23-Nov-2002 -- Have you ever been in the middle of nowhere, then driven for 3 days, and still been in the middle of nowhere? If you have, you’ve been to Patagonia. This is the first impression when you visit Santa Cruz in Argentinean Patagonia. But all this space is actually ranch land, estancias, most of which have been owned for over 100 years by the hardy ‘Gaucho’ (cowboy). It is on this land that 51S 72W lay.
The nearest town is Esperanza on the incredible highway 40, but it’s more than 15km from our destination. Thankfully, we had the pleasure of staying at Rupai Pacha Estancia, which is slightly closer at 12.1 kms as the crow flies. Marta Sturzenbaum, our hostess, manages the guesthouse (and life) with few modern conveniences. With the wood stove, the cold storage for winter out back and solar electric power they raise herds of sheep, pigs, chickens. Moreover, she can cook you a Patagonian meal of the best and largest portion of lamb you’ll ever eat.
Outside, the wide expanse of roadless esteppa, and a wind so fierce that it will spook the horses provide a huge hurdle to reach 51S 72W. The only way possible was on foot. So at 4:30am, with the moon setting over the Andes and the wind at my back, I packed up for my run. (My roommate was supportive but not at that hour) The route was gorgeous as it headed to the NW with the Andes Mountains on the horizon. A few lagoons, small hills and thick brush (where the many herds of sheep hide) required only small detours. In the end it was 14kms and took 2 hours to reach the confluence which is in a small valley near Viscacho Rio. Here, I surprised yet another herd of sheep and a few mating pairs of upland geese (cauquans). The birds were nesting in a small, swampy, grassy area I discovered shortly after falling into it.
So with an extra kilo of mud on my shoes and running low on Marta's home baked bread, I turned to face the wind (which blew hard enough to lean into). Exhausted, the return trip was a test of personal torture. Suddenly I realized why people die on the way back from Everest. However, I had something those climbers did not—life giving Argentinean homemade chocolate. The return trip was 2.5 hours, frustrating at times for when I could see the estancia, I was still 5 kms away. Marta greeted me with fresh water (drank it all), a pitcher of juice (yep, that too) and homemade apple pastries (a dozen would not have been enough). The hunger was extreme but the experience was incredible.