LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 39
Pags. 96 - 103
By: Soledad Gil
Phptps: Federico Quintana
The Glacier and surrounding estancias. Another 200kms. The mechanical rattling of the roads had already become a sweet habit, in daily doses, to encourage us to believe that we were heading towards something even better than the day before.
Nature, as opposed to politics, never let us down.
My first sight of the renowned Perito Moreno was on a splendid grey day. We had reached the icy beauty of the glacier.
The incredible blue of the cold.
The immensity of the cordillera-turned-glacier.
The clamour of the icy mass, its echo prolonging the thunderous sounds reverberating in the woods. The deceitful serenity of the land.
The uneven contour of a frozen sea on a stormy day. The whiteness of the icebergs floating adrift. The magnitude of the live mass of ice that roars and breaks, cracks, falls, makes waves, expands and breaks once more.
The magnificent silence in between. The frosty winds, turquoise and invisible. The tears which flow, unwillingly, in awe, wishing to become stalactites.
We did it all - everything possible to make contact with nature. We took the footpaths, we sailed the waters, we went trekking.
The first are ideal to "break the ice", more intimate is the excursion which starts off at Puerto Banderas and sails around the Upsala, Onelli and Spegazzini glaciers, giving one a true notion of the dimensions of the icebergs. The ultimate feat is to walk, using crampons, on the glaciers themselves, naturally with a guide in attendance.
You must remain very alert, but the sheer pleasure of this overpowering spectacle is worth any effort. In the surroundings there are several places to stay or go for a great meal, first we visited El Galpón, 21kms. from El Calafate and 58 kms. from the glacier. The restaurant seats 120 and they have recently opened 16 fabulous rooms, all with views to the lake and Cerro Cristal. They still keep their 5,000 sheep on the 3,600 hectare Estancia Alice, and to watch Shiela, the black kelpie belonging to Valeria Cook, at work is a real pleasure.
For more sophisticated customers we recommend the former Relais & Chateau inn, Alta Vista, where everything ranging from the garden to the décor, not to mention the food, is exquisite. Alta Vista is on the Estancia Anita, with its 60,000 hectares of land and 40,000 sheep! Sandra Balfour, who made sure that the pictures taken of the dining room reflected the true elegance of the salon, greeted us.
We stayed at Nibepo Aike, founded in 1914 by Santiago Peso, and were received by his grandson Adolfo Jansma, who is very enthusiastic about the new life breathed into the estancia since they began to use it for tourism ten years ago.
From Nibepo you can go for horse rides to the Cerro Frías and the Perito Moreno glacier. This year's programme includes sailing on the Tehuelche, of the Hielos y Aventuras agency, which collects passengers at Nibepo Aike.
But let us leave Calafate because there is yet more to tell. More roads heading south, even more hostile and desolate. Santa Cruz province covers 28 million hectares, of which 10 million are completely abandoned, and 1,200 farms, of which over half are deserted.
For this reason, we were taken aback by Rupai Pacha. It is an oasis, with an abundance of strawberries, leeks, pumpkins, cabbages, herbs and flowers. It has 26,000 hectares with 5,000 sheep, substantially less than those they had in 995, when a very harsh winter did away with the rest. Ever since, the Sturzenbaums have confined their efforts to agro-tourism, making jams and growing organic vegetables in the arid landscape, which makes the flavours seem even fresher and sweeter. Silvina, one of the six children of Heinz and Marta, greeted us. She showed us the vegetable garden, where I had my first live encounter with a huge leek flower, and she fold us about the condors of Achalay, some 30kms. from their lands. There is also trout fishing in the Vizcacha River, horse riding and birdwatching in the region.
Further out on Route 40, and just a few kilometres from the end of the continent, lies Cancha Carrera, belonging to Josefa de Dios and Juan Carlos Morrison. Their elegant English style house is extremely comfortable and offers five double rooms with deluxe private baths.
Josefina is the ambassadress of hospitality in this remote spot in the south. Cancha Carrera and Estancia Tres Marías (also belonging to the Morrisons) total 50,000 hectares between them with over 30,000 sheep. It is the ideal place to stop on your way to Torres del Paine (only 80 kms. away) and to visit the Puente de Piedra, where the echoes unfold and rebound amongst ravines and cliffs, which we were able to confirm personally by throwing stones which sounded like explosions when they hit the ground.
Here we were also able to observe how the dogs herd the sheep and discovered that the latter can truly jump, just like we were supposed to envisage them when we were trying to fall asleep as children. We celebrated the end of our tour, as expected, with a delicious barbecued lamb, which was even better than we had grown accustomed to eating, with a hint of melancholy at the proximity of our departure.
On the way to the airport of Rio Gallegos we passed by the Tapi Aike, at the intersection of Routes 7 and 40. Three European immigrants who lived in Punta Arenas at the beginning of the century founded this estancia: Mauricio Braun, Ernesto Von Heinz and Rodolfo Stubenrauch. Currently the estancia is in the hands of Braun's granddaughters. It has 60,000 hectares of land and they mainly rear sheep.
At the very end, a last magical moment, the sky began to turn steel blue and out came a rainbow. We had to stop. If only to cast our shadows on the straight paved road, to caress the "coiron" grass for the last time and to run down that toad, which I am convinced never ends. At least not on this trip. So I can have an excuse to return someday and see the end. Or the beginning. And start all over again.