When I first drove into the Chacabuco estancia six years ago, the foreman greeted me when I knocked at his door. My wife and three kids watched from our vehicle. We were one week into a one-month tour of Patagonia, and we hoped for permission to car camp on what by reputation was the most beautiful ranch in the region.
“Anywhere you want,” the foreman said. I turned to the vehicle with a thumbs-up.
“You German?” he asked.
“No, North American. California.”
“California?” he said, his face souring “Pure bad. But here?” he continued, his face sweetening, “Here is the best place in the world.”
It was Christmas Day, one of the longest days in the austral summer, and at 7 p.m. we had three more hours of daylight. We stopped to admire five black-necked swans, then a herd of guanaco. I balanced my still camera on a fence post while Carissa, our oldest daughter (then aged 17), shot video. National Geographic Traveler was interested in an article and they needed video for the Web site; that seemed like a good opportunity for Carissa. My wife, Jennifer, and I knew the trip was also a good opportunity for Cameron, 15, and Connor, 12, to experience a wild part of the planet that over decades had meant so much to me. Now, with other friends, I was involved in its conservation, including the possibility of safeguarding this Chacabuco Valley.