Tales from the road

A rare glimpse into another world – Sebastian’s estancia in Cochrane

Chile carretera estancia el acampao c emma bye pura

The unique way we work in Latin America, establishing direct relationships with our local partners, makes our holidays more textured, with a more personal connection to your destination. A wonderful example of this is Sebastian, an estancia owner down in Chilean Patagonia. We met Sebastian through Christian, one of our guides along the Carretera Austral who bought some land adjacent to Sebastian's. Visits to the estancia are very relaxed - there's absolutely nothing contrived here, nothing put on for show. It's a privileged insight into the gaucho life, as Helen Jones was to find out recently.

A rare glimpse into another world – Sebastian’s estancia in Cochrane

Written by Helen Jones, Pura Aventura client

We left the paradise that is the Rio Baker and headed off on the dusty road to Cochrane, picking up a hitchhiker along the way. The main reason for visiting Cochrane was to experience a day in the life of a gaucho on his estancia and that certainly left us with many memories.

En route to the town we laughed along the journey about the name of our hotel; Ultimo Paraiso (Last Paradise). What if it really wasn’t? But of course, it was - not the last experience of paradise but it was a great place to stay. Our hosts there was a football-loving Spanish guy who accommodated our desire to watch the Manchester United v Manchester City game with plentiful cold beer. So that was a good start.

We also found a Chilean sandwich to die for at a place called Telhuelche; so good that we called back in a few days later. Cochrane also has the craziest supermarket ever, selling everything imaginable. That gave us a clue about how resourceful and self-sufficient people are in this part of the world.

We weren’t sure what to expect with the visit to the estancia. I was missing being up a mountain; my husband wasn’t. Anyway, the day proved to be incredible and it felt like a privilege to be able to see and feel a completely different way of life up close.

"Sebastian’s wife had made some bread, so into the wood burner that went, along with half a lamb. We had our first experience of yerba mate... it wasn't my cup of tea but Sebastian was very gracious."

Our day started with a beautiful drive to the banks of a fast-flowing river lined with lupins in full flower. The estancia is on the other side of the river, so we had to cross by boat. Sebastian was on the bank waiting for us; he gave a cheery wave and then jumped into his rowing boat, bailed it out with a bucket and then rowed against the current effortlessly. We jumped in, or rather staggered about inelegantly, to get in the boat. Sebastian greeted us with a broad smile and a strong handshake. More bailing out of water and off we went.

On the other side of the bank, one of Sebastian’s many dogs greeted us and wasn’t far from our sides the whole day. We were then welcomed into Sebastian’s home where we met his lovely wife, beaming baby and thoughtful looking teenage son. With a combination of my limited Spanish and the help of our guide we learned that Sebastian has built his home himself and that the wood burner is the focal part of every Chilean home; providing heat and hot water and, of course, for cooking everything. It was certainly very cosy.

Sebastian’s wife had made some bread, so in that went along with half a lamb. We had our first experience of yerba mate. Having read about mate we knew not to say ‘gracias’ until we’d had enough and knew the etiquette of passing the vessel back to the host. What we didn’t realise is that you’re supposed to drink the whole cup full before passing it back to the host. Sebastian was very gracious when he realised it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, so I said gracias and we moved on!

"The barn was incredible; almost everything made by hand and nothing goes to waste; ropes made from plaited leather, branding irons with the family ‘logo’ passed down through the generations."

Off we went onto the farm followed by the dog. Sebastian got on with the business of the day, which involved wrestling with a cow to tie her up before milking her. Our guide explained that the cow was suffering from mastitis and that the best way to help her was to milk; use of antibiotics is rare on the farm. Hard to watch and we decided it was not the best cow to learn milking skills on, so we stood and watched, feeling a bit like the city types we are.

Next was sheep-shearing. All done by hand in ten minutes flat. He’s obviously done that before! The barn itself was incredible; almost everything made by hand and nothing goes to waste. We saw ropes made from plaited leather, branding irons with the family ‘logo’ passed down through the generations (although the more animal friendly tags are used now), yoke for the oxen that still carry loads of wood chaps made out of goats skin and medieval looking sone balls used to ‘round up’ horses and other recalcitrant animals.

Pretty much everything was made by Sebastian, including an ingenious feeding trough made from a hollowed-out tree trunk with some branches left on acting as legs.

Then onto lunch; the lamb that we saw earlier was now nearly ready. We noticed Sebastian taking an active role in getting lunch ready and learned this isn’t usual for a gaucho. Though by then, we’d already gathered he wasn’t your average gaucho! Lunch was the freshly baked bread, the best roast lamb in the world, potatoes and salad leaves grown by our guide that he’d brought along with a glass of Chilean red.

I was curious about why the plates were kept in the fridge and our guide explained that the solar panel power source couldn’t support the power needed for the fridge, so it was now simply a cupboard. We also learned that before mobile phones there would have been no contact with the outside world. Along with the dogs we had tiny chickens running around; apparently only 1 in 10 will survive due to foxes.

Our day was full of smiles, warmth and curiosity both ways. We headed back to the boat and after more bailing out and skilful rowing, ended up back on the other back with lots to think about, another very firm handshake and memories that we will cherish.

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