Wednesday, May 7, 2008

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.

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