “Cordero”. Half the animal was skewered on a long iron sword to be slowly roasted over an open fire. And as the three of us made ourselves at home, German again emerged from the woods with a freshly quartered Beaver, which he fed to his three dogs.
Ten breeding pair of Canadian Beaver were imported to Punta Arenas at the turn of the century in an effort to cultivate a fur market. There are hundreds of thousands living in the Southern forests here and they have decimated many of the local trees and flooded valleys with their dams. So destructive they have been, Chile just recently offered a bounty for their pelts in hope of eradicating them from here.
By nightfall we were gathered around a blazing fire beneath the starry expanse of the Southern sky. A friend of German’s – Patricio – a documentary film maker from Santiago, was visiting for a day with his son Daniel. Patricio seasoned and turned the sheep and stoked the fire and blessed us with an occasional ballad with his guitar. And as late as German had predicted, we were sitting to a feast of roasted lamb, salsa, boiled potatoes and wine. We ate at 10:30 and our barbecue ended when the fire ended.
At the crack of Dawn we were up and ready for another day. Marysala had already made breakfast for us. German had readied his boat for the long one and a half mile trek to the other side of the lake. The winds were calm and had they not, we would have ridden our horses into the mountains in search of two of his horses that had run off. He said that there are wild horses in these mountains too, left behind by settlers at the turn of the century.
My concept of work – and I would suggest that of most people we know - has no compare here. At least in this family, work ends late and begins early. There is cooking to do, wood to chop, fires to stoke, berries to gather, a garden to tend, animals to feed and so much more. And yet – these people find a sense of pleasure and satisfaction in their accomplishment – a sensitivity to their lives and land that you don’t often find back home.
Marysala always smiled and sang constantly as she washed, cooked and ironed – with a original solid metal iron that was warmed on the stove. And as German led us up the mountain side on a 1300 foot vertical hike – and lost his path – he sang to the forest in search of his familiar road. What an interesting and wholesome character – who would often sit at his kitchen window looking contently out across his land, his weathered and aged hands warmed by a cup of coffee.
We returned from the mountain in the nick of time as the wake of the wind again crossed the waters, generating four foot swells and white caps. We left our mountain side perch and headed for the boat. By the time we got back to our side of the lake, we were completely soaked and cold from the high waves and the 30mph 8 degree centigrade wind.
Although the wind is a constant element here, the skies can change countless times in a day. With our clothes on the line waving in the wind and the sun shining for at least half of this day – we were all back in order in no time.
As the evening light faded to darkness, Brian, Christopher and I sat around the stove, German pulled out a dusty bottle of twelve year old Scotch – a gift he’d once received from a Scotsman some years back. He said he didn’t drink much but would have a snort with us. The whisky was called Bunnahabhain (Bu-na-ha-venn) from the Island of Isle in Scotland. German showed us an album of extraordinary historical photographs of his father and family who worked and settled the land in the 1930’s with one great image in particular of all their supplies being dragged by Oxen across the mountain pass – the same pass through which we had earlier driven on a new Chilean road.
It was morning, and we were preparing to head back for the road. German and Brian had gone with the dogs to gather the horses. Marysala was making breakfast for Brian and I. Christopher was still asleep – but not for long. The road-head is the very worst muddy and rocky road and we have no longer a spare and with 300 kms to drive on vacant land – we will drive slow and cross our fingers. Of everyone we have asked about the repair of our spare and our perilous trek, they have all said, “cross your fingers”.
With our bags packed, we again returned to the road-head – Marysala waving goodbye from the wooden gate of the pasture. The road was about an hour’s ride – and we stopped along the way checking Beaver traps that German had set. It was a sad goodbye at the end of the road for all of us.
We drove carefully down the road, watching for potholes and sharp rocks. Because it was a rental, we vowed to drive all 300km back to the North on three wheels if necessary. As chance would have it, we stopped at an Army outpost at the entry to the mountains. The officer in charge – a blond and slightly English speaking German Chilean – invited us inside for coffee. As we exchanged stories and listened in some part to the Discovery Channel’s essay on WWII – the Chilean Army repaired our tire. Now that’s something that would never happen back home. He asked only that we send him a picture and gave us his e-mail address. His name was Errol Pfemp.
By nightfall we were again within reach of a hot shower. Christopher had two sandwiches for dinner while Brian and I shared dessert. Both Brian and Christopher will soon be flying home. Both sit quietly at times now with the end of this adventure looming. It is fair to say that both have been touched by the land and the people here in an extraordinary way – and perhaps for both as well, they will endeavor more often than not to examine the big picture of things as they continue their trek through life.
When we were in Torres Del Paine – it seemed that some friends of mine from the states were going to be staying on the other side of the Glacier at the same time we were going to be there - so we stopped in for a visit. They were traveling with a couple from Peru, their very good friends, who they had wanted me to meet. They were staying at the most exclusive place in all the South – a private facility where all meals, drinks, horse rides etc. were includidado. We had a couple of glasses of wine as the sun was setting in the mountains. Finally – their friends joined us – the top Cotton producer from Peru and his wife. Christopher on the other had been expressing some interest in studying Archeology when he goes to college. Turns out that this man’s wife Paloma is the top pre-ColumbianArcheologist in all of Latin America – has published eight books and runs the Master’s program in Lima. She and Christopher had a chance to visit, they exchanged contact information and she invited Christopher to study with here in Peru and further – to join her on a new dig in July in the North Peru. That’s a pretty cool deal!!!
And one last Phenomenando – from every chicita, cholita, mamasita and anything else that was female and had an “ita” and was between 12 and 35 years of age including any gordita – we heard shrill squeaks, hoots, hollers, coos and giddy lusty laughter every time Christopher passed – including whenever we passed a playground and one girl actually followed me around for an entire day before shyly, coyishly asking for “Chreeeestaaafeeeer’s e-mail address. What is all that about?
Living in or worrying about the past, or about something once done that you could have done better is a useless endeavor - for no amount of energy can change the past. The future is still to unfold and may never be, and so waiting today in anticipation of something tomorrow is just as fruitless as is your lamenting the past. Our only time to truly live is in the present - this moment - and to do all that is doable.