|Back through the road-works, over Paso Garibaldi, past Tolhuin and Lago Fagnano, soon we reached the side turning down another dust track heading for Estancia Rolito. We arrived around 4pm as planned.
As we drove up the track to the main house, we were surrounded by open fields of lush green grass laid out over rolling hills, lenga trees dotted here and there, and a forest of lenga trees behind us, the sheep sheering shed off to our right and shepherds houses dotted about on our left. Ahead of us, the Estancia itself...
We pulled up beside the garden gate and moments later the lady of the house, Annie came out to meet us... a small lady, short dark hair and a little weathered, and so welcoming.
We instantly felt at home!
Annie showed us to our room then around the rest of the house and invited us just to make ourselves at home. She was worried that her humble home may not be what we were expecting but it was absolutely perfect... their home... not a hostal or a hotel. It was idyllic.
We sat chatting with Annie in her wonderfully cosy kitchen about life on the Estancia and in Tierra Del Fuego... there was so much to take in, understand about their way of life... we were absolutely fascinated! Her husband, Pepe was away for a few days and her daughter/vet Nunu was out and about but would be back for dinner. The kitchen was spacious but cosy, with 2 old comfy chairs in front of the stove, logs stacked up in a store next to it. At one end of the kitchen was a dresser on which a radio (the phone) sat and opposite was a simple kitchen table with 4 chairs, next to a window partially obscured by pots of herbs and flowers on the sill. At the other end of the kitchen was the sink and work tops. Chopping boards, utensils and pans hung from the wall.
A couple of hours passed in what felt like minutes so Annie suggested we got our bags in from the car then took a walk around the estate before dinner around 9pm. Annie walked us up through the top field, between the shepherds houses to the top gate then directed us a route through another lenga forest. If we stuck to a few basic rules we wouldn't get lost... If we weren't back by 8pm she would come looking for us on a quad bike!
We walked for miles through trees, down tracks, over streams (Pete managed to jump them in 1 go... Jan had to attempt a stepping-stones approach!), through fields, past sheep, cattle, parrots! We'd never seen so much timber, much of it fallen, then gathered to make wind breaks for the animals in winter. We stuck to Annie's rules and made it back to the house before any search parties had to be sent out!
We got changed then sat in Annie's lounge studying Pepe's books and magazines... he was an armchair sports car enthusiast and had car & motorbike magazines going back to the 80s! On the coffee table were photo albums with picture from previous generations and of the Estancia in winter, engulfed in snow! Estancia Rolito is now run by the 3rd generation of the family, Rolito himself was the first! The album also had old photos of family members spending time with friends from the Harberton ranch we'd seen earlier. Many photos were destroyed in a fire that burned the house to the ground in 1978... it took them 4 months to rebuild their home!
Nunu returned before dinner, she was so like her mum but a little taller. She told us all about the estate, the animals and the land... and showed us an incredible chart/map they had had made. The size of the dining table, it plotted the whole estate, categorised the land, types of pasture, types of trees, the layout of the fields (massive!) all feeding out concentrically from the heart of the Estancia to help manage the animals when they need to be moved or brought in for sheering, breeding, etc... She also brought us some nibbles to keep us going and opened a bottle of vino tinto!
We had dinner in the cosy kitchen, lamb casserole with fresh spinach and potato salads, all organic from their own land, followed by rhubarb & apple crumble and washed down with the vino... perfect!
We chatted and chatted for hours. They had 6500 sheep, 250 cattle, 10 horses and 32 sheep dogs, looked after by 4 shepherds, plus the two dogs of the house, Lena (the old girl) and Tronco (meaning little log - a new and adorable sheep dog puppy!). Also one foreman and his wife (who cooks for the rest of the staff) lived on the estate. 34,000 hectares of land approximately 30km from north to south. Sheep sheering was due to start on the 18th of December for a week, they have a team of contractors come in for that! Shame we'll miss it! In winter the temperature here is -10 deg C with a wind chill taking it down to -40 deg C! To leave the house (and only if it's absolutely necessary) they have to wear crampons! The car tyres are swapped to ones with nails in and of course they use snow chains. Annie won't drive in winter! It's only light from 10am to 4pm so they do loads of reading in the winter... hence their almost perfect English! When the winds are up, best advice is to stay out of the woods, as we saw earlier, loads of timber falls. Summer days are very long, light from 5am to 11pm. Much of the work is completed throughout the summer as little can be done in the winter. They have 3 ATVs which they bought around 6 years ago which have revolutionised farming for them. Annie has run the farm for many years, based on technique handed down from her ancestors, and is still very much involved, but Nunu now does much of the farm management, and in particular the husbandry.
Annie told us about some of their former guests including a mad Norwegian chef who decided to make an episode of his cookery program from her kitchen... unfortunately the agency hadn't told Annie this was what was going to happen so she wasn't best pleased and couldn't wait to get him out!!! Apparently he was an obnoxious drunk and had the cheek to leave her a signed copy of his cookery book, in Norwegian! As you can guest, it hasn't been used!
It was well after midnight before we all turned in for bed, we were kept warm by one of their very own sheepskins!
--> 332 kms today, 1504 in total
Next morning, Nunu prepared a yummy breakfast of freshly baked bread and home-made lemon and rhubarb jam. Annie had left already as she needed to make a trip to Rio Grande to pay some bills!
Mid-morning, Nunu tooks us out for a tour around the northern end of the Estancia on one of the ATV's... she needed to take some lunch out to one of the shepherds working up there so would give us a lift so far then let us have a wander around while she nipped ahead then returned. We sat on the back, one on either side then Nunu set off! She dropped us in the middle of one of the 400-800 years old Lenga forests and gave us directions then planned to meet us around an hour later.
We walked through massive old creaking trees, some with tumors part way up the trunk. Had never seen so much timber lying around... no grass grew here, the cover from the tree tops was almost complete! No animals grazed here either! Trees, trees and more trees!!! Eventually the track opened up a little and we wandered into a field of inquisitive cows that just wouldn't leave us alone!!! Whenever they saw humans they assumed they were about to be fed and muzzled in!!! We shoo'ed them away a number of times and Pete threatened them "Neanderthal Man" style with a branch but to no avail! If the cows could have laughed they'd have been in hysterics at us!!! Thankfully Nunu soon returned and we took a side track to take a look at some of the damage beavers are doing to the land, flooding vast areas and in the process ruining land and killing trees. They try to trap as many as possible, checking the traps daily.
Nunu gave us a lift part of the way back to the Estancia on the ATV but then we hopped off and walked the last bit while she headed back to make us some lunch. Lamb, fresh garden salad, home-made bread and a nice hot brew!
Soon it would be time to leave but we hadn't seen the sheering shed yet so we loaded up the D21 and all jumped in, including Tronco. Nunu showed us around, little Tronco is tow! They still had quite a few bales of wool still not sold from the previous year and Nunu showed us the different grades depending on the part of the body it was sheered from: Head, body clean, body dirty, etc... Each bale was around 200kg and most of it goes to Europe and the UK! Upstairs around 20 sheepskins were hanging, pulled taught to dry out. They have a license allowing them to slaughter sheep on site for their own consumption but all other slaughtering is done off site. It used to be a simple case of sending them up to Rio Grande, just over an hour, to an excellent slaughter house there but that has closed down now so the sheep are sent up to Rio Gallegos on mainland Argentina, a good 38 hrs by road for the sheep! The shed was pretty clean but soon it would be disinfected ready for mid December.
We said our fond farewells, trying to kidnap Tronco in the process, then finally had to move on... could have stayed here for days, so peaceful and welcoming but as always there are new destinations beckoning. It was almost 4pm by the time we left!
If you ever come to Tierra Del Fuego, you MUST come to stay here to get a real taste of life on this island!