Archive for February, 2008

A pitch black night and golden morning

February 22, 2008

From treeline on Cerro Paine, the lunar eclipse Wednesday night was spectacular. After hiking up the sandy mountain in the dark, we pitched our tents on the only slivers of flatness we could find. Then we sat beneath the lenga trees and polished off a box of wine and loaf of marble cake while watching the moon change from a burnt orange globe to nothing to a burnt orange globe again (the pics didn’t do it justice).

The wind was too powerful in the morning to ascend an hour and a half to the top of the mountain for sunrise (Gabriel guessed the gusts were 200 mph at the summit), so we just walked a few minutes up from our campsite to a clearing. And, Oh. My. Goodness. For 15 minutes as the sun was rising, we lived in the most golden world I’ve ever seen. The entire landscape, including the towers in the distance, was illuminated. We glowed, so did everything else, and above it all shone a rainbow.


Come on, be a nice horsie…

February 14, 2008

I’ve spent the last two weekends watching my baqueano friends jinetear (hi-ni-tay-ar), which, translated directly, means “to show off one’s mad horsemanship skills.” I went to a local jineteada Feb. 1, 2 and 3 in the town of Cerro Castillo (pop. 100) and an international one the 8 and 9 at the Estancia San Jorge, located about 12 km outside Puerto Natales.


The playing field in Cerro Castillo


Aaaaaaand… in San Jorge

Jineteadas are the same as rodeos, only different. During the main event, participants try their damndest to stay planted on the back of a bucking animal that flatly rejects the idea of being ridden. In a rodeo, the main event involves a bull with its balls tied; In a jineteada, the main event involves an untamed horse, upset by the events that proceed as follows:

1. In a muddy corral at the end of the jineteada field, baqueanos rope the wild horses one at a time, then shimmy bridles over their noses. Sort of like face bras. Nobody likes that.


2. Just before the event begins, someone runs the horses from the corral to the far side of the field, where they tie them to one of three 15-foot posts. A bleacher full of spectators looks on. The horse sometimes protests by bucking, yanking away or lying down. The baqueano manning the post fastens a leather strap around the horse’s midsection. In the case of the basto event, this will be the only item the rider has to hold onto.



4. The rider, with a little help from his friends, mounts the horse. He wears sharp spurs around his boots.

5. An official on horseback approaches the post, raises a flag, then lowers it. In a split second, the baqueano in charge of the post releases the rope tying the horse to the pole. The rider kicks the horse with his spurs, slaps it on the butt with his whip, and the horse takes off, his head lowered, his feet kicking. The rider holds on for his dear, dear life until the gong sounds after eight, 12 or 15 seconds, depending on the event.


Sometimes this is incredibly graceful. The horse bucks and the rider’s body follows its rhythm, staying strongly anchored to its back.


Other times, it is incredibly not graceful, like when a wild buck sends the rider crashing to the ground, where, if his foot does not slip properly out of the stirrup, he gets dragged and trampled as the horse sprints across the field toward the corral. I cringed through this during the Cerro Castillo jineteada. An ambulance is always parked right outside the field for this occasion.


Not a fall that required an ambulance, but painful to watch nonetheless

A couple of the baqueanos who work at the hotel participated in the jineteadas this year and both won first place at their events.

While the international jineteada at the San Jorge ranch focused completely on riding wild horses, the Cerro Castillo event encompassed a few other competitions as well. Kiddies rode sheep, teenagers rode cows, baqueanos lassoed the front feet of horses and brought them to the ground.



One of the most popular events at the jineteadas, however, was the never-ending fiesta. Most everyone was a contestant — and most everyone a winner.
I joined the game late in Cerro Castillo, attending an asado, or cookout, in the fenced-in patio of a Castillo resident after the day’s events finished up. We grilled lamb over an open fire while a local guide/musician nicknamed Chapas played traditional music on his guitar, accompanied by many voices and a makeshift drum.


Carlitos and William tending the meat


Paola on drums

Meanwhile, we slang back (new term, invented for the occasion) beer and Piscola (the Chilean liquor Pisco mixed with Coke).

Around midnight, we headed to a dance in the school gym, a la 7th grade. A live band, a packed basketball court, aerobic dancing and tons of fun. Eventually required a sweatband on my part.


You can just see the love in the air (My American friend Alexis and me.)

We CAN stop the fire

February 8, 2008


No need to fight anymore, the fire’s just about out. The volunteers that battled the blaze near Laguna Azul on Wednesday say everything is under control.
The brigade cooled the burning topsoil and roots by digging open the earth and pouring water on the ground. As they worked, they saw clouds of smoke rise from the soil and the water they poured begin to boil. Hot work, but well worth it.

Photo by Gabriel Ortega. All rights reserved.

Danger, danger! The park is on fuego!

February 6, 2008

The meter at the forest service’s Laguna Amarga outpost called it right when rating the fire danger “extreme” yesterday. Since mid-afternoon, clouds of thick gray and black smoke have risen from the pampa near Laguna Azul, about 10 km from where I’m based at Refugio Torre Central. As of now, no one’s sure how the fire started.



My friend and coworker Gabriel Ortega headed out to see the fire around 4:30 this afternoon and took a few shots while he was at it.

Brigadeers from the nearby town of Rio Turbio in Argentina have been fighting the blaze for most of the day and say they have it mostly under control. Still, the hot, dry weather over the last two weeks has left most of the grass around here a brittle brown, and the wind has been blowing hard all day. Not a good combo.


Uncontrolled wildfires have destroyed parts of the park several times before — most recently in February 2005, when a hiker’s lit campstove overturned in an area where fires where prohibited. The resulting flames singed about 5 percent of the park — 28,083 of the park’s 598,500 acres, 37,602 acres total.
The hostería Las Torres is assembling a team of volunteers to fight the fire starting Wednesday. The group will head out at 8 a.m. with shovels and buckets, and has been warned not to wear clothing that contains plastic. No pleather pants, people. Suerte!


All rights reserved on the photos.