Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Patagonia--John and the Patagonia Frontiers ranch

John and Tom at the Balmaceda airport

I've mulled over the best words to describe John Hauf, the owner of Patagonia Frontiers. I think I've settled on jack-of-all-trades/super mentor. To poach from the Alpine Ascents International website: "Trained as a climber and wildlife biologist, John has had a special affinity for wild places ever since he was a child. He is an educator, mountaineer, explorer, entrepreneur and true believer in the power of trust, respect and tolerance." Yup, that's John.

He has drawn on his mountaineering stamina and expertise to take on a multitude of worldwide projects. It boggles the mind to listen to what he has accomplished through the years (and John is anything but boastful; he shares his experiences, but in an understated way). He lives a life some of us may dream of, but one that few of us could undertake. I can't begin to list all his accomplishments, but suffice it to say that he started the National Outdoor Leadership School's program in Patagonia many moons ago and fell in love with the area. He now runs a 2,000-acre ranch on the far shores of Lake Plomo (reachable only by boat), where he hosts guests, school groups, and occasionally NOLS students returning from the field.

John has a remarkable way of connecting with the locals in whichever country he currently calls home. After living in Kenya and then guiding on Kilimanjaro for Alpine Ascents for many seasons, he found a way to bring talented Tanzanian guide Mike Mtuy to Patagonia. Mike works for John on the ranch, and John found a way for him to go to school in Coyhaique. With John's help, Mike is getting an education. Ditto for 23-year-old Juan Pablo Vasquez Ruiz, whom John met when his father helped John with a fencing project. John is sponsoring Pablo at culinary school. In return, Pablo works as a chef at the ranch and on the trail. I could go on and on, but "jack-of-all-trades/super mentor" pretty much sums it up.

The Patagonia Frontiers ranch is the epitome of tranquil, especially on a windless day. The main house--warmth is plentiful, meals are served, mate is passed in the morning, and entertainment from Pablo and Casey Weyer (former NOLS student, now an intern for John) is found. Logs are fed into the enormous kitchen stove. Hard to fathom how Pablo gauges the temperature of the oven and cooktop as he churns out endless loaves of bread and delicious meals.

The grassy grounds hold fruit trees, a guest house, various barns and outbuildings, and a couple round pens for the 17 horses John owns. Two outhouses (although I hesitate to call them "outhouses") are located at either end of the core of the property. If there could be such a thing as a beautiful outhouse, John has built it. Each is wood paneled, has a couple windows and a real toilet seat, and is totally devoid of any nasty odors. A bucket of water for washing hands hangs from a nearby tree.

The guest house contains three bedrooms. Our Queen bedroom had plenty of storage for our gear, lots of fun books in the bookshelf, newly installed electricity (solar panels were installed just weeks ago), and a cozy sheepskin rug on the wood floor. Sleeping on a firm mattress--what a pleasant change from the stateside hotels and their mushy feather-top beds.

The horses are usually free to wander around the property, except when they're rounded up for a ride. It is not unusual to encounter them right beside the guest house, especially when it's raining. Important to wear shoes to the outhouse.

We had very little wind during our days at the ranch. More often than not, the lake was like glass. We only heard stories of 6-foot waves and difficult crossings in the boat from Puerto Bertrand.

Tom and I explored the ranch during the mornings before heading out on overnight hiking/horseback treks. Tom chose to bathe in the frigid lake. I, not being one to embrace cold water, either reveled in my filthiness or asked John to heat water and pour it into the Solar Shower pouch for me. After the first rather scalding 110-degree shower, I implored John to drop the water temp five degrees or so the next time. Squeaky clean is overrated.
All in all, the ranch is rustic but quite comfortable. John is uber organized, so everything is neat and tidy. He has plans for future improvements, but will always strive to maintain the ranch's character. 

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