We stopped in the middle of a South American nowhere, determined to contemplate the golden immensity of the steppe.
Five minutes pass. From the confines of that very nothingness, a galloping herd of horses appears, accompanied, side by side by a pack of dogs, all of them determined either to control the herd or lead the race.
In the tail of the bizarre cavalcade, a gaucho with a whip at the ready urges them.
When he sees us on the side of the road, the gaucho abandons the pursuit. Come and greet us.
We noticed that a hare that the dogs had hunted bloodied the saddle and the fur of the mount and we warned him as a joke: “These dogs still break out with such dedication!”.
"No, they're more than used to it." answer us. “When we return, they will eat a lot. Afterwards, they sleep for a good few hours. It's beautiful around here, isn't it? If you want to come on a horseback ride one of these days, ask for me downtown. Everyone knows me. I'm El Chabón.”
We talked a little more and said goodbye. El Chabón, its herd of horses and dogs are back on the run. Vanish over the horizon. We got back to the car and the soggy road.
Later, we would discover that that brave but courteous character, wrapped in leather and something missing in a black hat and a beard as or as darker, had the name of Gustavo Holzmann.
It was an Argentine of Hungarian descent, born in Buenos Aires who moved in 1985 to the outskirts of El Calafate, with the plan to breed horses.
El Chabón was the Argentine term equivalent to the Spanish uncle, the Brazilian guy, and the Portuguese guy because he had become known in the region.
Over time, Gustavo became a kind of local king of horseback riding.
According to the descriptions and compliments that we learned about, he dedicated himself to his business with all his soul, proud to provide clients with moments of genuine adventure, good mood and socializing in the extraordinary scenarios of Patagonia.
It didn't stop there.
He gave himself over to permaculture and began giving hippotherapy sessions. So fruitful has his relationship with horses become that Gustavo has come to consider a “horseman".
We return to Provincial Route RP15 departing from El Calafate towards the Andes and glaciers to the south.
Slowly and, from time to time, to those about the gravel (area) slippery, we advance along the huge cliff that shelters the city and the steppe carpeted in yellow by the countless bushes from the cold, the crowns.
We travel through the endless space where herds of sheep and herds of horses roam at the leisure of the pasture. And where rabbits jump, frightened by the birds of prey and the predatory dogs of El Chabón.
The continuation of road 15 leads us to the entrance of emblematic sheep farms in the area. El Galpon del Glaciar, Nibepo Aike, Anita, among others.
Against good pesos, euros or dollars, almost all of them pamper outsiders with a soothing Patagonian warmth and the best roasts and barbecues from the country. Aware of the reputation of Grill Argentines, we didn't want to be an exception.
We pass under the portal of resort Nibepo Aike decided to undergo one of these treatments, overlooking elevations sprinkled in white. Snow still fell in the higher lands. The rain irrigated the lower lands.
Upon arrival, a trio of gauchos, each dressed in their own style, welcomes us, all within the standards of the gaucho tradition of Santa Cruz province.
They guide us on a short tour of the wooden buildings closest to the property. Afterwards, they are led to an unobstructed but dismal stable where several sheep are waiting for them.
In three times, two of them collaborate to capture and dominate a sheep. They tie her paws and lay her on the floor. With the animal wrapped around, we almost only see a white snout that sticks out from a large ball of cream fur.
The scissors that follow steal most of the sheep's plentiful wool. They leave her looking youthful and innocent, covered in a thin layer of almost white fur.
Against the intermediate cold and torpor, another good-natured and picturesque gaucho in a felt hat, khaki shirt, buttoned maroon vest and apron from the waist down, sips mate tea.
drink it from bulb traditional that you hold with affection as you run your eyes over the grill still roasting over coals.
This is followed by a long lunch much more deserved by these Patagonian cowboys than any of the visitors, who simply admire their work, the scenery of the Nibeko Aike resort and, wherever it may be, find out about their curious past. .
According to what they tell us, the estate originated in the settlement and partnership of a group of Croatian emigrants, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century in which Santiago Peso (the name adapted to Argentina, not the original) and the Trutanic and Stipcic families formed a society in which Santiago participated with his work and the other partners with the purchase of sheep, other animals and equipment.
In 1936, Santiago Peso died of tuberculosis. Six years later, his wife Maria Martinic – who continued to explore the estate with her three daughters – bought the parts that belonged to her husband's partners.
In 1947, he decided to change the name of the resort from La Jerónima to Nibepo Aike. Nibepo was a composite of the first letters of the affectionate nicknames of her descendants, Nini, Bebe and Poroka, followed by Aike, an indigenous term tehuelche which means “place of”.
In 1976, Doña Maria died. Nini bought part of the sisters' homestead. It is Adolfo, one of his sons who is currently in charge of the administration.
Times have also changed across the vast Patagonia. Sheep farming is no longer the livelihood of the estates, especially around El Calafate where the visits and stays of the many tourists who arrive are attracted by the imposing beauty of the Perito Moreno glacier they yield incomparably more to owners.
Accordingly, even if in smaller quantities, some Gauchos see their jobs intact. Instead of taking care of flocks with thousands of sheep, as before, they employ their arts only a few dozen.
Hundreds at best. To compensate, they improve their social skills and talk like never before, with people like us, arriving from across the oceans and from all over the world.
A fine, fluttering snow falls. Gauchos know the treacherous instability of the RP-15, even worse for the small SUVs rented in El Calafate where we used to move.
António, one of them, makes a point of warning us about what awaited us with the best humor he remembered: “well friends, if you were already slipping on your way here, get ready, now it will be much worse!. Don't you want to go back on one of our horses? They get a little wet, but they go much safer! "
We laugh and laugh at the improbability of the suggestion and refuse with any joke that doesn't measure up.
We got into the car with our head and shoulders already covered in flakes and once again we did it at random.
As expected, along the way, we skated and corrected run-off trajectories over and over again.
It took us an eternity, but there we arrived at El Calafate safe, safe and dazzled by the whims of that endless Patagonia of Rio Grande do Sul.