National Geographic : 2014 Dec
156 national geographic • December 2014 boat that would ferry him to the nearest hospital. When the professionals at the hospital in Punta Arenas saw Arturo, they offered to cas- trate him on the spot and thereby save the man from almost certain death by infection. Instead, Arturo begged the nurse to pack his wounded parts in salt. After that he insisted on having his smashed teeth replaced with dentures. He left the hospital fully intact as a man, with an unnaturally bright and even smile. The question arose, “Is it worth it?” Of course, the answer to that question depended on what “it” was and by which set of values you balanced a life. In other words it depended on whether you valued the grandeur of suffering or the banality of comfort. And it depended on whether you do your life for a living. “A person who has no con- nection to their ancestors and to their land is con- demned to tumble,” Sebastián had said. “This is a way of life for us, not just a way to make money.” Which was just as well because it was obvi- ous there wouldn’t be 50 baguales to load onto the ferry back to market in Puerto Natales. Bad weather had driven most of the baguales far west of Sutherland, beyond the endurance of the horses and dogs. Instead of five baguales a day, they’d be lucky to get one every two or three days. And even that modest number seemed an imposingly difficult achievement. Once the ba- gualeros managed to catch up with a bull and lasso it in the dense brush, they still had to de- horn it and tie it to a tree for a few days until exhaustion wore the bull pliable enough to be roped to a horse and persuaded onto the ferry. I was beginning to wonder—out of line with Sebastián’s belief in the power of positive think- ing—if I’d be in one piece to see the end of this trip. After all, the very first bull I encountered seemed to have fixed its attention on me, and I still hadn’t found a suitable tree to climb. But then the four bagualeros suddenly ap- peared, riding with unimaginable speed through the forest, one hand on the reins, the other ready on a coil of rope. Seeing them, the bull fled into the trees, toward the lake. I followed at an im- moderately safe distance. By the time I got to the lake, the bull had accidentally strangled to death on one of the ropes. In an effort to revive it, someone had pulled the creature’s tongue from its mouth. Someone else was bouncing on its belly, CPR on a grand scale and to no avail. Life seeped from its eyes, which turned from black to gla- cial green. Abelino took off his hat and wiped his brow. Alive, that bull represented a month’s salary. Dead, it was just meat for us and the dogs. Over the next two weeks the men caught about a half dozen cows, several bulls, and a calf. One bull drowned itself in the lake; a cow jumped from a cliff and hanged itself. Our camp- site churned redolent with animals and meat. The men grew lonely for women, and jokes were trad- ed that no one would translate for my benefit. I did learn, however, that the brothel in Puerto Natales, a favorite haunt of Arturo’s, had burned In Tierra del Fuego a bagualero cautiously approaches a trapped feral horse. Alert and skittish, wild horses are typically harder to gather than cattle, and their meat, used mostly for jerky, isn’t as valuable.