Geography is tangible here. When Ricardo picked me up on Thursday and drove me the 200 kilometers from Rio Gallegos to his family’s sheep ranch, Monte Dinero, he interrupted our conversation to narrate our coordinates. Now we’re going west, towards the border with Chile; now we’re going south; and now east, tracking the border again, which cuts across this land like a crack in a piece of terracotta.
Understanding your cardinal position in the world must be important when you are reaching the extremes of a continent, or a planet. You feel a curve in the earth when you look at a map and see that here, we are at Mile 0 of Ruta 40, the road that runs all the way up Argentina’s long spine. We are at the end of continental America. (Ushuaia, the main city of Argentine Tierra del Fuego, the island that sits right below us, ups the ante: it’s “the end of the world”). These superlatives can be used to sell things. Monte Dinero plays its touristic cards well by calling its tea house “Al Fin y al Cabo” - “In the End,” a nice word play that also refers to the Cabo, the point that juts out into the Straits of Magellan. Ricardo and his wife Marcela have tried for years to start a public school on the ranch and finally succeeded this year, an election year, because regional politicians saw the benefit in funding “The Southernmost school in Argentina.”
Here more than anywhere I’ve been, I want to see where I am on a map. The land itself orients you but it’s almost like you need to remind yourself that the extremity is real. Yes, here I am, a dot on the edge. [Humans have impacted this area a lot more than this wild feeling would give away, but that’s another topic].
We drove far out into the ranch today to look for the dogs who guard Monte’s sheep. They are Maremma sheep dogs; maybe it was just our relative proximity to Antarctica, but seen through binoculars from the truck they looked like polar bears. They’re ferocious with most creatures other than the sheep they’re born with and the humans who train them. Ricardo, Joel, Jeremy and I stayed in the truck while Marcela said hello to them. When she had had her time, we turned the truck around and started the drive back to the house. We had to stop for a moment. Marcela went silent and the boys looked up from their cellphone video game because at the end of the sea of grass was the Atlantic Ocean bright blue and holding down the horizon.