RANCH DAY PROGRAM Departing from El Calafate (9:00 a.m or 5:00 p.m) along the unmade road of the Provincial Route 15, also know as “the road to the estancias”. Along the way it is common to come across condors, foxes and hares, with Cerro Frías taking centre stage. After crossing over the Río Rico, the landscape changes suddenly from the steppe-land to mountain scenery. The estancia is reached after travelling along the edge of Lago Roca and having entered Los Glaciares National Park. The host guide welcomes you to the Estancia and takes you to the Quincho [rustic dining room] where you will be invited to have a hot drink (tea, coffee or mate) accompanied by home-made cakes and pastries. A good moment to pause and enjoy a magnificent view of the Andes mountain range. The walk starts around the main building, the perfect example of a typical Patagonian estancia which was formerly devoted to sheep rearing and nowadays has become the most prestigious Hereford breeding ranch of these latitudes, while still retaining a small herd of sheep. At the stables, those who have paid the extra to do a horse-ride will be given a mount and go out to explore the surroundings accompanied by a guide. Meanwhile the rest of the group has a good long walk during which there are excellent views of the Southern Arm of Lago Argentino, discovering the diverse rocky outcrops eroded by glacial action and the changes of water level in the lake (due to the periodic closure of the way out by the Perito Moreno glacier and its subsequent breaking). The folds of the earth’s crust can clearly be appreciated there, differentiated by the variety of sediments from which they originate. These formations continue until they reach a point where the rocks form a natural amphitheatre, creating quiet beaches of curious shapes. The footpaths lead through native woodland of lenga and ñire, a habitat for caranchos, Austral parakeets, hares, woodpeckers, eagles and an abundant variety of native flora and fauna. The route may vary according to weather conditions. After the walk or horse-ride, the group meets up again at the door of the shearing shed. This is a chance to see inside such a shed with all its skilled hands and understand the work of the shearing teams. The process is described from the shearing of the animal to the baling of the fleece, ready for the wool to be stored and transported. Manual shears are used for the shearing as they were on all the estancias until the appearance of the mechanical handle with cutting comb, a much faster and more practical system, although not so kind to the animal and does not give such a good cut. Then a demonstration is given of horse handling skills, or according to the rural activities of the day, working with the herd in the corrals close to the main buildings. Between the daily activities the guest could also be able to participate at the morning of the cow milking and at the afternoon of the herding sheep, concluding therefore with a typical work day at the Estancia.
These activities are subject to the weather conditions. Returning to the Quincho where a whole lamb is being roasted on a vertical stake in traditional Patagonian fashion, emphasis is on the history of the place, retelling anecdotes and stories from the early settlers. Crossing through the vegetable plot where most of the vegetables consumed on the estancia are grown, we arrive at the Quincho where the person doing the roasting has the meat ready to delight the diners with tasty Patagonian lamb while enjoying the impressive view of the mountain range. Meanwhile the life of the estancia carries on and it is not uncommon to see the gauchos ride past herding the cattle and/or sheep and disappearing over the horizon. People who choose the Ranch Day Program + 3 h Horse-Ride, after having lunch will meet the guide to start with the long ride through the different trails around the property. Back in El Calafate, the experience of life on a typical Patagonian estancia will have given a fresh outlook on things, making more sense of the wide open Patagonian landscapes characteristically stretching out into the remoteness of infinity.