No really. When I checked my email this afternoon I had an email from GovX, which is a site that sells discounted gear and stuff to veterans. I qualify, since I’m a vet. However most of the stuff they sell is a little too…military.

This however got my attention. I could have used a pair of these a few years ago.

Patagonia high country

The End of the World in Argentina

Patagonia is a magnificent place. Moist of us who travel to that part of the world are entranced by the ragged, rugged mountains, the small towns and vast glaciers. Traditional ranches still exist, often nestled in remote valleys some many hours away from any town. Those ranches provide horseback riding and fishing expeditions for those willing to invest the time and the dime to reach these exquisite places.

What awaits those willing to put up with five- and six- hour drives across wide open plains is worth it. Milky turquoise glacier-fed waters whipped into high spumes by the constant November winds. The high Chilean peaks just across broad blue lakes. Thick forests with the occasional curious white horse appearing out of nowhere. I spent hours on horseback with my guides, deep in the trees or on steep hillsides. I’ve rarely seen such breathtaking country.

Riding the trails near El Condor

A Trip to the High Country

At Nibepo Aike, an estancia not far from El Calafate, I met Berny, the 31-year-old guide who would be taking me up for three days to a remote cabin at altitude. For the first two days, I rode with Berny and other tourists in the area, getting a feel for the tack and the horses. Berny had a great sense of humor but he was no-nonsense when it came to the horses. So when a German woman who was classically trained in dressage struggled to make her Argentinean-trained mount respond to commands he had no clue how to obey, he let her have it. I loved him for that. She was arrogant and mean to her house. Not the horse’s fault. You learn to ride where you are.

Berny

Nibepo Aike had a three-day trip to a tiny cabin in glaciar country. My cup of tea. Berny changed my mount at the last minute to a much faster horse. The skies were lowering as we began our journey. It was several hours’ ride to the cabin. Along the way the skies opened their bellies and we took off at speed. My mount had the gaits of a jackhammer. As the rain pummeled us, the stirrups, attached to the saddle by leather straps, let loose and suddenly I was riding without them.

Berni on the run through the cattle herd

As I followed Berny through the high country at a gallop, we blasted through a herd of cattle. Suddenly my brand new Arcteryx jacket- and my face- were being pelted by clods of dirt and cattle shit. I opened my mouth to yell ahead- you guess it- one right in the mouth. And no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. I got covered in wet cow shit and was trying to spit out the dirt and poop clod as I did my best to lock my legs around my mount. You can’t make this shit up.

By the time we pulled up to the remote cabin, I was a stinking sight. We were laughing hard as we took the saddles off our horses and ducked inside the cabin. It was primitive, with a fireplace large enough to walk into if you ducked. All around we had views of the mountains and glaciars. Being springtime, there were snow showers and a stream ran nearby. I stripped down, washed my gear and hung my wet undies right over the fireplace on the mantel. And forgot about them.

A view of Patagonia near Nibepo Aike

God’s Country

The next morning Berny and I saddled up and headed to the glaciars. Snow showers threatened in the distance over the high country as we made our way to the high lake where we sat and drank freshly squeezed orange juice and contemplated the immense beauty. Patagonia is vast, incredible country, stretching for unimaginable miles in the eighth largest country in the world. The single best way to see it, to my mind, is by horse. It is hard to imagine such gorgeous wilderness in a world where wilderness is disappearing at an appalling rate, especially with corporate and government interest worldwide trumping what is our international birthright.

When Berny and I got back from our morning excursion it was already snowing again. We put the horses back into the corral and headed inside for lunch.

Berni’s a terrific cook- far better than those at the pricy lodge which cost me nearly $350 a night. To give you an idea, I had explained to the cook my food preferences. What I got was canned corn and a boiled egg. For $350 a night. Thank god Berny was considerably more talented.

As I sat at the dinner table reading, my camera just to my right, I heard Berny start up the huge fire and begin his preparations for a big chicken lunch. Suddenly I heard a huge WHOOSH, the cabin lit up, and I heard Berny’s frying pan hit the floor.

I grabbed my camera, leapt up and turned to see Berny, his ass pointed skyward, staring at something burning merrily on the cabin floor.

What the hell?

Curious, I walked over to the burning pile and studied it. Suddenly I recognized the waistband of my underwear. Berny was horrified and terribly apologetic.

I was giggling uncontrollably.

“Not at all,” I gasped. “You’ve just given me the best story of my whole trip. I’m going to tell all my friends that I had such great sex with my 31- year-old guide that he set my underwear on fire!”

At this Berny nearly fell over in hysterics. Together we put out my underwear, which was badly crisped at that point. (That scorched pair of undies now has pride of place in my dining room hanging from the lance of a Myanmar horseman).

So much for my underwear

To this day, Berny still writes me emails asking if he can carry my backpack on my travels. A more delightful guide doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. While I haven’t invested in flame-proof underwear, I keep my options open. You never know when you might need a pair.