20 January 2011


It was an easier day in the saddle with the wind blowing from the east across the fields. After Pedro Luro I was stopped at a zooification checkpoint and my bags were checked for meats. It was not far from there to the Rio Colorado and the sign marking the official start of Patagonia. There were a number of small towns along the road but past Stroeder it was an empty stretch where there was nothing for 80km until Carmen de Patagones. I had ridden about 90km and turned off for Stroeder, thinking I might camp the night there or pick up supplies to camp further along down Ruta 3.

I fought the wind down a long boulevard lined with poplars and streetlamps towards the church spire I could see above the trees. I passed empty dirt side streets and the town seemed empty. On the corner a man was hosing down a horse tethered to a tree. A boy stood watching.

I pulled up and asked where I could find a supermercado. He told me where the cooperitivo was and asked if I wanted water. I would take some and he sent the boy to bring water. The man’s name was Elbio and the boy was his son. Elbio was my age and had six children and farmed the land beyond the town and he was also was a horse trader. This horse tethered to the tree he had purchased today in a town not far from Stroeder and he believed he could sell it in less than 6 months time for a good profit. The horse was called ‘Pensar de Ti’ and I could see she was blind in one eye but she was well-mannered and in otherwise good condition.

Elbio’s son returned with water, a bowl of fruit and a chair for me to sit on. I sat down in the shade of the tree and watched Elbio shampoo the horse’s mane. I drank from the bottle of cold water and ate a peach. I talked to his son about the folding bicycle and he told me about his bicycle. It was good to be out of the sun and out of the saddle. A dog lay down in the shade next to my chair and went to sleep.

When Elbio had finished with the horse he walked over and punched the sleeping dog in the head. The dog yelped and got up and slowly walked away and Elbio sat down next to me. We talked about where I was from and things I had done and the places I had lived in and how I was going to Ushuaia and why I was going there. We talked about children and he was surprised that I had been married and had not had any and then we also asked about religion.

It would give him pleasure if I would stay the night in the camper parked in front of his home and to have dinner with his family. His son was listening and was happy that I accepted. I could see that he wanted to know an American he could call his friend. An older daughter of Elbio’s introduced herself and stared quietly at me. Then Elbio got up and un-tethered the horse and pulled it across the road to a small corral where a black horse and brown horse were standing.

In front of the camper

“Pedro,” he waved me over. “Help me with this horse.” He was trying to pull the horse into the corral.

“What must I do?”

“Do this, Pedro,” he whipped a short length of rope in the air and handed it to me. He wanted me to scare the horse forward into the corral.

Elbio opened the door of the corral and tugged at the horse. She saw the two other horses and did not want to go in. I stood behind her, out of kicking distance, and swung the rope and made a clicking sound and the horse turned her head to see what was behind and the rope frightened her but she did not move forward.

“Hit upon her with the rope,” Elbio said.

I whipped her hindquarters gently with the rope and she shuddered. Elbio pulled the rope tether but she would not move. 

“Hit upon her with strength, Pedro.”

I whipped her harder and she jumped and pulled Elbio forward out of the corral and he almost lost her but held on.

He motioned for me to stop and we waited for her to calm down. Elbio approached her slowly and patted her head and carefully wrapped the rope tether around the back of her hind legs and slowly he was able to pull her forward into the corral. He closed the door and we stood against the corral watching the two other horses smelling out the new one.

But the black horse did not take to the new horse and there was some kicking and violence between them and Elbio went into the corral and roped up the black horse and took her to the larger corral. The black horse was a great horse, he said, and he would be able to sell her for much silver.

I put my bike inside the house and met his wife and two other daughters and the smaller boy. I sat down at the dinner table with the children and Elbio cut pieces of bread and cheese and handed the sandwiches to each of us. I was hungry and the bread and cheese tasted delicious. The youngest son would giggle and repeat the things I said in Spanish to one of the sisters. He was wall-eyed and wore thick glasses and found my accent and poor grammar very humorous. We finished eating and Elbio showed me the inside of the camper and the bed I would sleep on and then we got into his truck and went on a tour of the town.

The empanadas were ready when we returned and Elbio’s wife served them on large metal trays as they came out of the oven. There were pieces of green olive mixed in with the meat and sometimes boiled egg and they were very good. Elbio and I drank red wine from a box and he told me about his grandmother who had owned the final hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was at Rio Pico in the Chubut Province of Patagonia, near the Chilean border, and there are tombs there that some believe belong to the outlaws after they were killed in a shootout at a nearby bar. When his parents died Elbio inherited the Butch Cassidy pistol his grandmother had received long ago as payment.

I could see that Elbio and his family was very proud of this history and I told him that I would try to get to Rio Pico despite the distance. Maybe on my return from Ushuaia I could stop there. Elbio noticed that the wine had made me tired and my Spanish abilities had deteriorated. The little boy with glasses was now giggling at whatever I said. Though it was early I excused myself and went out to the camper and fell asleep.


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