Sunday, May 18, 2008

How about San Rafael??

We left the ranch with tears in our eyes the day after my birthday. The three hour ride out was made a bit interesting by the half arabian Cass and I were riding who would periodically spook and break into gallop! We reached the lower pasture and said our goodbyes to Sky and Horacio and headed with Ashley into El Huecu, the nearest town which doesnt have much more than a bus station and school. Since we were headed north towards Mendoza we hopped on a bus to Chos Malal (a town to the north) thinking that would be the fastest way to Mendoza. We were wrong! The drive north was stunning (which distracted us from the fact that T and C and I were all in 2 seats together and the drop off was terrifying looking!) We arrived in Chos Malal and found a hotel for the night but the next morning learned the only way to Mendoza was either back to Zapala (south), our on a small local bus in the evening that connected with an overnight bus from Buta Ranquil as far as San Rafael (3 hours south of Mendoza). There was no bus station for the second bus but we called the kiosco were the bus stopped and were told we could have 3 seats but no more and there wouldnt be another bus until 2 days later! Decided to take the plunge and headed north. Buta Ranquil was even smaller than El Huecu with dirt streets, one restaraunt and lots of folks staring at us. We ended up having 5 hours there before our bus left at 11 but to our pleasant surprise there was another seat for Cass. We left there at 11pm and arrived in San Rafael at 6:30 totally exhausted (the road was gravel and Dave and I barely slept at all). The first hotel we called would let us check in right away so we decided to stay. After a long morning nap we explored the town which seemed like our guide book said to be like Mendoza without all the hipsters. It is surrounded by fertile wine country and is notable for its tree lined streets and people of all ages and sizes on bikes everywhere. It also has really good icecream! At the ice cream store we met an italian ex-pat who invited us to her house for dinner. It seemed like such a good omen that we found a nice house to rent for the week and moved in! Our house was 5 blocks from a huge park and 5 blocks from the ice cream store. It was like I imagine living in a small European city to be like, we had a butcher shop, bakery, fruit stand and market within 2 blocks of our house but were in a very residential neighborhood. We spent the week visiting wineries (by bike on a bike path!!!), saw all the city's museums, played in the park and drove out to Valle Grande. Valle Grande looks very much like Utah including a lush river running through it that we took a raft trip on.

Ranch Friends

We made some great friends at the ranch that we hope to stay in touch with. Our friend Horacio made Toby these goat skin riding pants (we probably ate the animals meat too!). Our friends Anna and Juliana gave us breaks and played with the kids tons! The only two other kids around lived about a half hour away by horse back but we got together with them a few times for soccer games and art and language practice! And of course Ashley and Sky for hosting us at their beautiful ranch. We will miss everyone we met there and hope to see them again on our travels.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The kids learned to be very comfortable on horses and were riding by themselves (on mellow horses) pretty quickly. They can even ride bareback, a step I was never quite ready to take! Here are some photos of them riding separate and together. There was an area on the ranch with 3 small lakes about a 40 minute ride away that had the only producing apple tree this year that we rode to several times to stock up on fresh fruit which we ate in every conceivable form including an apple crumble cooked in our woodfired oven and apple fritters we improvised! Here is a photo of a cold ride we took there in the middle of the month! Shannon was lucky enough to go on a couple half day rides with clients and with ranch work. She also got to help round up the young steers which were getting pushed to the lower pasture to meet a cattle truck. Very fun!

Dave had an exciting day going to help our friend Horacio get a steer that had a broken leg and couldnt make it out to the cattle truck. They rode out with 2 others and herded the steer to a tree, lassoed it then Horacio slit its throat with his gaucho knife. Then they had to hoist it into the tree and butcher it, tie it on their horses and head back to the ranch 1 hr away. Dave´s horse freaked out about the meat being on its back so he switched to Horacio´s horse Pegasus (the name being a bad omen for a novice rider!). Pegasus then unbeknownst to anyone got a huge rock in his shoe and freaked out, taking off at a gallop uphill jumping over bushes until Dave could stop him! A little excitement in his life for sure!! That night had a gaucho asado in the barn of beef - a very welcome change from all the goat asados! We have nicknamed Cassidy the Barbarian Princess or carnivorous Cassidy for the way she chows down at Asados with a big chunk of meat in her hand!!

Life at Estancia Ranquilco

It is hard to describe the immensity and beauty of this part of northern Patagonia and this ranch called Ranquilco (which in Mapuche means place of trees beside the water which is an apt moniker). It is 100,000 acres owned by a former Aspenite Ashley Carriterhs and home to an every changing crew of volunteers, paying guests, Ashley´s daughter Sky, 2 other gringo

employees and 2 to 4 gauchos (cowboys) and a collection of dogs, chickens, cats, horses and aboug 600 cows and unnumerable goats! The headquarters area is perched on a hillside covered with some of the only trees in the area, overlooking a gorgeous clear cold river (see photo). There is the Big House where Ashley and guests stay and then a smattering of other crazy houses for relatives then the gaucho and volunteer quarters further up the hill in what used to be the historic ranch headquarters. We moved into the 2 bedroom volunteer house which had previously housed the other young volunteers and had the only kitchen and hot water bathroom (more on that later). The other folks were mostly heading out in about a week so they moved into other rooms throughout the place and we all shared the kitchen (a bit crazy for a control freak like me!). We had a fireplace, woodcookstove and wood fired hot water heater for the shower! No electricity because the water powered turbine broke last year.

We were given the job of salvaging a one acre garden which had been sadly neglected for several seasons. It was the perfect task for us because the garden was right next to our house and totally enclosed by a rock wall so that the kids wereunbothered by the roaming dogs and help us or play as they wished. We essentially dug it over and made paths and brought in fertilizer for the entire month. It was amazing to look at the progress and know that our work would provide the ranch folks with fresh veggies next year. Everyone was very grateful for our work which was very nice too.

The rythms of living on the ranch were so simple and fulfilling. We would wake up with the sun (8:30), work in the garden when it got warm enough and stop when it got hot, take a long lunch time then work more or hike or play or ride horses as the mood suited us in the afternoon. Making bread was a half day affair of making the dough, collecting firewood, heating up the huge woodfired oven and then baking it. Taking a shower meant planning for an extra hour of firewood and stoking it until it was warm enough for everyone to get clean, and thus only happened a couple times a week. The volunteers and gauchos were provided with an endless supply of goat meat, flour, rice, pasta, potatoes, onions and not much else. We were had some extra supplies brought in and never felt lacking but it sure was a change from the rich chocolate lifestyle of Bariloche! The kids adapted to the food really well though never became huge fans of goat meat. A few times we had fresh trout from the river and chickens from the ranch (Cassidy watched their necks get rung quite calmly!). The kids absolutely adored it and would have stayed for months if we could have.

Arriving at Ranquilco

We´ve been at Ranquilco now for almost 2 weeks and Im writing a blog entry now to transcribe later so it isnt too overwhelming.
First - our arrival! We took two buses back to back to get from Bariloche to our launching off town of Zapala. The kids were super psyched that our second bus was a double decker a
nd our seats were on top. They showed cheezy early 90s rock videos on the tvs the whole time which was rather surreal. After anight in Zapala we shopped with Ashley (the owner of the ranch) to resupply the ranch and then since there wasnt room in Ashley´s truck we took a 2 hour taxi ride to literally the middle of nowhere. Here´s a photo of the ¨taxi stand¨a shack in a lunar landscape with goat skins and no people, trees, water - nada! We then had to walk 7 kms on a faint dirt track to the ranch´s lower pasture Buta Mallin to meet up with Ashely, 3 others and our horses. We left for the ranch on horseback at 5pm for the 3 hr ride. The kids rode with us and were great sports even though it was pretty uncomfortable for them. At the top of a desolate windy pass we could finally look down on our home for the enxt month. A river winds through the canyons and poplars and willws starting to turn yellow mark the ranch headquarters. The last obstacle was a river crossing that wet our boots then an uphill slog and we were there just as dark falls. The other ranch volunteers welcomed us into our 2 bedroom house and had goat dinner underway for us but the kids fell asleep exhausted before they could eat!!