After rounding up the horses, we went inside the pesebrera where the saddles and bridles are stored, which is also where the baqueanos start their day with the sharing of “mate” (pronounced “mah-tay”) and a fried bread called “sopaipillas.”
Mate (or, more accurately, “yerba mate”) is a type of tea favored by Chileans and Argentinians. It has a slightly bitter taste and is shared from a single mate cup into which hot water is poured over the yerba mate leaves by the host. After the host determines that the leaves have steeped the proper amount of time, he passes the mate cup to the drinker to his right with his right hand.
The drinker, who must accept the mate cup with his or her right hand, draws the liquid up through a bombilla, a metal straw with tiny holes punched through it to strain out the mate leaves. Tradition also dictates that the drinker only says “Gracias” when he or she wants to drink no more, otherwise he can expect a refill, in turn.
We bought mate cups and bombillas in Buenos Aires as souvenirs and have been dying to try mate, so this was a real treat for us.
As we sat and drank, Sergio and Paola told us about the history of the hotel.
The current owners are the descendants of Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic, who acquired the property in 1979 around the time that the Chilean government was creating the encircling national park now known as Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Antonio fiercely resisted the taking of his property by the government and was ultimately exempted from expropriation, resulting in the estancia being the only privately-owned property in the park.
In the early 1990s, the Kusanovics realized that their property was more valuable as a tourist lodge than as a working ranch, so they converted the old sheep shearing shed and the family home into a hostel, and over several years added several more buildings, including a restaurant, a reception and meeting area, and a number of hotel rooms (today the hotel has 84 rooms and 150 employees).
Now, time to get to work…