Across Patagonia, the rhythms of life, as well as the diet, center around sheep and cattle. When we purchased Estancia Valle Chacabuco to begin the transformation toward the future Patagonia National Park, we gradually removed most of the 25,000 sheep and 5,000 cows to allow habitat to rebound for native wildlife. However, our 50-person team working at the park headquarters still has to eat, and, as true Patagonians, they enjoy their meat. Instead of shipping in meat, we elected to keep some animals for internal consumption, raised in model organic conditions at low stocking rates.
To have sheep and any other livestock, we must have experienced ranch hands, willing to live in remote posts (puestos) with little company but their animals. We found just that in Don Eduardo Castro, born in Cochrane, the town closest to the Park. Since the first days of the future Patagonia National Park project in 2004, he has tended livestock. For years, the picturesque Cuadra de las Vacas has been his home and office.
Castro makes sure the 250 sheep, 4 bulls, 140 cows and 20 horses are taken care of. And, if special projects come up, such as sheep shearing, he’s always there to help.
Of course, working full time at the cow ranch is sometimes less than ideal. “The only bad thing about living here is the river,” says Castro. “[Sometimes] you can’t cross it because it’s dangerous or complicated.”
To get to Cuadra de las Vacas, one must cross the Chacabuco River. If waters levels are low, a pick-up will do the trick. However, if levels are high, crossing by car is impossible. The only way to do it? By horse.
Once you make it across, the scenery is spectacular and on a clear day you can admire the valley and the stunning Mount Furioso (Furious) in the distance, the long grass and clear waters. Entering Castro’s house, one is greeted by a simple, comfortable kitchen with a stove, a welcome sight on a cold winter day. Despite having the necessary comforts, it’s hard to imagine such a solitary life: “I was raised working alone,” Castro says. “I started working young, when I was fourteen.”
Castro has seen more changes in the park than most. He worked for nine years on the land before it was bought by Kris Tompkins and it was mostly a sheep ranch. The biggest difference between working on a ranch and working in a park? Nowadays, Castro works with or interacts with tourists.
“I’d like to stay on and see [the project] through,” he says.