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My amazing Croatian discovery in the very south of Argentina

El Calafate

El Calafate

By Tina Kovačiček

Throughout history, numerous Croatians have migrated to South America in search of a better life, and to this day, it remains one of the largest Croatian communities outside of Croatia.

So with this information in hand, I was expecting to discover some nice Croatian stories during my two-month journey through South America which would warm my heart. Yet, in the end, I couldn’t imagine I would find an amazing ranch located in the most beautiful corner of the earth – Patagonia, in the south of Argentina. And I found it by lucky chance.

While I was searching out what to see and do in El Calafate, a small city in the region of Patagonia, famous for the excursions to Los Glaciares National Park, information about beautiful Estancia Nibepo Aike just popped out. 

A couple of clicks later – wow – I found out that over 100 years ago, a Croatian pioneer found his place on earth in these lands near the borders. Nowadays, after four generations, the very same family still runs the estancia and its rural activity.

This ranch is considered as one of the famous hideaways in this area and it is actually the only one within Los Glaciares National Park to accept guests. So to discover this piece of Patagonian surreal heaven left me speechless and proud of this longtime Croatian guy who had wisdom and luck to settle down in this magical area of nature.

Today, the ranch is run by Adolfo Jansma, who doesn’t speak Croatian though, but he is very aware of his ancestors. The story about his ranch goes like this: “Croatian immigrant Santiago Peso arrived in Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century. He settled in an area located on the southern arm of the Argentino Lake, nowadays within Los Glaciares National Park. He settled in approximately 20,000 hectares of land and, in a partnership with a group of fellow countrymen, founded the estancia “La Jerónima”. The main activity of the estancia was sheep breeding, though they also included bovine breeding. 

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In 1924 Santiago traveled to Rio Gallegos, where he met Maria Martinic, also Croatian. They got married in 1925 and had 4 children: Adolfo (who died at the age of one year and a half), Radoslaba (nicknamed Niní), Ángela (nicknamed Bebe) and María (nicknamed Porota.)

In 1936, Santiago Peso fell ill with tuberculosis and was prescribed to recover in the city of Córdoba, where he died in 1938. Notwithstanding the situation, his wife María was not defeated and took over the administration of the estancia, with the collaboration of her daughters. For example, Niní supplied her mother’s poor Spanish and helped as an interpreter and a translator. 

In 1947, as a tribute to her daughters, María decided to change the name of the estancia to Nibepo Aike. Aike means a place in Tehuelche language, while Nibepo is formed with the first two letters of her daughters’ nicknames. In the ’50s, Niní married Juan Enrique Jansma, born in the province of Mendoza, and they settled in the estancia. They also had 4 children: Carlos, Sylvia, Adolfo and Gladis. In 1976 María passed away and Niní decided to buy her sisters’ shares of the estate. Juan Enrique became manager of the estancia. In love with the place, he never left Nibepo. Nowadays, their son Adolfo is in charge of the estancia and the authentic history goes on from generation to generation.”

Also, I found out that the wagons or carretas were the only means of cargo transportation until the middle of the 20th century. The main cargo was the wool production towards the ports in the Atlantic ocean coast. Each wagon train was formed by several wagons pulled by around 18 animals (horses and mules).

The journey from Nibepo Aike to Río Gallegos (port of shipment) lasted approximately 20 days. Nowadays, many of these wagons can be seen at the estancia, where they are part of the landscape.

To spend a day at this ranch is one of the recommended activities through many tour operators. Here you can get familiar with the local tradition with the door open and warm welcome while taking part in every day Patagonian life, how they like to say.

The main, 100 years old, building of Estancia Nibepo Aike is a typical local style house, fringed with colorful blooms and gabled roofs. Inside, an open fire and country-cottage florals lend the cozy lounge a homely ambiance. All decorated with rustic-style furniture and parquet floors. Meals are served either in the welcoming dining room or in the quincho, a traditional outdoor barbeque area where regular meat feasts take place. 

For the guests who don’t have time to spend a night, Ranch Day is a perfect way to experience the Patagonian rural life and complements the tour to the glaciers. It can be visited either in the morning or the afternoon and one can participate in different activities according to the time of each one.

Among the activities, visitors can attend tests for horse reins and sheep shearing demonstration, hikes and horseback riding of 1 or 3 hours. The trip ends with an exquisite lamb grilled on a traditional Patagonian cross stake. In the case of special groups, some specific gaucho skills demonstrations can be added. If you have time to spend a night, then these activities stretch up to a couple of days. 

You can do horseback riding to the hidden glaciers whereas a rider you become part of the landscape, crossing through rivers, “abras” (spaces without forest between mountains), grassland, border landmark and views of the hidden glaciers, the southernmost of the National Park: Gorra, Frias, Dickson. A unique experience that invites you to enjoy the life of a Patagonia ranch. You can also hike throughout these beautiful landscapes and feel the nature in a more calm pace.

Here night sky is filled with starts and the early mornings are not to be missed; views towards the mountains, fresh air and not even a close sign of the civilization is near. All worth getting up early in the morning.

That is why they call this place a perfect hideaway and I call it an amazing Croatian discovery on the very south of Argentina.

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