The essence of the Patagonian steppe

Small ranchers take travelers to the Somuncurá Plateau.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The best new culture-and-nature excursion presented at the Expo Patatonia show in Buenos Aires was that of Meseta Infinita, an organized group of small ranchers and artisans from a town in the middle of the Río Negro steppe who receive travelers who are interested in the real thing in Patagonian places and lifestyles. AVINA, an international NGO that advises small entrepreneurs and helps them launch undertakings based on sustainable activities, is one of the sponsors.Many of the group’s excursions take visitors to the Somuncurá Plateau, a basaltic formation that occupies more than 23,000 km2 of central southern Río Negro and part of northern Chubut – an area similar to that of the province of Tucumán. Its average elevation is 1,000 meters above sea level, but its relief is by no means flat or monotonous. Its landscapes include volcanic cones, canyons, mountain ranges whose highest peak reaches 1,900 meters, and more than 300 lagoons, many of them ephemeral.
Proof of the marine incursion that covered the region 65 million years ago is the large number of fossil beds in the dry gulfs, capes and bays that can be made out atop Somuncurá and the neighboring Central Plateau.

Somuncurá has very few inhabitants and several endemic plant and animal species. Most people are small sheep ranchers, and some also raise guanacos and rheas.

Some Meseta Infinita members are Mapuches, members of the major indigenous ethnic group whose ancestors came to live in this area at the end of the 19th century. Today their women are willing to give visitors a hands-on seminar on washing and dying wool and weaving rugs on traditional looms.

The group offers all-inclusive packages of three or four days that begin in Los Menucos, a town of 3,000 inhabitants at the foot of the Somuncurá Plateau halfway between San Antonio Oeste on the coast and Bariloche at the foot of the Andes in the province of Río Negro. You can get there by bus from Bariloche (360 km) or Viedma (500 km). Activities can be arranged in accordance with the visitor’s interests: sheep farm activities including droving and shearing; the ins and outs of rhea and guanaco raising; slate mining; traditional Mapuche weaving techniques; fossil deposits, and rock art sites that are more than 10,000 years old. Accommodation may be in ranch houses, outposts, or tents if excursions range very far afield on the Somuncurá Plateau. Travelers eat with ranch families.

I haven’t done this yet, but it sounds good and I am passing on the information. For more details, see , and e-mail or call (02944) 15-613-100 or (02940) 492-051.

PHOTO CREDITS: Lagoon in a volcano crater; fossilized sea shells found on the plateau; rancher with guanaco; weaver; cooking on a plow disc; a ranch house living room. All courtesy of Meseta Infinita.