Blog #4: Horseback Riding & Haute Cuisine

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© B. Shaw
Fording the River

Yesterday was an amazing day of fieldwork that left me too exhausted to write about until today. The weather was unbelievable—sunny and warm, with clear blue skies. We took the inflatable Zodiac into Hacienda Yendagaia in the morning, which is the ranch of Machuca, a gaucho of near-mythical status.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m., and Machuca and his ranch hand promptly matched us to horses. Both men seemed a little unsettled by the complete lack of riding experience exhibited by some of us. Seated atop my mount, I was totally awestruck and terrified for the first several minutes while waiting for the others to "saddle up," but my fears promptly subsided once we got moving.

Although most of us were unskilled riders, the horses clearly knew where they were going, and the ride was thankfully uneventful. We traveled by horseback for almost three hours through beautiful Southern Beech forests and alpine meadows, and across milky blue-green rivers. To see a bit of our horseback-riding adventure, check out my "Video Journal #5: Horseback Riding to the Serka Glacier.")

We finally arrived near the front of the Serka Glacier (see Photo #1 below), and after stretching our knees and legs and catching a quick lunch, we set off collecting. The area towards the head of the glacier consisted of rivers, boulder fields, and seeping calcareous rock outcrops, which are typically alkaline in pH, and are therefore often very rich sites for bryophyte diversity.

In these rock seeps, I was surprised to find very few liverworts, but the moss diversity was high. At one point, I passed Bill and Juan, who were eagerly collecting a moss species from the boulder field (see Photo #2 below.) They told me they’d found a moss that was an entirely new genus for our region and had never before been collected so far south. 

I did find several interesting small liverworts that were forming crusts over glacial silt. Glacial boulder fields provide a very interesting landscape for pioneer species, the first plants to colonize new land. But the collecting went by very quickly, and soon it was time to get back on the saddle again.

The three-hour trip was miraculously shortened to less than 2.5 hours—the horses clearly knew their way back and seemed eager to return. This made for a bumpy ride, as they trotted frequently, exacerbating the soreness many of us experienced from the morning ride. Thankfully, no one was thrown off their horse or otherwise injured, and aside from being abnormally tired so early in the expedition, I don’t think anyone had any regrets—this was truly an unforgettable experience!

Being close to human habitation has its perks. Last night on our way out of Yendagaia, we stopped at another ranch and purchased a slaughtered lamb. The boat dropped anchor and the crew went ashore to prepare a spit over the fire for the meat. (I think it the crew enjoyed the opportunity for a real change of scenery.) Everyone joined in as they returned from fieldwork, and Blanka and I made our contribution by roasting apples on sticks over the fire (see Photos #3 & #4 below, and check out my "Video Journal #6: Lamb Roast!") Later in the evening, we even saw a sea otter swimming around the bay!

I must say that much as we loved our cook last year, the food prepared this year has gone above and beyond any expectation. We’ve enjoyed gourmet presentations of fresh fish, roast lamb with garlic and oregano, traditional stews, fresh-baked bread, afternoon snacks of sopapillas (fried pastry), and fresh cake (baked while we’re in the field)—all of it presented beautifully and clearly con cariño (with care.) 

The weather continues to be stunning and truly summer-like. Today I was able to wear a t-shirt while collecting, something that never happened last year. We’re grateful for good weather, but not taking it for granted. I know the rain and sleet could return any day!

More soon,

© B. Shaw
Serka Glacier
© L. Briscoe
Collecting Mosses
© L. Briscoe
Roasting Lamb
© L. Briscoe
Roasting Apples