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Cape Horn Bound: Patagonia

A snowy horseback ride and an authentic asado in Patagonia make for an unforgettable day.

May 27, 2010

54°54’524S 067°35’059W
May 26, 2010

Every day aboard Pelagic Australis has had something special about it, but yesterday was absolutely over the top.We had anchored in darkness the night before, so the first moment of magnificence, in a day full of it, was going on deck and seeing where we were. There was a beach off the bow with four simple buildings—this was the estancia. The humbleness of the shack-like properties was overwhelmed by what had to be the most magnificent setting in the world. The sky was gray, snow was falling, and white-capped mountains loomed to port and starboard. The tide was out; the air had the fishy smell of a recent herring run and storm petrels wheeled above in the blank sky and dotted the tidal flat.

After breakfast, we suited up for a ride. The snow was coming down furiously and we were warned to dress as warmly as we could. I wore thermal underwear, foulie bottoms, a zip up fleece, a Columbia Omni-Heat jacket, and my Blundstone boots because my DuBarrys were damp on the outside and I thought I’d give them a chance to dry.

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We dinghied over to the estancia to meet Laura’s and Miles’s friend Jose. A real gaucho, he looked the part with his dark hair held back in a ponytail and topped by a beret. Dirty chaps, spurs, and an oilskin jacket suggested he knew his way around a ranch. Three uniformed carabineri from the local post helped handle the horses—they had come by because they were going to take care of Jose’s dogs while he was away. A motley pack—I counted seven, all together, not including an adorable little furball of a puppy that was in the house and one on the front porch that was either very lazy or very old—roamed the yard, watching the activity. One by one we were assigned a horse—mine was named Loli—and off we all went, with Jose leading the way. It was indescribably beautiful. Big, fat snowflakes were falling heavily, and the only sound was the suck of hooves in mud, the occasional snort of a horse, or a stunned exclamation of awe. We were in Patagonia, riding through a scene of incredible beauty—mountains on both sides, sea in between. It was a rare privilege, and we knew it, as we silently followed Jose and his pack of dogs through the falling snow.

After a couple of hours, we reached a point where we had to stop. The tide was incoming and a tidal estuary would strand us on the other side if we continued. As it was, when we recrossed one that had only reached our stirrups on the way out, our horses were submerged right to saddle level and my ankle-high Blundstone’s were flooded. I cursed myself, again, for not wearing the DuBarry’s, which have been great both on and off the boat. It was now unbelievably cold and wet, but we were on a homeward gallop. And just as we retied the horses to the hitching post, Miles arrived with hot whiskey and water for everyone. It’s possible that I have never loved a man more. My toes had passed the point of being painfully cold and had moved on to numbness. But after a hot shower back on the boat and some warm, dry socks, all feeling was restored and I was as good as new.

A couple of hours later, just after dark, we took our butchered lamb, a big container of coleslaw, 20 potatoes wrapped in tinfoil, several six packs of beer, and a half dozen bottles of red wine ashore. Jose, Swiss, and Miles had built a roaring fire in the shed and shaved a couple of straight saplings into long spears. Half the speared lamb was roasting on the port side of the flames, and the other half was roasting to starboard. We sat on stump-like rounds and drank and talk and watched the flames, periodically leaving the shed for restorative gulps of cold, fresh air. (I felt like a large chorizo.) Halfway through the cooking process, Jose brought out a sauce pan and with a brush made of a handful of dried herbs, doused the meat in a secret gaucho baste. Then Swiss sprinkled it with salt. When it had finished cooking, we took it into Jose’s kitchen, where a single gaslight lit the green wainscot walls and an old range showed an orange fire blazing through its split iron top. It was the perfect setting for eating the best lamb I’d ever tasted—crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside.

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After dinner, we packed up our stuff and dinghied back to the boat under a starry sky to hoist our aching but happy bodies into our berths for dreamless sleeps. It had been an unforgettable day.

For a gallery of images from Mary South’s trip around Cape Horn click here.

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