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  Articulo Revista Condé Nast Traveler
The film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid omitted one thing: Before they died in a hail of bullets in Bolivia, the American West


At Dusk, while Pancho and Claudio, my guides, were loading the boats, a single planet appeared overhead, a dim beacon in the dark-blue sky. Wet and cold, I waited at the edge of Lake Rivadavia, washed by the quiet melancholy that follows a long and glorious day. Over a half-hour, the sky darkened from lavender through azure to black, and a host of unfamiliar constellations emerged. When a crisp half-moon rose over the dark mountains of Patagonia, I felt an icy stab of heartbreak—the pain that must have hit those three Americans, almost a century ago, when they looked back on Cholila like this, knowing that time was against them. Leaving this paradise was tough enough after just a couple of weeks. For three hard-living, straight-shooting adventurers named Santiago, Harry, and Ethel, who spent almost four years here, that last night in 1905 must have been painful. Cholila was the only real home they had ever had, a green valley where sweat, money, and patience had brought them peace, prosperity, and respect. But they never could escape completely.

Those weren't their real names, of course. Horse thieves, bank robbers, and train bandits are wise to reinvent themselves from time to time, and the trio in question are better known to history as the charismatic Butch Cassidy, the quick-fingered Sundance Kid, and the sharp-shooting Etta Place, the most famous criminals of the Wild West. As any fan of the deservedly cherished 1969 motion picture can tell you, Butch and Sundance died in Bolivia, guns blazing. (This may even be true.) What almost no one knows—simply because it was left out of the Hollywood classic—is that from 1902 to 1905, before their fiery end, the bandits were ensconced in the Andean foothills, where they built a set of cabins, lived large, cultivated a herd of more than four hundred cattle and a thousand sheep, and, under those assumed names, tried hard to go straight.

In 1902, Patagonia offered everything an outlaw could want. In this southern part of a southern land on the southern continent, there were no big towns, no nosy detectives, no real roads, and no telegraph cables whispering descriptions of wanted men. Land for grazing and homesteading was plentiful, the local horses were excellent, and a couple of pistol-packing American cowboys blended right into the tiny community of North American ranchers, Welsh colonists, and gauchos—tough Argentine cowboys with their own outlaw traditions. In Cholila, the three were safe. They should have stayed here forever.

But only mountains last that long. When Claudio started the engine, Pancho waved me out of my starlit reveries and into the back of the truck. Perhaps only leaving a place truly preserves it. The fishing rods rattled against one another as we drove up the hill and then rumbled down deserted gravel roads toward the kind of place one can never really leave.

"My dear friend," Butch Cassidy wrote to a woman in Utah in 1902, "I am still alive. . . ." Indeed. Datelined "Cholila, Argentine Republic, S. Am.," his long letter explained how and why he had vanished into one of the most remote places on earth. He described how the outlaws had "inherited" some ten thousand dollars each—money withdrawn from a Nevada bank at gunpoint—and how, enriched by the fruits of their crime, had headed south into one of the most remote places on earth, taking new names, looking for a new start.

In Cholila, they finally found what they were looking for: the ultimate hideout. Four valleys meet here in the kind of verdant, high-mountain bowl common in Wyoming or Montana (cholila means "beautiful valley" in the local Mapuche language). On the rolling lower slopes, the Andean cordillera is forested with conifers and three-thousand-year-old alerces, a South American sequoia. Higher up, the mountains show bare shoulders of gray stone, dominated by the 8,200-foot Tres Picos, where snow is visible even in summer. Icy, deep-blue lakes—among them Lezama, Pellegrini, and Cisne—drain into a single crystalline river, the Carrileufu, which meanders down the valley for dozens of miles until it reaches Lake Rivadavia, at the northern edge of Los Alerces National Park.

Butch was punctuation-challenged and prone to misspellings, but he described Cholila and all of Patagonia with a plainspoken passion that had seduced me from thousands of miles, and a full century, away: "This part of the country looked so good that I located, and I think for good, for I like the place better every day. . . . The country is first class. . . . I have never seen a finer grass country, and lots of it hundreds and hundreds of miles." The winters were mild, the summers splendid, the grass "knee high everywhere," and there was "lots of good cold mountain water." Even more important, Patagonia offered space: space to run cattle, space to build homes, space to live unseen. There was so much empty land here that Butch predicted it would never fill up with people—not "for the next hundred years."

I returned one hundred years after Butch made his prediction, and Patagonia was still a land of hideouts, hidden valleys, and horse adventures—as vast as the American West but with few roads, fewer towns, and more scenery than one person can appreciate in a lifetime. I also found some differences—among them, Latin America's most accomplished tourism infrastructure. In northern Patagonia, towns like Bariloche, El Bolson, and Esquel offer some glamour, bustle, and shopping. In southern Patagonia, a state-of-the-art airport has opened up a whole region of glacier country to visitors. And Argentina's rattled economy has meant deep discounts and empty hotels. But the essential qualities that drew Butch and Sundance are in oversupply.

It is still possible to mount up and disappear into the mountains. I wanted to escape that way, to ride among gauchos and live in immense spaces without regard for the law or the clock. This ambition suffered from only two flaws: I have a great deal of experience with horses—all of it bad; and gauchos are usually described with adjectives such as haughty, humorless, surly, silent, macho, and even murderous. If I was to fit into the world of these famous knife fighters the way Cassidy did, or to ride like Sundance among modern hard-luck cowboys, it was time to get in touch with my inner outlaw.

Early on a Saturday in February, under summer skies as blue as the pale Argentine flag, boys from up and down the Cholila Valley began to drift south, riding bareback. In Cholila, caballos still outnumber cars ten to one. They stashed their mounts—Criollo half-breeds mostly, in a kaleidoscope of brown, gray, chestnut, bay, piebald, and roan—along the river, then sat down in the dust and talked. Patagonia breeds patience.

From Tierra del Fuego to the Bolivian border, every town in Argentina has a gaucho festival—or two or three. The crucial ingredients at these national displays are a massive barbecue (the famous asado of beef, lamb, and sausage) accompanied by tests of horses and horsemanship. The Cholila Valley celebration, held in a meadow beside the glittering Carrileufú, was small and typical. Beef sizzled over a fire, and the appetizing smoke drew some 150 residents—much of the population—and 40 horses.

By noon, two score of wild-looking gauchos had cantered into the meadow, with more horses (and dogs) in tow. It was easy enough to pick them out from the more ordinary citizens of Patagonia. Gauchos come in all colors—their bloodlines are a mixture of Spanish and Indian, with an occasional dash of black, Italian, or even Arab—but their clothing hardly varies. They wear bombachas—baggy, pleated riding trousers—and flattish black hats. Their ultimate signature is the facòn, a long knife tucked into the back of an ornamented belt or sash.

Gaucho derives from an Indian word meaning "orphan," and traditionally the gaucho is an outcast, a drifter on a horse whose great days are always said to be long in the past, before fences and cellular phones narrowed the world. Hardened by the sun, disdained by city dwellers, gauchos are still aloof, valuing independence above all. They distrust paperwork, towns, and religion. (Nick Reding, author of Last Cowboys at the End of the World, says a gaucho wedding is nothing more than saying vamos, or "let's go," to a woman.) If I turned my back on the row of pickup trucks parked along the Carrileufu, there was nothing at this fiesta that Butch and Sundance would not have recognized. Even the races would have been familiar: At one in the afternoon, an elderly gaucho lifted his hat in the air and the pounding of hooves marked the first start. The course was only a hundred yards long, and two riders sprinted down and back, the winner of each heat promoted to the next. The drumbeat of hooves continued until finally a young man with no hat outgalloped the last competitor to cheers.

One of the gauchos, already inebriated at 2 p.m., rolled off his horse. Egged on by dogs, his bay mare went wild—bucking through the meadow, scattering families and throwing hooves at tiny children. Instantly, horsemanship was no game: Six gauchos leaped into the saddle and burst across the field. The same hatless boy was first to run down, bridle, and yank to a halt the bay. The other gauchos tried not to embarrass him with any praise.

The juegitos, or "little games," then resumed with a drag race; the gauchos reran the same two-way sprints, this time leaping off their mounts in the middle to don dresses or skirts and blouses. This event was organized on the theory—a correct one—that even the best horse will panic at the sight of a gaucho in a dress. One after another, the heats dissolved into chaos and laughter as the gauchos hurled their mounts down the field, struggled into flowery sundresses or flimsy black skirts, and then, tripping on their hemlines, chased their mounts around the field. The horses would have none of it. The crowd was delirious.

The asado sizzled, and in the heat of the late afternoon, some older gauchos sought shelter beneath the trees along the Carrileufu, sipping Mendoza wine from cardboard boxes. Cholila's other fiesta had been canceled this year as a result of Argentina's economic chaos, but in the shade of a beautiful valley, exchange rates and IMF missions meant little. "What happens in the rest of the country doesn't affect us much," an almost toothless veteran told me, handing me the wine. "We live from our own resources here."

The blast of an accordion heralded a malambo, the traditional gaucho dance. A dozen adolescents circled and stamped in the field, the girls in white peasant dresses, the boys wearing the finely woven belts and black bombachas of their elders. At sunset, the party began to break up slowly. I complimented a black-clad gaucho on his horse, and he jumped down and insisted that I ride it. I went around the field twice, shook hands, patted my steed, and missed Cholila already.

I dismounted into the hands of Jorge Graziosi, my host at the Arroyo Claro fishing lodge, across the road. Graziosi collects traditional Argentine saddles and tack, and says that Butch and Sundance may have left an imprint on today's fiesta. Many of the older Cholila gauchos—grandsons of the men Butch and Sundance rode with—were wearing their neckerchiefs tied in a broad triangle, the "bandit" style familiar to any American child. But in the rest of Argentina, gauchos roll and knot their kerchiefs. The Cholila men also buckle their spurs across the back, American style. Gauchos elsewhere tie them with leather straps.

Graziosi bought a ranch here in 1982, fleeing the steady development of Bariloche, Patagonia's main tourist city. To the south is the vast Los Alerces park, filled with groves of sequoias, emerald rivers, and rippling ridges. Rolling north is the lightly settled valley of Cholila, with gravel roads and few telephones. His main guide, Pancho, is a wry Chilean who had dragged me from river to river all week to catch large rainbow and brown trout, an arduous routine interrupted only by vast meals and short naps in the gnarled forests. "I like this kind of life," Graziosi told me. "We work the ranch. There aren't many people around. No towns with buses, no telephones. Horses everywhere. It's like living fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago."

Or a hundred. I drove into the "town" of Cholila the next day—a cluster of cinder block houses down the valley, without a restaurant or a hotel but overrun with horses. Three more were tied in front of the information booth. Patiently waiting amid maps and handicrafts for the rare tourist, Karina Quintana confirmed what I'd heard: The cabins that Butch and Sundance built are still standing, albeit barely. "They are in total disrepair," she said. "They are just falling down." A plan to preserve them as a museum has been stuck for eight years in the provincial bureaucracy. There are so few visitors that it costs more to collect an admission fee than the fee generates. In the meantime, the unprotected site is vulnerable. "Don't tell people where they are," Karina insisted. Any publicity draws souvenir hunters, who have already stripped doors, windows, and even pieces of wallpaper from Butch's rooms. (If you want directions, just ask anyone, but first take a vow of chastity.)

Before pointing me in the right direction, Karina brushed off her leather pants, leaped onto the counter of her booth, and started shooting. She was imitating Etta Place, riding sidesaddle while blasting pistols at the posse which had chased the gringos out of town that last night in 1905.

Never mind that Etta always used a rifle, or that they slipped away quietly. The legend—the myth—was close.

Even with directions, it was easy to miss the spread. I went half a mile in the wrong direction and entered the long driveway of the Casa de Piedra, a Welsh teahouse. In this stone refuge beneath tall conifers, the elderly owners fed me a stream of orange, apple, chocolate, and dulce de leche cakes, along with the traditional black torte of Wales. Bruce Chatwin had visited here in the 1970s while researching In Patagonia; he'd gotten everything wrong, they said. Stuffed with cake, I nodded and followed a pointed finger toward the cabin, which was almost in sight. "My grandmother always said that Etta was very beautiful," owner Victorina called out as I was leaving.

I parked by the road, hopped a fence, and cut through a field of daisies that smeared my trousers with yellow pollen. The fugitives had picked their site well: The cabin and two outbuildings were nestled among trees in a broad, flat valley backed by a steep Andean ridge. A small river, the Rio Blanco, bursting with tiny trout, caressed a bank behind the buildings.

A century does real damage. The main cabin of four rooms had more hole than roof, the doors and windows were missing. The handiwork of two Americans was obvious in the low structure, built Wyoming style with chinked logs overlapping at the ends (Argentines build steep roofs to shed snow, don't chink, and lay even corners). I touched the adze marks and could smell the sweat and hear the cussing as Butch and Sundance lifted the timber. Etta's domestic touches are still visible: neat wainscoting and tatters of wallpaper, pink roses on burlap backing.

When it was finished, this was instantly the most famous house in the valley. Sundance and Etta had gone on an international shopping spree and filled the place with fine china, silverware, furniture, and even special North American-style windows that wowed the locals. An Italian visitor in 1904 described a scene of frontier luxury, the walls lined with pictures in cane frames, magazine art, and "many beautiful weapons and lassos." Butch and Sundance hired gauchos to do the work and, under the influence of Etta, spent their spare time reading. They also did paperwork: a maze of purchases and sales, individual and joint stock companies, and a complex legal claim for homesteading the land. In short, they went straight. When the governor of the province visited, the Americans threw a fiesta for the valley. Sundance plucked out Argentine zambas on a guitar, and the governor danced with Etta before retiring to sleep in Butch's bed.

It has become impossible to separate Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Paul Newman's crafty, garrulous Butch and Robert Redford's silent, menacing Sundance may have reversed reality. Sundance learned Spanish and zambas, while Butch suffered in "Single Cussedness" and struggled to understand the local gossip. Butch made a mistake, lending a horse to an escaped prisoner: It was an impulsive gesture of solidarity with a man on the run, but there was a court hearing. The rumors reached Buenos Aires and then New York, and in 1903 one of the tireless Pinkerton detectives landed in Argentina with "Wanted" posters in Spanish (Pinkerton had sent them as far as Tahiti). The pressure began to mount on their idyll. When a bank seven hundred miles away in Rio Gallegos was robbed by two other North Americans, suspicion fell on Butch and Sundance. After the holdup a deputy, apparently smitten with Etta, tipped them off that the territorial police were coming.

Blamed for a crime they didn't commit, hunted for those they did, Butch, Sundance, and Etta decided not to wait. They fled Cholila and rode north, outlaws again. The end of their story is still hotly debated, but Hollywood got it about right: After a botched robbery in Bolivia, the men were probably cornered by soldiers and killed.

It was easy enough to hear, above the tinkling of the Río Blanco, the ringing voices and laughter, the sound of glasses clinking out toasts, even the faint notes of Sundance's guitar. The windows must have been open, too, on that festive summer night.

Secure," it said in my Spanish-English dictionary. Seguro isn't much of a name for a horse, and Tommy isn't much of a name for a gaucho, but Seguro and Tommy took me over the Continental Divide. By the time we turned down into the valley of Corcovado, south of Esquel, I'd learned Seguro's bad habits, like scraping me against trees, stopping for water every five minutes, and lurching automatically toward home when left undirected.

Seguro did have good qualities. An Argentine Criollo, she climbed strongly and looked where she placed each hoof, a vital habit on the almost vertical trails that led us up and over the Andes. And despite his name, Tommy was all gaucho. He dressed in black (shirt and hat) and blue (bombachas), spoke little, and kept a straight face even while watching me mount up. The only thing that made Tommy smile was when I asked for yerba mate. "Not many foreigners like maté," he said, grinning as he stoked a little fire to boil water.

We sipped at the bitter green tea in a small, aged shack high on a ridgeline over the Corcovado Valley. Twin threads of the Andes ran north for sixty miles. Chile was visible to the west, the great, flat Argentine Pampas to the east. Trevelin, a sweetly modest town of Welsh-descended farmers, was on the horizon.

I'd wandered down from Cholila over the course of several days, passing first through Los Alerces park and the classic Hosteria Futalaufquen, a grand lodge built in the 1950s to jump-start Patagonian tourism. Thirty miles from the park's southern exit is Esquel, the Bozeman of Patagonia, bustling with rafters and backpackers. Esquel was the scene of the most famous crime the boys didn't commit. Two foreigners had killed a Welsh shopkeeper named Llwyd Ap Iwan, a murder that Bruce Chatwin blamed on Cassidy and the Kid. His In Patagonia convinced a generation of visitors that, contrary to the movie, a posse of outraged Welsh settlers had eventually chased down and killed the duo here in Argentina.

But Chatwin should have spent more time fishing. Heading for the notoriously trout-packed Arroyo Pescado one afternoon, I cut across the old Ap Iwan estate and promptly stumbled on a faded gravestone. "Ap Iwan," it read, "1909." Butch and Sundance couldn't have done the deed: They had fled Cholila in 1905, and by 1906 were posting letters from Bolivia, asking friends in Cholila to sell the remaining cattle. By 1907 they were probably dead. I celebrated their innocence, however transitory, by landing seven rainbow trout on the Ap Iwan stream, and then drifted off to sleep under a Lombardy poplar, muttering "They'll never take me alive" to no one in particular.

A couple of hours of gravel south was Corcovado and the Estancia El Palenque. Butch and Sundance had briefly worked for a predecessor ranch in this area, Pampa Chica, which translates roughly as "Little Pasture." Tommy (and Seguro) had led me up from Palenque to just such a little pasture. This clearing was the only flat spot in the steep terrain, and it was my theory—Chatwin-esque in its inventiveness—that Butch and Sundance must have ridden these trails. Tommy used his facón to stir tea, cut bread, chop wood, pick his teeth, and skewer bits of steak. We made it back down to El Palenque by midafternoon, where owner Jeff Wells was gearing up for fishing. I strolled up the valley with him to a favorite hole on the Corcovado River, where Pacific salmon rested under a willow tree. At just thirteen thousand acres, El Palenque is "quite small" by Patagonian standards, Wells said in all seriousness. He'd expanded an old farmhouse into a tourist lodge five years ago, but his passion for Patagonia was more pleasure than business. Like Butch, he was a Mormon from the American West, and everywhere he looked there was a distilled essence of home, a dream of the Old West. "That letter is why I came here," he said of Butch's 1902 missive. "You can still drink from the streams. The grass is still knee-high."

At the river, thousands of giant stone flies hatched out of the water, and we stayed until it was too dark to see.

I finally flew south, to the region that has changed least since Butch's day, to both the past and the future of Patagonia. Two immense lakes slid under the wingtips as we approached El Calafate: first the turquoise-tinted Lake Viedma; and then, after a bleak stretch of brown tussock, the wind-flecked Lake Argentino, also hued almost green with glacial melt. The ribbon of rugged Andean peaks was interlaced with crystalline glaciers. We set down at an inviting new glass-and-steel terminal in the middle of absolutely nothing. Less than an hour away was the grand Perito Moreno Glacier, three miles of ice sliding thunderously into a lake. The town of El Calafate has little to offer except rental cars that take visitors into a network of small towns, tourist-ready estancias, and national parks.

I headed out in a rented Fiat toward the trekking capital of Patagonia, the puny town of El Chaltén, cutting north across the mouths of lakes Argentino and then Viedma. I was on the notorious Route 40, a gravel track along the face of the Argen-tine Andes where flat tires and muffler-mangling mounds of gravel are routine. The four-hour trip took an extra hour because I had to stop to stare at the glaciers so often. Dating from just 1985, El Chalten has some two hundred year-round residents and feels freshly carved from the landscape, with tin-roofed houses, wooden restaurants, and brick lodgings along a tiny valley. Directly above the town are the needle-sharp peaks of Egger, Torre, and Fitz Roy, which inspired the skyline logo of the Patagonia clothing company. The surrounding cordillera is filled with a compact assortment of glaciers, lakes, deep forest, and superb hiking trails; the scenery and trekking opportunities are the equal of the more famous Torres del Paine park in Chile, but without the crowds or the trash. The idea of this outer space ever "filling up" with people is still laughable a century after Cassidy dismissed it. Within minutes of checking into El Puma, the best lodge in the valley, I heard the refrain I would encounter again and again: "We like it so much better than Torres," an American couple told me.

In uncrowded El Chaltén, the biggest problem was finding anyone to hike with, and I had to set out alone before dawn on a trail that led me up a twisted canyon and two hours along a milky river to a cluster of expedition tents. There I joined guide Yamila Cachero and a Brit, a German, a Canadian, and two Uruguayans for a daylong assault on the Torre Glacier. We pulled ourselves over the river on a steel cable, then hiked to the face of black, gravel-strewn ice (glaciers are filthy at first glance). Once we had strapped on our crampons and climbed on top, we faced a sea of white rippling moguls, broken and craggy, riven by deep-blue cracks filled with ice water. A slip was a bad idea. Yamila shepherded us over the crevasses and then spent several hours on belay, instructing us in the basics of scaling ice walls with an ax and ropes. The white expanse was really four separate glaciers that flowed together into a single frozen river, thundering with unseen avalanches. The ice steadily cracked, rumbled, and vibrated under our crampons.

The scale of Patagonia has always impressed me—indeed, it is the central characteristic of the place—but the next day's trip to Perito Moreno National Park must have been a hallucination. Route 40 unrolled from the horizon for a full ten hours. The lack of traffic—a car an hour—was unnerving, and in the solitude, even the static on the radio had a comforting sound. On a high hill, the Fiat's AM band finally caught a whisper: "Pops, I'm out of the hospital," a voice said. And then, "Murillo, I will call Thursday at four." This was a "messages" broadcast, where families sent missives of startling intimacy over the public airwaves to gauchos in remote pastures ("Your children need you," I heard once; and "Alejandro, there isn't anyone else"). The silence that engulfed me in the next valley made Patagonia a synonym for loneliness. At sunset, a sign for the Perito Moreno park greeted me—and then nothing. Only six hundred people visited the 284,00-acre park last year. Eighty percent of it is closed to visitors, permanently, a wilderness for pumas and condors. There is no infrastructure beyond a single dirt road, some campsites, and two places to stay, both working ranches.

The first was Estancia Menelik, where I landed in the midst of preparations for an asado. Inside a tin wind shelter, manager Augustine Smart, round and red-bearded, was overseeing his gauchos as they banked a red-hot fire, skewered an entire lamb, and staked it over the coals. Estancia Menelik is the showcase property of Cielos Patagónicos, an investor group aiming to save failing ranches—and the gauchos on them—with green tourism and a dash of development. Smart spoke of Cielos Patagonicos as a project whose goal was "to conserve the ecology, the history, and the culture of each place." But part of the funding to save a failing ranch like Menelik might come from developing two hotels and vacation homes in El Chaltén. Cielos Patagónicos president Lionel Sagramoso conceded that the Chalten proposal was "a total real estate investment," but the money raised would fund the group's conservation mission elsewhere.

Like some locals, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia Inc., is critical of this blend of development and preservation. "I've made lots of trips down there and I just love that place," he says of Patagonia. But the plan to build a lodge outside El Chaltén in order to fund preservation elsewhere is "horrible," Chouinard says. "Development like that is something we want to stop." He thinks El Chaltén is already overbuilt (something of a purist, he calls the adorable town "a horrible, junky, trashy little place"). He is a board member of the Patagonia Land Trust, which buys up large estancias in southern Argentina and dismantles rather than develops, ending ranching and removing fences in the hope of someday converting the land into national parks.

Around the fire at Menelik, as we tucked into slivers of seared and tender lamb, this duel between development and preservation seemed totally abstract. Like Butch, I could not foresee Patagonia "filling up." The park's six hundred visitors a year don't justify development of anything. Ten hours from the nearest airport, with snow closing the roads for two months every year, this region will probably still offer a terrific hideout for some twenty-second-century Sundance.

The next day, i moved to Estancia La Oriental, the other lodging in Perito Moreno National Park, where I slept in a cold but comfortable room, and saw a condor while drinking coffee at 8 a.m. The bird's eleven-foot wingspan was silhouetted against the sky like a splayed hand as it drifted over the house, into the backcountry. Guanacos—fleet, short-haired cousins of the llama—galloped everywhere in herds of a dozen or more. Gray and red foxes slinked through the dry sage grass. Armed with binoculars, I spent a cold and fruitless morning hiking on the Belgrano Peninsula, scanning the windfalls of timber for a puma. The population has stabilized at about twenty-two cats.

The last morning at La Oriental, owner Manuel Lada just handed me a horse. Like Butch helping that fugitive, Lada didn't ask where I was going, or why, but simply caught, bridled, and saddled a chestnut for me at the first suggestion of need. He didn't even know the creature's name. There were abandoned horses all over the property, and they ran feral in the park approaches.

No Name took me over a ridgeline and then across a wet valley to the base of the thousand-foot cliff where that condor had come from. Dozens of broad white guano stains made it easy to spot, high overhead, the nests of the rookery, one of the largest gathering sites for these rare birds in all of the Andes. No Name was jaded from long exposure to condors; she merely ate her way across the meadow while I waited, binoculars in hand. After an hour, I was rewarded by the sight of a single condor stretching its neck, shaking out its massive wings, underlaid with white, and then awkwardly heaving from the cliff to soar high into the park.

It is still easy to get lost in Patagonia, deliberately or not, and on the way home I forced No Name down the wrong path, detoured somewhere, and encountered a wire fence. I dismounted and put a hand on the steel strand cutting through this immensity, convinced that if I turned back, we could head wherever we wanted. We'd live off the land for a while. No one would find us down here, in 1903 or 2003. Overfull with light and space, I burst into an off-key rendition of "Don't Fence Me In."

No Name snorted with derision, a throaty sound that flushed a pair of tall brown guanacos from the underbrush a hundred yards away. They ran and took the fence in a bound, their hooves clicking over the top wire, thump, thump. Under the tips of my fingers I felt the instant telegraph of their break for the backcountry.

A hundred years from now, you'll find them here.

Published in September 2003.
Prices or other information may have since changed.



Fuente: Condé Nast Traveler
Fecha: 2003-09-20


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