After hiking up to the Mirador Torres del Paine and down to the “Jeep,” I was tired. I had driven 1.5 hours to the park and hiked about 7 hours. I had another 1.5 hours drive back to the Estancia.
As I drove, I drank water to rehydrate. The sun was still bright. I watched guanaco, condors and flamingos on my way home. The Estancia Los Tres Hijos has a small sign and a red gate. To get to the ranch house, I had to open each of five gates, move the Jeep up, shut the gate and drive toward the next gate. The sun was low in the horizon and Cerro Castillo, the local mountain for which the town is named, was silhouetted. It did look like a large castle. As I drove, groups of sheep startled and ran in front of the car. Sometimes, it felt like a stampede. For most of the drive, nothing was visible except rolling plains, distant mountains and grazing sheep. In Argentina, a “Jeep” is any SUV; I was driving a Nissan “Jeep.” I had taken almost three gigabytes of photos that day and hoped I had some good ones.
I arrived at the ranch house and was greeted with the wonderful smell of roasting lamb. Dawn had a great day exploring the ranch, including the greenhouse and vegetable garden. Nicolas, 16 years of age, slaughtered a lamb in the morning. He and his sister, Catalina, 14, were at the ranch house. The third Hijo was in town in Puerto Natales. We first met the family when we stayed at their B&B in town. Dinner was lamb, fresh lettuce, potatoes, and cucumber from the garden and greenhouse. There was a tomato-based pepper sauce. After a few toasts recognizing the last night in Patagonia, we began to eat. The lamb was delicious; it had been cooked in the wood-burning oven. After dinner, we warmed ourselves in front of the large fire in the living room fireplace.
We packed our suitcases for the long journey home. Alvin turned on the generator so we could take the chill out of our room with a small electric heater. It stayed light until about eleven. The wind was howling. The wind was always howling; sometimes it howled extra strong; mostly, it just howled. I put on a fleece and long-johns and crawled under a pile of blankets. It had been a warm day, so I left off my wool cap and socks. The wind howled through the walls around the windows. The air was always moving.
In the morning. we had breakfast in the kitchen. It was warm there with the wood-burning stove. The refrigerator ran on propane. There was no phone or Internet. There were 6,000 sheep spread over eight miles of Estancia. Cafe con leche, yogurt, ham, cheese, toasted rolls and marmalade. We were ready to go. Hugs and kisses. And good-byes from Pepe and Floracita, the pet bull and guanaco. Pepe and Floracita were orphans from birth and had been brought up on the Estancia. For whatever unlikely reason, they are inseparable. We were off, driving back through the five gates to the dirt road to Puerto Natales and the paved road to Punta Arenas.
After five hours of driving, we took the plane ride to Sangiago. From the air, we could sometimes see through the clouds. We went over Perito Moreno and Los Glacieres National Park and marveled at the size of the glaciers. We flew along the coast of Chile and saw snow-capped volcanoes.
In Santiago, we rested for the night. The next day, we returned to our Spanish school and gave a presentation about our travels to our fellow students. We had successfully traveled our planned route to Bariloche, Esquel, Puerto Montt, Puerto Natales, Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia.
At 10.30 p.m., we boarded the plane for Atlanta. I told the flight attendant that our seats were “veinte siete a y b” and realized he didn’t know what I was talking about. For the first time in two months, English was the expected language. We stepped into the Delta plane and crossed the line. I thought, Goodbye, Patagonia.