Estancia Monte Dinero
From a junction about 15 kilometers south of Río Gallegos, RP 1 swerves southeast through rolling pasturelands where gas-and-oil derricks remind you that Santa Cruz is an energy storehouse. The gravel road is smooth to the picture-postcard settlement of Estancia Cóndor (neighboring farmers consider the Benetton empire, which now owns Cóndor, to be indifferent to its neighbors, who traditionally help each other out).
Beyond Cóndor, the road deteriorates toward Estancia Monte Dinero, a pioneer sheep farm open to overnighters and day-trippers. Some 120 kilometers from Río Gallegos, 26,000-hectare Monte Dinero benefits from proximity to the Cabo Vírgenes penguin colony, but it’s also interesting as a ranch that, unlike most others in the area, has subdivided its fragile pastures into smaller paddocks to manage its 19,500 sheep more intensively.
Also unlike other estancias, it trains its contract shearers to use manual rather than electric shears, pays them a premium to do so, and shears ewes before lambing to ensure a higher lambing rate.
Founded by the Fentons, another pioneer Patagonian family, Hostería Monte Dinero has four downstairs bedrooms (three with private baths) and two upstairs (with a shared bath), plus satellite TV; the casco’s former sun porch has been expanded into an attractive and spacious, but not extravagant, bar and dining room. A small museum holds family keepsakes (including a perfect puma skull), and there’s also a billiard table (not a pool table).
Estancia Monte Dinero (tel./fax 02966/ 42-8922, www.montedinero.com.ar) is open October–April. Rates are US$130 pp with halfboard, US$150 pp with full board (excluding drinks), and include a variety of farm activities such as dog trials, sheep shearing, and hiking.
For nonguests, there’s a día de campo (US$90 pp) that includes farm activities and lunch but not drinks. Neither accommodations nor day-trips prices include the 21 percent IVA.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition