Day 55 – 21st January – 65 – 31st
I think you’ll be glad to hear that normal service has now resumed, as I am sat in a bunk bed, desperately trying to distract myself from writing and procrastinating my arse off, whilst attempting to find a clever and witty way of summarising the last day or two for your benefit, aiding to you to read my blog without wanting to gouge your eyeballs out as you hear about how great a time Los Tres Amigos have been having whilst you are back home in the rain and witnessing the destruction of world politics. However, today’s entry is a little different as I have tasked myself with summarising the last ten days in under two hours so I can rejoin my friends and make the most of having civilisation within a few hundred miles and the wifi that comes with it. At this point you are probably wondering what the fuck we have been up to that doesn’t involve hostels, phones, or other people, so I had better explain.
An Idiot’s guide to a gaucho and the house he lives in!
The last week or so has been spent at Los Estancia Baguales, another farm of the Scottish/Patagonian family of the Macleans (our bosses), and has made up the second part of our voluntary work experience around Chile. However, this estancia turned out to be a little different to the last farm, La Peninsula. This became apparent very quickly, about three hours to be precise, as last Sunday we were picked up weary and not very early by a man named Rodrigo, and driven into the wilderness for a good three hours, and in fact up the whole of route nine that runs from Punta Arenas to Baguales. As we supposedly neared our destination and our home, which looked liked it would just be one of the several mountains around, we increasingly became aware we were not going to be living in a modern house with a power shower and leather sofas, but strangely our excitement grew, probably because we wouldn’t have to worry about all the bullshit about Mr Trump and ginger hair that would almost certainly be flooding in just as we had left connectivity, and if world war three happened to break out we would have no idea and could carry on with our lives as if nothing had happened. It was perfect timing. Anyway, back to the story, once we had eventually arrived at the nearest sign of life for a scary amount of miles, we were taken over to our new home and met our new roommate. His name was Lucho, and he is the Guacho that solely looks after and resides in this farm. In fact, I have so much to say about where we were living and who we were living with, that I think I need a new paragraph.
The small house, which included two bedrooms and bathroom and a living room/kitchen/dining room, was situated precisely in the middle and the end of the gigantic valley that we had driven up, with two bouncing rivers flowing to either side, and towering dark mountains encircling the building, ultimately creating a unbelievably stunning piece of traditional artwork that we were going to be sleeping, shitting and eating in. Alternatively, I had previously likened it to the most incredible looking baguette available on the market, with the house as the meat, the rivers as the filler and the butter, and the clings as the bread. I think I may have just ruined my brilliant descriptive piece of literature. Nevertheless, it was an incredible place, and we hadn’t even left the car yet. Our exploration of the house was carried out with the usual excitement of a new place, which can be likened to a energetically mental child at six o’clock on Christmas morning, or me at six o’clock on Christmas morning (2015). I hope this gives you some sort of impression of the place, as this is needed to truly appreciate the significance of where the three of us have been working and going about our daily routines.
As for Lucho, I can tell you now he is an incredible guy, but I don’t think even my highest quality of my version of english will be able to give the living legend the justice he deserves. On first meeting, similar to when a young girl meets her teenage boyband hero, the 70 year old farmer looked like your average bachiano, standing proudly with his mighty beard, funky boots and sporting a traditional boina in true Gaucho fashion. However, as the days went by we began to find out more and more about the El Gaucho Viejo, as he is known. He has worked for the Maclean family for thirty years, guarding over the 10,000 hectare farm with the help of only his pony, Tordo, and his six dogs, including his trusted favourite companion, Martine (He gets the first pick at the left over lamb). We bonded with Lucho through a combination of El’s translations and many a mate session, and I know I speak for all three of us when I say we were made really welcome by the gaucho, and felt perfectly at home. We even cooked him a few meals, and although he would have been too polite to tell us our attempt to replicate his amazing rice dish was a disastrous failure, we think our new improvised feast of chicken, teriyaki sauce, peppers, onions and chorizo, all mixed together, was a huge success, even in his mouth. Despite the huge amount of time we enjoyed together, we were left with several unanswered questions about his past and his present, mainly about how he became such an infamous guacho, and what he would do if he were to get battered by one of the 40 bulls on the farm (he already has), however some things are best left unanswered, and the mystery that surrounds the gaucho left untouched.
Now we are into the meat and muscle of the adventure, and I’m feeling relatively refreshed after another night that didn’t involve my suffocating and painfully thin sleeping bin bag, I feel it is the right time to offload all of the horrifically frustrating and mind-numbing work we were tasked with at Baguales, in order to entertain my audience and detox my troubled mind. I promise I’ll brighten it up with some light imagery and factual material, to calm me down, and save you from eternal depression.
Working life in the middle of nowhere.
Upon arrival at the farm, and meeting Kevin, he informed us of the work we would be doing in the most beautiful way possible by saying there isn’t much to do here, and he wanted us instead to explore the miles of jaw dropping scenery of the estancia. However, we soon learned he was slyly dampening the bad news that a few fences needed fixing over the ten days, but he offered to show us exactly what to do, and frankly we were over the moon to be simply patching up a few week fence posts here and there, as the digging of the great hole back in week one had set the bar extremely low for the kind of bitch work that these people had the power to bestow on us. How hard could it be?
So fucking hard! What you have probably worked out by now what we should have anticipated whilst looking into the distance at the monstrous cliffs and mountains around, the fences were obviously going to be equal in characteristics, as this is Patagonia, not the bloody Cotswolds where farms are the size of gardens and the biggest wild animals get that appear on farms are the pesky caterpillars that munch o the crop, and they certainly don’t go breaking down fences that people have shed blood, sweat and tears over, unlike the devils incarnate, or as you know them, guanacos. However, I must digress from my raging rant before I explode, and try and highlight and describe to you our work in a calm and collected manner. It’s going to be a struggle.
The first fence that we went into battle with was situated at the bottom of one of the numerous mountains, and of course headed in an upwards direction towards the mesmerising cliffs at the top. This made for a very nervy, painful, but also absolutely incredible commute to work, which proved to be just as excruciating as the one between my village and London that I have experienced and resented a fair few times, however I shouldn’t complain, as I don’t remember passing any spectacular mountain ranges between Oxford and Reading. Thankfully, our three person train soon arrived at the station named ‘start of the fence and bottom of the mountain’, so at precisely nine o’clock, and a few minutes, we began working our way up the fence, fixing any posts that either had loose staples (curved nails), missing staples, or no staples at all, which really wasn’t too hard, especially for the third person involved in the exclusively two person job, as this worker (me) only had to carry the tool bag and pass over two different sizes of staples when necessary. As you would expect, I NAILED my role to perfection, and only got the wrong type of staple half the time, which in my view was an excellent success, however I think Sir Quevedo would have only rated me as satisfactory at best. The whole operation closely resembled a game of golf, as it featured one person repeatedly hitting something towards a target, whilst another pointlessly carries around the numerous pieces of apparatus necessary to fulfil the task at hand. I would also associate the two with my hatred towards them and the extreme boredom that they create. Anyway, this fence took two days to complete, featuring many carcasses of guanacos attached the wire (which made me very happy), a few rain storms, and a very weird snack break, in which the three of us munched on a pack of trail mix on the side of the mountain with some spectacular views, and began to think deeply about where we were huddled and how far away we were from any other people. It was one hell of a picnic.
Due to our relative success on the first fence, and Kevin’s reassurance that this one would only take a day or two more, we began hammering with reasonable enthusiasm, despite witnessing, with our own eyes, the unbelievable length of the job at hand. I think we must have been on another planet to think this job would be quick and easy, although I did admire our optimistic approach when concluding that this fence must be in brilliant condition as it is mostly on a cliff so guanacos probably won’t feel the need to attempt to jump over it and piss me off. Sounds desperate, and it was because we were.
Despite a shaky start on day one which resulted in a debate whether to restart our work on the fence due to a few missing nails (13), we made decent progress day in day out, with only a few shorter days and a couple mental breakdowns. It was extremely tough mentally, and for me physically as I was given the job of running up and down with spare poles to replace broken ones, and even had to go right back to the house to saw up and retrieve one of the big battons that take the weight of the fence, however it turned out this wasn’t needed as Lucho didn’t have the right tools to put it into the ground. I chose to see this disaster as a light gym session or cross country training in order to avoid a tantrum.
By day three we had come up with numerous coping mechanisms to make our lives less depressing, which included learning to siesta outside on the disgustingly painful pampas of the wilderness, putting music on through Benj’s speaker, and playing games when the speaker ran out of battery. The best was definitely ‘shag, marry, kill’. The days still passed on though without insanity being fully achieved, however the sacred end didn’t seem to be coming into sight, and in fact never did. For my piece of mind, and to satisfy my mild OCD, I roughly measured the distance of the fence and how far we had got by the end, with the results pretty reasonable in the circumstances. The whole fence was about six km in distance, and we fixed around four and half of these many metres, which seeing as we were volunteers getting paid in pasta and sauce, and sweaty salami, and given the extreme incapabilities and idiocy of the guanacos that felt it necessary to cross over to get to the edge of a cliff, I think we did well just to stay out in the boiling heat and battering hail.
The negatives of this job are obvious, especially when the nature of the work means the more productive you are in the day,the more you have to walk home and back again in the morning. However, it did take us deep into the unknown and unexplored areas of Patagonia and the Baguales mountain range. Furthermore, the views from the office were utterly incomprehensible, and certainly beats looking out an office window at the measly London skyline. We should also remember, how many people can say they have done what we have been doing where we have been doing it?. Not many is the answer. On the other hand, not many people are employed as armpit sniffers or Mosquito bait, and they are genuinely real jobs (I looked them up) and jobs that are horrific, pointless and nothing to be proud of. We should count ourselves lucky.
I’m quite aware that for the past five paragraphs I have insinuated that the three of us had a utterly torrid time at the Baguales fences, and that’s because for a lot of it we significantly hated our lives and reached dangerous levels of depression that matched even the most middle aged of men in their traditional mid life crisis. However, we came away from the adventure with absolutely no regrets and negativity, and that was mostly due to Lucho, but also partly down to what we got up to on the rare days off that we awarded ourselves. We could have easily buried ourselves alive in our bedrooms and hibernated until tea was ready, and that would have been a day of dreams, however we bravely decided to force ourselves outside the door on both occasions and explore the realms of the estancia.
We first decided to do something other than bashing posts after we had finished the first evil fence, and decided to follow Panchies infamously shocking directions and head down the river in search of a mysterious lake, plunging ourselves into the heart of Patagonian desert. The main aim of this journey was to catch some fish, and despite stopping and setting up camp numerous times along the river, as well as casting in the lake itself, Benj had no luck with the sea creatures, therefore the trip was pretty much rendered pointless, however we did stumble upon and into some extraordinary places on the way. The highlight of the day was certainly finding and exploring a secluded puesto (little hut), and even though we later discovered the last Gaucho died in that very place, we felt very at home in the three bed and one room house, complete with its own cooker and outdoor toilet shack. We enjoyed our stay at La Hotel El Dead Gauchos so much so that we decided to revisit the five star accommodation on our second day off, accompanied by the visiting Lian, and filled the duration of the trip by napping and feasting on the goodies that El’s mum had brought with her to delay our inevitable doom. In fact, we stayed for so many minutes that two selfie-taking tourists and their hilariously unfunny guide turned up on the doorstep to say ‘hola’ and ‘chao’.
On both tours of the pampas, we were forced to conquer some serious terrain and overcome many a wet obstacle, however every inch of treacherous land we stepped upon was overwhelmingly worth it, just to witness the insane and dramatic geography on show in the desertous area. The most astonishing area was the gigantic and vast flat plain at the foot of the Sierra Baguales and its neighbouring mountains. We desperately attempted to take in our 360 degree panoramic view with merely our eyes and our cameras but the sheer size of space, that we were stood smack bang in the middle of, became increasingly apparent, and rapidly more scary. The cliff edges around us looked a matter of metres away, but yet wherever we walked we found ourselves no nearer to anything but dry ground and spiky grass. The illusion was absolutely incredible and completely took my breath away, but I won’t lie to you, it scared the shit out of me. This became a constant theme throughout our time at the estancia, and the whole concept of space and time, and distance and speed, became completely usual. Take the fences for example, at one point on the second and biggest fence we genuinely thought we were going to finish it with time to spare, especially when we could see the mountain that marked the end of the fence right in front of us. However, our hope and dreams were soon blown to smithereens when we reached the small peak of the nearest hill, revealing the countless other little hills between us and the finish line. It was cruel.
As for the lake, it wasn’t really anything special, but obviously when I say that, I mean it didn’t stand out compared to the rest of the incredible scenery around the farm and in Patagonia, but if the location is question was plonked smack bang in the middle of the Cotswolds, I would have to compare it to the exact replica of heaven. Nevertheless, we felt inclined to make the most of it, and on so on both occasions we indulged in a lovely session of sunbathing and consuming luscious fruit. I couldn’t complain, but the floor could have been softer and my apple could have been less mouldy, but they were minor problems in the grand scheme of things.
As a last little extra to finish off this Los Tres Amigos special, I would like to mention a few things that I have concluded you may like to know, based on the fact I have no idea who might be reading this and that I want to tell people anyway. I would firstly like to insist to you with all my powers of persuasion, that grass is the most underrated thing in the whole universe! After spending ten days attempting to nestle my delicate body into the evil little needles whilst desperately trying to not to cry, I will treasure the soft, smooth, painless and green grass that we have in Britain until the day I die, and I would advise you to do the same, or you might just end up in the Pampas. Secondly, I would highly advise anyone under the age of 50 to partake in what some people are calling a technology detox, and join the three of us in having a week or so without your phone buzzing in the pockets of your garments 24/7, without the notifications on the screen rapidly ticking over in the back of your mind until you give in and join the group chat, and without the horrible thought that someone could ring you at anytime of the day wanting something or other out of you, and although you may try and ignore the call, after the third hang up you are forced to get out of bed and attend to the social emergency. Honestly, I’ve never felt so refreshed and calm as I did during our time away from civilisation, until we got back and all three of our phones almost blew up under the intense scrutiny of the group chat. Seriously though, you should try it. And last but definitely not least, I feel inclined to tell you about the spirit that haunts and surrounds Los Estancia Baguales, and that has freed but excited the three of us out of our comfort zones. The area definitely has an ora and a mood that affects anyone that strays into its heart, and its sounds ridiculous, but even me as a relative sceptical, felt a weird but wonderful sensation when trekking around the mountains. I even think I was beginning to have an epiphany, especially when I began to go deep into my thinking capabilities, and contemplated how I had lived my life so far, and how it may turn out in the future, which has urged me to make the most of every opportunity I have and enjoy every minute that I’m lucky enough to have, even if this means never getting a job and travelling for the rest of eternity. I sound like a knob, I know, but El also believes that his mind has been changed, and we’re pretty sure a broken fence pole fixed itself. That bit I think is far fetched, but there is certainly something weirdly amazing within that place, I would highly suggest going to experience it for yourself. You can come with me if you like.
Time for a conclusion?
I am going to conclude the blog with what is possibly the biggest shoutout yet, and of course it goes to Lucho, but also Kevin and his family, and planet Earth. All these factors made the last ten days absolutely incredible. Lucho, his mate, and his family of animals made us feel so at home, despite neither the gaucho or the dogs speaking english. Kevin was the legend that chose to send us the estancia so we could experience the whole new world and the famous gaucho that resides in it, and I think the hellish job of fixing fences was just about worth it in order to earn our beds and live like Lucho. And the wonderful planet that we live on has yet again left me ALMOST speechless and truly astonished at what other parts of the world are capable of looking like. I will never forget anything that we have done since we left Heathrow airport, and I’m guessing that trend will continue, however I am in no doubt that this experience will stick out like the most beautiful sore thumb.