Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cutting Off Balls in Patagonia

Getting out of Coyhaique was so typical that it is not even worth describing. The adventure began after the postman on duty dropped us off 50 kms down the road at a turn-off to Puerto Ibañez. We were not heading there, we were taking the long road around Lake General Carrera (or Lake Buenos Aires, depending on which side of the border you are looking at it). We did not spend 5 minutes at the spot before an overloaded 5 ton truck pulled over. The main feature of the load was a small JCB tractor. Around it were piled a variety of things one might need for road construction: buckets of grease for the tractor, scaffold and lumber, a ton worth of ready-mix cement mix, cement mixer and a bag of potatoes.There was no room in the cab but Luis and Jose pointed to the tractor seat: ¨Get in!¨
It was a perfect ride. Luis and Jose were on their way to Guadal to repair the main plaza of the town. They were not in too much of a hurry and they stopped to check out the road-side brooks for salmon a few times. They would both get out, run to the river, toss in their hooks and wait a few minutes. ¨No salmon here! ¨ Luis would say. We would all rush back to the truck, hop in and roll until the next fishing point.Luis was driving through his homeland and he knew all the vistas. He would slow down in front of waterfalls and beautiful mountains for us. One time the truck came to a stop before a huge waterfall. Jose jumped out, ran like a mouse to the base of the falls, posed for a second and ran back.After a few hours the two friends decided to make some room for us ion the cab. They hawled all the stuff out of it and we fitted in. The rest of the way we spent listening to Luis` stories. He had something to tell about every kilometer of the road. We were soaking in the local stories coming from the local person obviously enjoying telling them - that was the essence of our trip, travelling, listening, learning, observing.
We parted ways with the friendly crew at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere at 1:30 am. There was nothing at the intersection of the two dirt roads except for an awesome shelter. It had a solid metal roof, a flat concrete floor and three sturdy walls. It looked like a bus stop, only it had enough room inside to put up two tents side by side! The walls were covered my messages left by generations of people who camped there - half of them were in Hebrew. We pitched our tent and fell asleep.
Next morning we got a short ride to the nearby Puerto Bertrand almost instantly. There, we only had to wait 3 minutes before Patricia and Juan-Carlos stopped for us. They were touring the area, heading to Tortel, our destination as well! The couple was super nice, they were in no hurry and stopped whenever they wanted to take photos.After some 6 hours of driving we arrived to Tortel. Well, this village is unlike anything else we have ever seen. Remember Riverdale form the ¨Hobbit, There and Back Again¨? Tortel was just like it. It was built on the shores of a misty fjord. The buildings and the boardwalks were entirely of cypress, bountiful in the forests around. All the structures were elevated on stilts above the inter-tidal zone, and climbing up the steep marshy hills around. Boardwalks connected the houses. The coolest thing about Tortel was that there were no cars in town – all vehicles HAD to be left on the huge parking lot at the entrance, some ways away from the actual settlement. You would then walk through the welcome gates and dive into life without cars.According to the friendly lady whom we met shortly after entering the town, Tortel has more than 10 kms of boardwalk. Wow. There are lots stairs to climb, too.
The town was mainly inhabited by younger people – we have not seen an old person during our 4 hour stay there. As the same woman explained to us, walking on the boardwalk with lots of stairs is not the same as walking on firm ground. With time people develop spine problems, as the wood is a little too springy.
After exploring the town, our drivers (you may even say hosts by now) invited us for an awesome lunch of fresh-caught fish at the only restaurant in town. The fish was delicious and we left Tortel in an elated state of mind.
Patricia and Juan-Carlos were heading back to Chile Chico the same day and invited us to come along with them. That was super cool, we did not even had to hitch to get back! The ride back was tiring for all. After three hours of driving, when we finally arrived to Cochrane, our hosts told us that they were too tired to continue on to Chile Chico at night. We agreed that it was not a prudent thing to do. So they went to look for a hotel, and we were eyeing up empty lots that we drove by. Patricia and Juan-Carlos walked into one hotel and emerged a few minutes later. ¨Listen, said Patricia, ¨we would like to pay for a room for you. We know that you have no problem sleeping outside tonight; by I would not sleep well knowing that you are somewhere out there. Please accept our invitation.¨ This last sentence convinced us and we gratefully accepted this generous offer. The night on a soft bed, a shower and breakfast in the morning were a refreshing change from our usual routine.
On the leisurely drive back Juan-Carlos noticed a road sing that read: ¨Balsa Baker – 1 km¨. (A ferry across the river Baker – 1 km) ¨Would you like to see the ferry? ¨ he asked us. ¨Sure, ¨ said we, ¨we are in no hurry¨. We drove down to the river and saw the ferry. It was a big steel raft that ran across the biggest Chilean river. The current was so strong that the ferry needed no motor to cross it: the ferryman simply adjusted the steel cables that attached to the cable running from bank to bank in a certain way, skewing the raft this way or that. Short front end and a long rear end made the raft drift across to the other side in a matter of minutes. Taking the same ferry were some farmers, on their way to tend to their cattle. ¨Would you like to come along to castrate some year-old bulls? ¨ asked one of the farmers. Patricia is a veterinarian and Juan-Carlos is a rodeo rider, so their eyes lit up with anxiousness. We have never been to a ranch, so we wanted to go, too.
We got off the ferry and followed our new friends down a trail, which later disappeared and we were just driving through some hilly pastures. At one point, the hill became too steep so we had to abandon our vehicles and walk the rest of the way. The ranch consisted of a small house, some farm sheds and a corral. In the corral, some thirty young bulls were hoarded together. Our farmer friends carried all the necessary tools for the castration: some lassoes, a veterinarian kit and some 16 beers. Some more men were waiting at the ranch. As soon as we came, the job began. The process was easy: A calf was let out into the bigger part of the corral. Men were swinging their lassoes above their heads. The objective was to lasso the calf in, bind its legs, put it on its side and cut off the balls. Instead of a dull job, these men turned the process into somewhat of a competition, or a game.The coolest was to throw the lasso under the calf, binding its legs and making it stumble down. The others would then run over and bind the legs, pulling the hind legs further behind to open its belly. The veterinarian would then come up, cut the bag open with a sharp knife and cut off the testicles, one by one. Some disinfecting spray and the calf was free to go.The second coolest thing was to throw the lasso over the horns. The calf would then kick, throw and bend its back. The men would then get very excited, running up to it, grabbing it by the horns and trying to bend it to the ground. Some calves were tougher then others and would chase the men around, trying to punch them with their heads. Men would ran away, yelling and having the most fun.
The third coolest thing was to get the lasso on the calves neck.
After some ten calves were done, Carlos, the owner of the cattle, offered George a lasso. George turned out to be a born ¨gaucho¨: he lassoed in four calves: two over the horns and two over the neck. Yeea-haaa!
After all the calves were castrated, an asado followed. A two-month old lamb was especially killed for the feast, a traditional asado of the region. Men congratulated each other on the job cleanly done and were chatting about hay prices and cattle in general.
After the carcass of the lamb was eaten, the people began to leave, and so did we, continuing on towards Chile Chico tired, happy and with full bellies.
Patricia and Juan-Carlos changed their minds about going to Chile Chico, deciding to go to Coyhaique the way that we came with the truck the day before. So we parted with them late in the afternoon on the same crossroads with the shelter. It was raining and we decided to camp under the same welcoming roof for the night.Next day greeted us with sunshine and we easily hitched to the border, crossed into Argentina and camped out near the river, on the other side from Los Antiguos.

1 comment:

  1. "George turned out to be a born ¨gaucho¨"
    We are proud! :))