I'll start off with the honest, unexaggerated truth: This is the 2nd best experience of our entire lives, second only to our wedding. We'll see if the birth of our first child someday tops this.

At 5pm on December 29, Jake and I were picked up from the hostel by a big van and taken to what can only be described as the best place on earth, Estancia Nibepo Aike. (PS - if you want to catch up on our other adventures in El Calafate and El Chalten, check out this post.) An hour outside El Calafate Nibepo Aike is a 12,000 hectare ranch nestled next to the snow covered peaks, three glaciers, and several lakes. When we arrived, the spectacular view of the bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds, vivid purple and blue flowers blooming out of the long golden grass, grazing horses, lovable and snuggly sheep dogs, and a lazy ranch cat took my breath away. I found it - my version of paradise, the place where I would happily spend my days with limited internet connectivity, electricity only between the hours of 9am and midnight, and barn smells. While I was day dreaming about riding every day, Jake was day dreaming about all of the hiking trails. We could wander in just about any direction for days and not reach the boundaries of the ranch. This place is a dream.

This orphaned baby lamb was found by one of the gauchos who bottle feeds her. She follows him around like a puppy!

The Hosteria of Estancia Nibepo Aike.

We followed all of the other guests out of the vans and over to the restaurant on the property. No one else had luggage with them, so we weren't quite sure we were in the right place. An energetic girl with beautiful brown hair about my age wearing plaid and gaucho pants welcomed us, "Um, do you wanna put your bags down?" she asked. "We're here for the five day riding program…" we told her. "Oh! You're my people! Sorry about that! Let's get you checked into the hosteria! I'm Jackie, I'll be your guide on the ride." Our love for Jackie started that moment - she was cheerful, full of jokes, super excited for the ride, had just the right spirit and energy. We knew we were in for a good time!

Jackie got us all settled in the gorgeous hosteria, the hotel of Estancia Nibepo Aike. The hosteria is the original house of the estancia, and is full of charm. Our room was huge, as was the very comfy bed, and the luxurious bathroom (if only you could have smelled the soaps in the bathroom!). "We'll have some demonstrations with the day trip people before dinner if you'd like to join us," Jackie explained. After petting the friendly ranch kitty (a giant orange tabby), we met up with the other group. Apparently they were all there specifically for the sheep shearing demonstration, a walk down to the lake, or a short horseback ride, and dinner. We got to tag along for all of it!

Jackie, our incredible guide and puestera!

As we followed Jackie down to the water's edge she told us the history of the estancia. "Estancia" comes from the verb "Estar", which means "to be". Long ago, in order to settle Argentina so Chile wouldn't lay claim to the land, the government offered land to people who would go settle it. A Croatian man took up the offer on 20,000 hectares of ranch land (now the national park technically owns 8,000 hectares of the original 20,000). The deal was that in order to keep it, the land had to be worked and had to have a certain number of cows and sheep on it. They had to be here all the time, hence the word "estancia". The owner married a woman who eventually gave him three daughters. When he died in 1938, leaving her a widow with all that land and three little girls to raise in a man's world, everyone thought the same thing, "Could a woman really run a ranch?" Hell yes she could! She was no dummy and bought out her shares from the other 2 men who spotted her late husband the startup cows (yes, startup COWS - the neighbors gave the family the hundred cows that were required by the government in order to lay claim to the land) that got the ranch going, and changed the name to Estancia Nibepo Aike. The ranch is still in the same family today. The name, Nibepo, is a combination of her daughters nicknames. And "Aike" means "home of". So the name means that the farm is the home of her three daughters. Pretty awesome story.

Moncho shearing a sheep.

After we watched the sheep shearing demonstration (which was quite fascinating -
Moncho took off the whole pelt in one piece!), and hooting and hollering during the gaucho races, we all headed back to the restaurant for dinner. Each table got its own little grill full of lamb, steak, and sausage, as well as salad and bread. YUM! We couldn't resist ordering a bottle of wine - this was the most perfect date I could ever think of! And the food? The food was deeeeelicious. The meat couldn't get much fresher - the sheep on the farm are raised for 2 purposes, sheep shearing demonstrations, and dinner. The lamb we ate was slaughtered out back that morning. And boy oh boy was it tasty!

We finished dinner just in time to catch the spectacular sunset. I know, I know, I keep using those kinds of words. But I just can't express it enough - this place was perfect. And so was the sunset! We headed back to our room to pack our saddlebags with any clothes that we'd need over the next four days and tried to sleep. But it was like trying to sleep on Christmas Eve - you know you should, but you're just too excited!

The next morning we woke to the sounds of birds chirping, horses neighing, and guests chatting in the dining room of the hosteria. Since we didn't have to be ready to head out until 10, we took our time over a lovely breakfast of coffee cake, eggs, coffee, fruit, and yogurt. And since we weren't going to be showering over the next few days, we took the opportunity to take our last hot shower of 2015.

Estancia Nibepo Aike, aka Heaven on Earth.

Around 10:15 down by the barn, we met Alexandra, another guest for our ride, and Mario, one of the gauchos who was joining us for the first night. Mario is one of the many guys who work the cattle on the ranch. He lives the summer months out at his puesto, or outpost, with no electricity, running water, or bathrooms. He rises and sleeps with the sun and cooks his meals on the fire outside or the iron stove inside. His puesto was to be our home for our first night.


As Jackie finalized some plans, we were given our horses. I started with a big, dark brown, almost black gelding named Lovison, which means warewolf. He was well behaved, responsive, and had great extended gates. Jake got a fat, rather lazy, latte colored boy named Chupatin, or Lollipop. And Alexandra started off with a chestnut gelding with a bright white blaze down his nose named Gringo (I guess I don't need the English translation for that one). Gringo was a real sweetheart, like a puppy who just wanted to be cuddled, scratched, and loved. We learned that he was orphaned when he was born; his mom didn’t survive the birth. So Gringo was bottle fed and nurtured by one of the guys on the ranch, Ricky (who also happens to be the chef/grill master in the restaurant). Ricky saddle broke him without violence and Gringo became the most lovable, cuddly horse around. He always nuzzles the other horses and looks for a good scratch from a human wherever he can get it. Most of the gauchos find him to be rather annoying, but Jackie and Ricky just love him to bits. And so do I!

When Alexandra was handed Gringo's reins, she instantly got nervous. He kept nuzzling her, trying to get as close as possible, and she kept stepping away, which of course made him follow her. "How do I make him stop?" she asked anyone who was listening. "He just wants to love you," I told her as I walked over with Lovison and stroked Gringo's face. "He's saying hi!". Alexandra patted him on the neck and tried to calm her nerves. We learned that, while she'd been riding a few times at home in Switzerland, she really hadn't spent much time around horses and was quite nervous standing next to them. Once she was in the saddle she was fine, but standing near their heads made her anxious. The next few days were bound to be interesting!

Gringo taking his sweet time up the hill with Alexandra.

We started our ride by heading up and over the hills behind the estancia buildings. The hill was much more steep than it looked, and it provided a great view of the ranch with the glacier in the distance and the ever-growing lake (the Perito Moreno Glacier needs to break in the middle to allow water to flow through so the water level can equalize, like I talked about in my last post) For about four hours we crested hills and rode through lenga tree forests until we reached Mario's puesto, La Rosada. Let's go back to describing Mario a bit - like I said, he's one of the gauchos and lives at La Rosada alone for months at a time. He speaks no English and is missing several of his teeth (they were kicked out by a horse). He spends his time patrolling the cattle in the summer pastures and retrieving cows that stray into neighboring estancias if need be. His outpost is nothing fancy - walls of wood and corrugated steel, bunks were recently installed so tourists could sleep on them, a big iron stove and disco took up the corner space, and a large wooden table took up the rest of the cabin. Outside was a fire pit with logs set around it for seating, and out fresh lomo (beef) hung from a nail near the fire. Jake, Alexandra, and I really enjoyed Mario's company and did our best to speak in Spanish. Alexandra is fluent, as is Jackie, so the two of them often translated for me and Jake. The Argentine accent, however, is really hard to master for two gringos who learned Mexican Spanish growing up, and even if Jake said exactly the right Spanish words to Mario, Mario would often look at Jackie for translation. She would repeat exactly what Jake said, laughing as she did it. But I get it, that accent makes a difference! Just try understanding some Irishmen - they're speaking English and we could barely understand them!

The sign post behind me is the border marker. One side says Chile, the other Argentina. That fence is the border between the two countries.

We poked around the puesto, had lunch, and rested for a couple hours before hoping back into the saddle for some exploration of the summer pastures. Jackie and Mario took us out to the Argentine/Chile border, a simple fence through a field marked with a sign - one side reads Chile, the other Argentina. We left the horses with Mario and climbed up the sign post and into Chile - if only all border crossings into and out of Argentina could be this easy! Jackie pointed out the surrounding mountains and explained that the famous Torres del Paine, where we would be just one week later for the W Trek, was just about a five hour ride away.

As we made our way back to La Rosada for the night we got to see how real gaucho horses open up and cantered through the fields. Lovison is FAST and STRONG. That feeling, of riding on top of a powerful animal through a gorgeous valley in perfectly crisp and clear weather with the wind in my hair, that feeling is just the best in the whole world. None of us could help letting out a few excited "woops" and "yips" as we careened through the pastures. My heart, soul, and spirt were flying, and we still had three more days!

We slowly made our way back through the forest to Mario's puesto, stopping every so often to give Gringo a little wack with a branch - he was taking Alexandra for a ride, eating all of the bushes whenever he felt like, stopping when he felt like, turning around when he felt like. And poor Alexandra was reaching the end of her rope with him, she didn't know how to control him and stop him from misbehaving. He certainly wasn't listening to her politely say to him, "Gringo, let's go!". Like most horses, Gringo was taking advantage of his rider's lack of experience and confidence. He needs a leader in the saddle, someone who can give him firm instructions. Since I've ridden my fair share of difficult horses in the past, I offered to switch horses with Alexandra in the morning. Lovison may have been bigger, but he was very well behaved and listened well and would be a good boy for Alexandra. And besides, I have a soft spot for the tough ones!

When we got back to Mario's puesto Jackie set out some cheese, crackers, and opened a bottle of wine. Alright! This is definitely my style of a trip! And Mario prepared mate - he was eager to teach us all how to drink the social tea and bring us into the fold as friends. The five of us passed around the mate cup, taking careful sips out of the hot metal straw. As we learned in Salta, one must drink all of the liquid before handing it back to the mate master to fill up again, and the order must not be disturbed. The most important tip I learned with Mario, though, is not to say "Thank you" unless I do not want any more mate. "Thank you," I told him as I handed the cup back to him. On the next time around the circle he skipped me. When I asked why he stated that "Thank you" means "I'm all finished and don't want anymore." "Well I take it back!" I said, "No more thank you!" Everyone laughed and he handed me the cup. Jackie tried to explain the cultural difference to Mario - Americans say "Thank you" to everything, it's just what we're taught to do. Same goes with "I'm sorry". And we end up saying both of those things a billion times without realizing it. And if we don't, we're considered rude. "That's ridiculous," Mario replied. "Don't do that here. Just drink the tea." You got it, Mario. Shortly after that we devoured our delicious beef dinner and passed out by 10:30 with the sun still shining - it's crazy that it stays light so late down here. What a perfect day!

Our crew at Puesto La Rosada - Alexandra, Mario, Jackie, Noelle, & Jake

We woke up to the early morning sun shining glistening off the dew in the morning pasture. It was New Year's Eve, and I couldn't imagine a better place to be to end this amazing year! After a quick breakfast of toast, dulce de leche, and coffee made on the campfire, we saddled up for a three hour ride through the thick Lengua forest and down through the wide open canyon with views of the lake and the snowcapped mountains, stopping for lunch at another gaucho outpost, El Cochorro. El Cochorro is a resting place for the gauchos, a place for them to have lunch, share, mate, and relax by the fire pit before returning to work; they don't stay overnight here. As luck would have it, some of the guys were doing just that when we rode up. And by luck, I mean they definitely planned on being there - they LOVE the tourists and try to "coincidentally bump into them" at some point during the four days. We were immediately greeted by the five or six sheep dogs begging for belly rubs, and three rustic and serious looking cowboys. For being so macho, these guys are really a bunch of hams - they love to have their pictures taken and pose for you every chance they get! Jackie and Mario's boss, affectionately known as "El Tio" was among the three taking a break. "El Tio," I said, "Jackie es un muy buena gaucho, bueno con los caballos y muy responsable." Jackie is a very good gaucho, good with the horses and very responsible. For the last two days, Jackie had been telling us how difficult it is to be a capable female gaucho, that the guys don't trust that she can handle herself around the horses, that she can't ride like they can, that she isn't strong enough. We joked with her, "oh yes, boobs always get in the way for us women, whether it's running a company or wrangling cattle, those darn boobs. Guys are so lucky that they don't have boobs to make them so irresponsible and weak." So we promised her that, if given the chance, we'd tell El Tio just what an incredible rider she is, what a good guide she is, and how he should trust her with more responsibility. He appreciated our feedback, but still thinks she must prove herself in her outdoor abilities. Those darn boobs.

As we ate our ham and cheese sandwiches and shared mate with the guys (I did well and did not say "thank you" this time), Jackie made us her special coffee - she makes it over the fire pit and puts hot coals from the fire IN the coffee pot, then she pours sugar on top of the coals and it melts and carmelizes. It tasted like a fire roasted smore in coffee, and it was delicious!! As the guys saddled up, we gave the puppies one last scratch each, which they growled and barked at each other over. We waved goodbye as they rode away. "Watch, they'll come back in perfect formation for a picture and ride the other way," Jackie said. And, as if on cue, there they were, riding in a perfect line, three abreast, staring right at us and smiling before heading over the hill. I'll have lunch with those knuckleheads any day, I don't even care if I can barely understand a word they say!

The gouchos at El Cochorro. El Tio is on the right.

We rode another three hours to Jackie's puesto, La Laguna, taking in the breathtaking views of the mountains, the glaciers, and the lakes. We passed curious cows running through the fields to the soundtrack of the glacier cracking in the background. Is this place even real? Someone pinch me.

All day Jackie had been telling us how her puesto is "Five stars" - well we'd have to agree, there's electricity! The forward thinker that she is, Jackie requested that a solar panel be installed so she could have lights on. There's also a toilet, a real flushing toilet! And a shower! The main building is the main room with a giant dining table, two big iron stoves, and a five foot tall fireplace, and a separate bedroom with two bunkbeds (with mattresses!) With the horses grazing in the enclosed pasture next to the cabin, the view of the lake, the whistle of the wind through the long grass, and a road for people to being me food and supplies, I think I could live at Puesto La Laguna forever.

Puesto La Laguna, Jackie's office.

We got settled in the cabin and started prepping our New Year's Eve dinner. I put the champagne in the river to chill for a few hours, and we chopped all the veggies and boned the chicken before heading out for our final ride of 2015. "I want to take you place that's very special to me," Jackie said, "Are you up for it?" Umm, duh! So we got back on the horses - me on Gringo this time to give Alexandra a break from her badly behaved pony, Alexandra on Lovison, and Jake on Chupatin. We set out for an hour ride to The Big Rock, a giant erratic rock that was cracked through the middle, leaving a little pathway one could walk through. To get to it we had to make a steep descent down a gravely mountain side. And that's where the fun started.

The hill was too steep for us to ride the horses down, so the three of us dismounted, left the horses with Jackie, and walked down the hill about fifty feet. She would send the horses down one by one and we would collect them as they came down. It seemed like a fool proof plan - there wasn't really anywhere else for them to run to as they descended down the mountainside, and they were well trained gaucho horses. What could go wrong? So we waited for five minutes. Then 10. Then 20. Thirty minutes later Jackie and the horses still weren't coming. Clearly something wasn't right. We walked back up the hill and they were all gone. Perhaps she decided to take them a different way around? We climbed up higher on the mountain to get a better vantage point. A full hour had passed since we had last seen Jackie and the horses when we spotted her on her horses, galloping on the trail towards us, our three horses in tow with long ropes. Turns out, moments after we headed down the hill, Lovison bolted, followed by his partner in crime, Chupatin, and then by a very curious Gringo. Jackie's horse, Polenta, the little lady of the group, stayed put, and she and Jackie took off after the rest. Gringo, just wanting to be part of the group, realized his mistake in following the others and stopped shortly after taking off, head hanging low. (There's a valuable lesson here Gringo - good friends don't make you do bad things to be in their clique!) Lovison and Chupatin, however, galloped all the way back to Puesto La Laguna! Since were down the hill, we didn't hear any of the commotion. Jackie explained the whole fiasco as she caught her breathe, "I'm SO sorry! And I was just saying what a good guide I am!" We certainly didn't mind, there are worse places to hang out for an hour! We all laughed about it and tried for Round 2 - this time, Jake and Alexandra held the horses at the top while Jackie walked the horses down by hand, one by one, and handed them off to me at the bottom. Phew!

We were finally able to enjoy Jackie's favorite spot, The Big Rock. It's a gorgeous location, with the rushing river winding around the rock providing a delightful soundtrack. We tied the horses up as we explored for a little while. Since we were so far south, the sun was still shining bring at 9:30pm. We definitely didn't want to be making our way back in the dark, so we prepped to head back. Before leaving, though, we had a nice little ceremony. Jackie explained that she gets a certain spiritual feeling, a connectedness, in this beautiful place, from this giant rock with a story that we'll never know about, and how she really wanted to finish her year in this place and to show it to us. We all felt it, an energy in that place. So as a group we decided to take a walk through the center of the rock, leaving 2015 behind on one side, and coming out fresh, excited, invigorated, anew, ready to take on 2016 on the other. Sure, it's a little hippy dippy, but we were totally into it.

The Big Rock and the last sunset of 2015.

Our dinner, Pollo al Disco, cooking in the fireplace!

We had a nice ride back to Puesto La Laguna and arrived just as the sun was fading - it was 11pm. Jake went to work right away on building a fire in the giant fireplace (good job, Eagle Scout!) while I opened the champagne. Jackie whipped up one of my favorite meals in that fire place, pollo al disco, basically a chicken stew made in a giant cast iron disco (kind of like a giant cast iron skillet with walls about four inches high) that sits on top of the fire. It was darn tasty, and we sat down to eat just minutes before midnight, "Quick! Take a bite!" Jackie said. "I have to say that I fed you in 2015!" Moments later we started our countdown, and cheersed to the new year in the old wood cabin in the middle of nowhere with the horses neighing in the background. What a perfect, PERFECT New Year's Eve.

The next day we gave the horses a rest - Jackie had a surprise for us and it didn't involve getting in the saddle. We woke to a great breakfast of pound cake, toast smores coffee, and leftover pollo al disco. Jackie quickly handed us our lunches that she made and we stuffed them in our day packs, and we walked down to the water's edge of the lake. She had arranged for us to hitchhike on a boat to hike to the hidden Frias Glaciers on the property to spend and spend New Year's Day exploring the wilderness on foot! You see, one of the excursion companies in Calafate has a deal with Estancia Nibepo Aike - they are permitted to use their boat to bring groups of tourists into their land via the lake, hike over a mountain to another lake, use zodiac boats to transport them across that lake, and then hike to the glacier on the other side. In return for use of the land, the tour company agreed to pick up "hitchhikers" every so often if they had space in the boat and allow them to tag along. What an incredible bonus for us! All we had to do was be down by the water by 10am for pickup!

Standing in the very cold Frias Lake - this was as far as we were going!

So we made the 20 minute walk down to the lake and were ready to go at 10 til 10. Ten AM came and went. Maybe they're running a little late, we thought. 10:15 came and went. Maybe they're running really late…10:30… it IS a holiday today, maybe they cancelled the excursion and they're not coming? Jackie went back up to Puesto La Laguna to call the main house back on the ranch (yes, there's even a phone in there! This was the first time she'd used it!). Alexandra, Jake, and I continued to wait on the shore. Minutes to 11, just as we were about to call it and head back up to the puesto, we spotted the boat cruising towards us. We started yelling for Jackie to run back, and she sprinted the whole way down the field just in time for the captain of the boat to throw a plank out onto shore. We happily boarded, said hello to the very confused tourists, and sat down. "We changed the time of the trip for the holiday, no one told you?" he asked Jackie. Whatever! We were on the boat and on our way! "Did you guys walk all the way over here? Are you camping out there?" some of the tourists asked. We explained what our horseback riding trip was, that we were spending several hours a day in the saddle and sleeping in rustic cabins in the middle of nowhere. When they gave us expressions of "wow, I don't think I could do that," we felt pretty badass.

The glacier canyon looked like Yosemite.

After speeding down the calm and dark blue lake, we all hiked over the fairly steep hill to the other side to Frias Lake. Since we weren't technically part of the group, we waited for the two zodiac boats to transport the paying adventurers across the lake to our next point. As we waited in the warm sun, Alexandra and Jackie went for a dip in the 4*C water. Jake and I put out feet in and decided that was quite enough for us! The girls doggie paddled through the almost freezing water and commented on how good it felt. No thank you!!

The zodiac ride across Frias Lake was nice and smooth, and we could start to feel the cold air blowing off the glacier in the distance. We spend the next couple of hours walking through the glacier canyon, commenting on how on the left side the granite and pine tree landscape looked like Yosemite, and on the right side the white mountain sides looked like Mont Blanc. It's fascinating how we can still see signs of the glacier that bowled through here hundreds if not a thousand years ago - the canyon floor was all sand and gravel, the granite sides cut clean off. We filled our water bottles straight from the glacier stream. We Took time to notice the dried lichen on the river rocks on the canyon floor. The dramatic dark clouds rolling towards us threatened rain even though the sun was so bright just minutes before.

Our New Year's Day lunch spot, the of Frias Glacier.

The beauty of the glacier bay at the base of Frias Glacier took our breath away when we arrived. Icebergs floating in the dark grey water, the sound of bits of the glacier cracking and calving in the distance, the brisk air filling our lungs, the sun taking turns with those dark clouds and light sprinkle. Again we asked ourselves, is this real life? We lingered over our packed lunches, taking our time in this gorgeous place and appreciating how lucky we all are that THIS is how we get to kick off a new year before heading back to the zodiac boats.

"Oh it's cold! It's SO COLD!"

Same as before, we waited on shore as the zodiac boats took the paying passengers back across Frias Lake and the girls went swimming. I started thinking about our trip, our year, and how we're starting off 2016 on a rather adventurous foot. I realized, this year and every year, I want to get of my comfort zone a bit, I want to say yes to new experiences, I want to challenge myself, and I want to have fun! Jumping in the freezing cold lake was a metaphorical way to start the year off on that exact foot. So I stripped down and jumped in the ice cold water moments before the boat arrived! Jake laughed and took pictures, the girls cheered me on. I don't know what took my breath away more - the approaching boat and me in my underwear, or the fact that the water was SO COLD! Exhilarating!!

By the time we got in the zodiacs, the sun had come out and the wind had picked up blowing the surf in the opposite direction of where we needed to be. We were all on a bit of a high from the amazing excursion we'd had, and laughed the whole bouncy, choppy, white-capped ride back, knuckles white from holding on so tight. It reminded me of riding with LeeAn in her minihawk boat on Lake Winnisquam all those years ago. Yelling and laughing and cheering and smiling at each other after such an awesome and carefree morning - that's an image I hope I keep in my memory forever.

We got more looks of "you must be crazy" and questions of "So where are you staying again?" from the group as we walked back down the plank from the boat onto the lake side near Jackie's puesto. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and cooking dinner. Jackie made a killer lamb stew with the lamb that had been hanging outside for the last two days, getting a nice air dried crust on it (side note, this trip made me realize how paranoid we are about food spoiling in the US. We throw so much away that has not gone bad. Here we are cooking raw meat that had not been refrigerated for days, and eating leftovers that also had not been refrigerated and we were totally fine!). Jackie is one incredible cook, even more incredible that she can cook the gourmet meals that she did on wood burning iron stoves and in the giant fireplace! I'd say 2016 got off to a fantastic start!

A beautiful night at Puesto La Laguna, January 1, 2016.

Our last morning was a whirlwind - we all slept a little later than we meant to, so we kicked it into high gear to get the puesto back in order (sweeping, dishes, etc) before cramming what should be a six hour ride in three hours! We had a deadline to meet - the restaurant manager told Jackie that we must be back at the hosteria by noon in order to make it in time for lunch that was served promptly at 12:30. Yeehaw!

Jake, Alexandra, and I tended to the cabin while Jackie wrangled and saddled the horses. We spent most of the ride cantering down the dirt road back to the estancia, stopping every so often to adjust our saddle bags or retrieve something that fell off. Halfway into our ride we ran into El Tio and the boys again, El Tio shouting "Foto! Foto! Foto!" as we approached. Ha! I told you he loves to have his picture taken!

The morning mist greeted us on our ride back.

We had been walking for a little while, giving the horses a break from the hard work they'd done for us that morning, as we came around the last bend and final long stretch into the estancia. The four of us lined up, stirrup to stirrup, and took off at a full gallop in a line, hooting and hollering like the gauchos as we raced down the last bit of road. We were a team, a unit, a herd, and we were finishing together! We put on the brakes as we approached, slowing the horses back down to a walk to cool them down before we said goodbye. After lots of pictures, kisses on noses, hugs around the necks, and pats on the flanks, we handed our awesome horses back over to the man in charge of them. The moment they were unsaddled and in the pen, they all took a nice dusty roll in the dirt. It was 11:50am, we made it with 10 minutes to spare!

By 12:30 the four of us were seated for lunch, drinking wine (those bottles we took on Christmas Eve came in handy!), and chowing down on lamb asado, stuffing our faces with our new incredible friends. Five days of amazing storytelling, challenging rides, awe inspiring exploration and adventure - the whole experience is too awesome to accurately describe. It was perfect, and we developed such awesome new friendships. After lunch, as Jake, Alexandra, and I got in the van that would take us back to El Calafate, we hugged Jackie and said goodbye, tears in our eyes. We were so grateful for the experience, so happy to have met her and Alexandra, and sad that it was over. Who knew we would get so emotional as we drove away! As Jake and I sat in silence with the other 10 people in the van, we looked at each other, grabbed each other's hand, and shared the same quiet thought - we are so damn lucky.

Happy New Year friends. May 2016 be the adventure that you want it to be.

Back at the estancia! Chupatin, Jake, Gringo, Noelle, Lovison, Alexandra, Polenta, & Jackie.