Vuriloche: The People behind the Mountains

video by Erik Ljung words by Maureen Post It’s 6 am, when Carol Jones pulls up outside, accompanied by her two dogs and driving a rusty manual 1987 Jeep. Serving as the pick-­‐up transport to her horse ranch, we’re soon…

Vuriloche: The People behind the Mountains

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video by Erik Ljung
words by Maureen Post

It’s 6 am, when Carol Jones pulls up outside, accompanied by her two dogs and driving a rusty manual 1987 Jeep. Serving as the pick-­‐up transport to her horse ranch, we’re soon driving through the foothills of the Andes Mountains, on the southern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake. It’s by pure chance we ended up here, both in the town of Bariloche and in the presence of Jones. Yet absolutely nothing about this is accidental for Jones. She’s lived on these lands her entire life, the granddaughter of the very first immigrant settler to Argentina’s Patagonian region and the last remaining traditional horse rancher in the area.

It’s a 20-­‐minute drive to Jones’ ranch, the ride transitioning from straight shot paved highway to single lane pockmarked dirt. Alley-­‐way roads are lined by classic tie and rail wood fencing, every mile or so a stone marker honors the accidentally deceased.

When we arrive, Lukas, a gaucho tending the stables, rides into the fields to call in Jones’ free roaming horses. His fluidity, as he throws one leg over the bareback horse, is immediate. With tangible ease, he disappears with a gallop and rounds a half-­‐dozen horses seemingly out of thin air.
Over 100 years ago, it was Jones’ grandfather who managed these lands. A native Texan, Jared Jones Sr arrived to Bariloche in 1889, finding fish filled lakes, lush forests and acres of uninhabited land. At that time, the region was home to only the most adventuresome of the native Mapuche peoples, those few willing to journey perilous routes through the eastern Andes and Argentine Pampas.

An experienced cattle rancher, Jones Sr. built a home along the Limay River and acquired 25,000 acres of land from the State Department. He married, raised seven sons and opened La Carolina, the area’s only general store. Originally a lone emporium for indigenous ranchers traversing the precarious Andean pass, soon immigrating regulars would include Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Davy Crockett’s sons Robert and James Crockett.

“My grandfather built his home and barns, cut wood for the winter, looked after the estate and gave his life to stay on this land. He kept and respected the traditions of the Mapuche people,” Jones remembers as we sip cups of mate.

This early morning in late summer, the air is crisp and chilling, requiring gloves and boots to stay warm. Despite cold temperatures, a visual warmth lies across the land somewhere between the biting cold of mountain night and the sweltering heat of mid-­‐day. Able to see hundreds of miles in any direction, the clear-­‐cut blue sky is met by a horizon of sun burnt yellow and orange brush.
Carol dresses each horse herself-­‐ pushing steel bits between grinding teeth, pulling leather harnesses over wild manes and strapping saddles around stout torsos. These are Creole horses, a breed native to the region, which for centuries trekked this rocky landscape and galloped the barren terrain. For Jones, they have always been her one constant.

Her face, tanned and weathered, embodies years spent combing the land on horseback. She moves about with gentle ease, coaxing from each horse any primitive insight into surviving in the harsh seasons of the Andes. Jones’ three generations of ancestors themselves pushed and prodded, fought the land as it lashed out, preferring to live in the wild of untamed existence. But for all the struggle and heartache, these horses and this land are Jones’ eternal silver lining.

“My family says it is me who inherited my grandfather’s character, always, always with horses,” says Jones’ softly. “I like to be with them, to saddle them, to move with them. And when I ride, to study them — how they choose trails, when they hear something, what they do. For I have learned, they are always right.”

We begin a ride for the day, climbing hills and descending valleys. On lands incessantly altered by unpredictable weather, climate changes and environmental disasters, each horse steps with pointed accuracy. Jones, like her horses, confidently navigates this imprecise terrain seemingly vast and imposing to nearly all others who travel here.

Aside from a hollow bellow of wind rushing across the arid fields, the sky is nearly silent. We are only minutes from the Chilean border and although it was over a year ago, the remnants of Volcano Puychue’s explosion have left a thick covering of sand and ash. Jones, for the first time in decades, made trips, at times daily, to place food and water in the outreaches of the ranch.

A few small houses belonging to Jones’ relatives sit in the distance, as far from us as they are from any other human connection. In the decades since Jones’ grandfather purchased the original plot, it has been divvied up and divided again, doled out equally amongst children and grandchildren, much of it a donation to Patagonian National Parks for preservation…

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