The Loneliest Cowboy in the World

Plumbing the Isolated Depths of Chilean Patagonia

By John Martin



So, in 1976, the Chilean Army Engineering Command began construction on the Carretera Austral, forever changing Patagonia and its residents. By 1986, a mostly unpaved road connected remote communities throughout the country, and the Chilean military finally had easy access to the south. Thanks to the extended road, the area developed a nascent yet thriving adventure-tourism industry based out of towns like Coihaique up north and Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas in the south.

Villa O’Higgins, however, has remained somewhat isolated despite all of the recent developments. It was only accessible by plane until 2000, when the final 62 miles of the 770-mile road finally linked the remote village to the rest of the highway (via an hour-long ferry ride to Puerto Yungay). Faustino lives 20 or so miles from Villa O’Higgins, but those miles are of the Chilean Patagonia variety. It takes him several days to make his biennial trip, wrangling his cattle up precarious switchbacks, along the sides of ravines, through rapid mountain rivers, and, eventually, to town. He lived like this, without really seeing another soul outside his trips into town, for about 35 years, until the boats came. First, about a decade ago, a government ship began cruising the lake weekly for whatever reasons the government had deemed important. Then came the semiweekly tourist ship that would take sightseers to the O’Higgins Glacier—a favorite among the global-warming picture-taking set.

At 81 years old, Faustino is still spry and still doesn’t go to town very often, but he has somewhat adapted to the changes surrounding him. Now he retrieves his supplies from the boat and generates electricity via a solar panel, and he even recently got a new neighbor. The world is catching up to him, but it’s a safe bet that whatever time Faustino has left will be spent staying as far away from civilization as he can manage.

Watch Far Out: Faustino’s Patagonian Retreat, one of the loneliest documentaries we’ve ever made, on VICE.com.

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