As you know from the previous blog post, due to the problems with Chris’s bike we were forced to stay an extra day in Rio Gallegos. Well, this is not entirely true because instead of staying here in what is not the most attractive of cities, we were invited to visit Gonzalo’s family farm deep in the Argentinian countryside, and around an hour and a half outside Rio Gallegos.
This constituted a marked change from business as usual on the trip, so we were very excited to see what was awaiting us. After a light brunch and sorting out a few pieces of work, we left the city at around 4pm and headed out into the wide open spaces of inner Argentina. The drive over there was typical from what we had seen in our drive down; huge, wide, open spaces stretching as far as the eye can see. Occasionally the view was broken up by the odd sheep or llama by the side of the road, but essentially we barely saw any man-made structure for the entire 150km drive out to Chali-Aike, the name of the farm.
We didn’t really know what to expect as we pulled off the road and made our way down the gravel driveway towards the farmhouse. What exactly are we going to do at this farm in the middle of nowhere? Part of the answer came as we walked into the beautiful old farmhouse and were greeted as family by our hosts; we were going to eat! We were shown outside to a beautiful lawn and to a massive, and I mean truly massive outdoor grill!
Here we were offered drinks as one of the staff completed cooking an entire lamb which looked absolutely delicious. After this was chopped up, we were asked to sit at a table they had prepared outside, and alongside some home grown salad, we munched to our hearts’ content on some of the most delicious meat we had ever eaten. Slaughtered only the night before from their own livestock, this was about as fresh as you were ever going to get!
While eating, Sandra and Gonzalo (mother and father of Gonzalo junior) told us about their lives on the farm and what they did here. The land that they owned, which had been passed down through the family over 3 generations and 103 years, was absolutely mind bogglingly huge!
Their land measures 25km long by 22km wide which is 550 square kilometres, or 55,000 hectares! To put this in perspective, this is over one third the size of Greater London where over 7.2 million people live! Sitting on the immaculate lawn in front of the farmhouse, which is in a slightly elevated location, everything the eye could see, and more, in every direction, belonged to the farm…the sight was truly incredible and quite unimaginable.
What do they do with this land? Primarily, they use it to graze sheep, some 4,500 of them! In addition, they also raise horses and cows, and there were plenty of ostriches running around too. The main business however is derived from sheep wool and other sheep related products, as well as a small amount of oil which has been found on their vast piece of land.
We often hear about farms with very cramped conditions where the animals are force fed and live in absolutely disgraceful confines. This was the absolute polar opposite; the sheep are free to run around wild in the 55,000 hectares, and once a year they are brought in for shearing. Our hosts were very keen to show us how this all worked, so after the meal, we were taken out into the fields. We were told to wait by one of the barns while the sheep were collected. In order to do this, Gonzalo mounted a dirt bike, and sped off with Pancho, his trusty sheep dog, who was sat upon his lap as he drove!
A few minutes later, the sheep were herded into the barn with the help of Andres. I haven’t mentioned Andres yet, and perhaps I should have because he is a symbol of the real, traditional Argentina, and we had the pleasure of meeting him over lunch a little earlier.
Andres is a real, bonafide gaucho. Despite his age of 65, he still works the fields every day in the same way as he has done all his life. Standing tall and straight in the full atire of a traditional gaucho, and replete with rosy cheeks acquired after years of work in these windy fields, he was living proof that in some parts of the world, the old way of doing things still exists unchanged after many years.
Anyway, back to the barn where Gonzalo returned upon the bike, and the sheep where being ushered into a pen by Andres. In some farms where conditions are sub-optimal, you may expect the animals to be restless or a little agitated when put in a confined space and surrounded by people staring at them at them and patting them, which of course is what we were doing. However, they were completely calm and nonchalant with the attention, and one of the newborn lambs, just 15 days old, was happy to sit in Clemens’s arms while we stroked it and took pictures of it.
Next up was something we were really looking forward to seeing; a shearing! Gonzalo walked into the pen and inspected the sheeps’ wool to see which one was due for shearing. After deciding, he plucked one from the herd, and sat the sheep on its bum and began the shearing process. Throughout, the sheep did not make a sound, and apart from the occasional wriggle here and there, it barely squirmed as the razor went over its body and removed a thick layer of soft wool.
This was done so expertly that the coat came off all in one piece, and after a few minutes it was all over and the sheep, now looking much smaller, was allowed to rejoin its comrades in the pen. Check out the pictures (which will shortly be uploaded) to see what I mean; it really was an awesome thing to see, and gives you an idea of where much of our clothing comes from.
After seeing a bit more of the farm, the sun began to set and it started getting pretty chilly, so Gonzalo invited us back into the house where we sat and chatted in the warm kitchen for several hours. Before we knew it, it was dark outside, and much of the rest of the family arrived from Rio Gallegos for a big meal. This again consisted of the delicious lamb we had had for lunch as well as some pasta and a variety of salads.
The only 2 words I can think to describe the evening, and the whole day in fact, are unique and magical. None if us had ever been on a farm like this in the absolute middle of nowhere, nor shown such extreme hospitality by a bunch of people we had never met before. We well and truly had a fantastic time!
I wish I could go into more detail about the day because I fear the above description does not do it justice. The smells, the fresh air, happy dogs running around the place, good food, great hospitality, and total serenity relaxed the team to a huge extent even though we still had a really tough day of driving awaiting us the next day. However, we probably needed the break because the following day would require every ounce of energy we had as we drove south and entered Tierro del Fuego; the land of fire!
As such, after dinner we went to bed early in lieu of the 5.30am start the next day, and our penultimate push towards Ushuaia!
N.B. The farm had no Internet hence the lack of blog and photo uploading!