En route to Punta Arenas we pass by a ranch where a group of gauchos were practicing for an upcoming competition of some kind and again, no traffic so the driver just pulled to the side of the road so we could watch these marvelous horsemen.
Just as North America has its cowboys, wranglers and ranch hands handling cattle, sheep and riding at the Rodeo, Argentina has its own particular breed of men called “Gauchos” and they are regarded by ranch owners with great respect and reverence in many cases still being referred to as “Don”.
Typical dress of a gaucho would be a poncho, a great coat for winter and Bombachas, which are baggy trousers. Above the trousers would be worn a Chiripa which is skirt-like. A Rasta is a wide belt embellished with silver coins and completes the authentic gaucho dress. The gauchos weapon is a Facon, a long knife that is considered an extension of his arm. They carry a Retenque (whip), also their lasso made of leather, whereas their America counterparts the cowboy would carry a lasso made of rope.
We watched for quite a while as the gauchos guided their horses with precision and control, sometime making the horses appear to “dance” sideways around the field. Awesome sight as they rode with great poise and grace; the beautiful horses were equally magnificent.
Located on Isla Riesco, a visit to Estancia Fitz Roy demonstrated the ins and outs of sheep farming. A small ferry took across the Rio Verde with views out to Tierra del Fuego’s fjords, the end of the impressive Andes mountain range, and the Otway and Skyring Sounds to the family estate of Secundino Fernández, Estancia Fitz Roy, now managed by his three daughters.
The youngest daughter greeted us and offered a brief history of the ranch before we were left to wander through her father’s acres and acres of “collectibles”. An unbelievable number and assortment of ranch memorabilia, machinery, tools and vehicles were displayed on the grounds and inside some of the out buildings. It was a museum of ranch life in Argentina through 19th and 20th centuries.
Sheepdogs skillfully rounded up the flock and we watched as a gaucho, quickly and expertly, hand-sheered a sheep with a young puppy nipping at the wool as he worked, wanting to play all the time the gaucho was sheering.
After all of this it was a little difficult to then sit down to a lamb barbecue. Luckily there were many other food options from which to choose.
We continued on to Punta Arenas, a bustling port overlooking the Straits of Magellan. We couldn’t board the ship until 2 p.m. so used the time for a short drive around town then to an observation point where we had an overview of the town and could see our ship at the edge of town. Some braved an orientation walk in the cold, windy, rainy weather but once we were soaked to the bone we retreated to the warm hotel bar for something warm to drink until time to board.
It didn’t take long before we were able to board the Stella Australis, our home for the next four nights and the beginning of our much anticipated cruise in the legendary waters of the Strait of Magellan around Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn and finally to Ushuaia.
Stella Australis on the left
The Stella Australis is a gorgeous ship, large in comparison to what I am accustomed to, 164 passengers on board with a capacity of 200. Each deck has a large lounge with big wrap around windows with an open bar on the top deck. Our room was very comfortable with a floor to ceiling window to soak in the view although I don’t think I will be spending too much time in my cabin when I can be on deck.
In the evening we met our ship’s captain and crew and then joined our group for a truly delicious dinner and lively conversation especially after a few glasses of marvelous Chilean wine. As we dined the captain announced that we would be leaving 3 hours late due to a maintenance issue so 11:30 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m. We are all very excited about this portion of the trip for a number of reasons, the first being we can unpack for the next 5 nights, as the ship will be our hotel.