Photo Essay of a Patagonian Adventure
AYSÉN — At the age of 58 I never imagined I’d get the opportunity to hop into the boots of John Wayne, climb on the back of a horse, and go galloping off into the wilderness with cowboys. As I splashed across a powerful river no less than eighteen times in forty eight hours, my wife Konomi happily splashed beside me.
This grand adventure was a kind of window shopping trip, to check out a ranch for sale deep in the Patagonian wilderness, surrounded by mountains and ancient forests.
This place is 250 hectares, huge by our standards, and it’s at least fifteen kilometers from the nearest road. For various reasons, the land is not for us. We’re happy with the few hectares we already have.
However, we like the owner of the land, so we agreed to make the journey with his two sons and take a few photos that may help him sell the property.
On the banks of the Rio Quinto, we waited beside the suspension bridge for our guides Rolando and Anibal Rosas. As they rode on up, they looked as if they had been on a horse since before they could walk.
They greeted us, grabbed our packs, and rode through the valley to Lucio Gallardo’s farm, where they arranged our horses while we followed on foot.
Lucio’s property has over five hundred hectares of land, much of which is forest. It has a few sheep, rents land to a cattle rancher, and runs the occasional tour. He gets his water from a spectacular waterfall.
He’s a good friend. We have a beautiful piece of land just across the river and stay with him whenever we visit.
Lucio graciously loaned us two horses for the trip, whose ears I was to see a lot over the next 48 hours. They appear in almost every photo!
Two kilometers later, we were back at the Rio Quinto.
With no bridge in sight, Rolando got off his horse to check that our packs were secure. I understood his concern.
The river was powerful and much deeper than I expected… not the usual tourist trip for sure. It was very exciting, albeit a bit scary.
The riverbed was covered with rocks and the horses occasionally slipped, leaving me holding the reins so tight that my hands froze up.
This was the first of ten river crossings that day, leading us from one forest to another as we made our way up the valley of the Rio Quinto. In some places the trees were delicate. In others, mighty.
There were plenty of things to admire, when I could take my eyes off path.
We plunged down steep slopes, through dense bush, across countless streams and patches of mud that made the horses sink so deep they had a tough job pulling themselves up.
We jumped over fallen trees, squeezed through surprisingly small gaps and clung to a precipice hanging over rapids.
I would have liked to have taken more photos, but I had no intention of being some nitwit knocked off a horse by a tree branch that I should have seen!
We then passed through several abandoned farms. Only two of the farms are permanently occupied – the one we were visiting and the one belonging to Lucio’s younger brother, who loves the solitary life.
It’s a tough life in the wilderness, and La Junta is very appealing to the younger generation. It’s a similar tale around the world.
Television, the automobile, and shopping malls all have the rural masses charging full steam ahead for the city lights.
But though these farms may be dormant, they are not totally dead. When it’s time to round up the cattle from the surrounding mountains and valleys, they once again come back to life.
Passing through these farms that have seen better days, you can’t help but notice the fences and gates. Carved from huge timbers, they will most likely outlive the hands that built them.
When we finally reached the boundary of the ranch, we took a much needed break, got off our horses and went for a leg stretching walk through the woods. We thought we were almost there.
Wrong! It was two more river crossings and another hour to get to the house!
At last we arrived at our destination. Saddle sore, I had only one thing in mind as I got off my four legged companion… Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I can finally get off my horse!
The horses felt the same as us at the end of the day. Off came the saddles and down to the ground, rolling in ecstasy they echoed my sentiments.
This farm was to be our home for the next two nights.
Every shingle and frame hand carved out of rough timber, each window carried in on horseback, very cold at night.
Plenty of time drinking Mate, within hugging distance of the fire.
It’s almost spring and five lambs were born on this very day – black, brown and white.
Life in Patagonia… Never a dull moment!
All photos by Paul Coleman.