Sergio Catalan’s day was nearly done; the last of the loose cattle had been rounded up. He was a huaso, a proud horseman of Chile. Like the cowboys of Texas, he was strong, and silent, and brave; and though he hadn’t yet realized it, he was the last of a disappearing breed. Santiago, not too far away, was overcome with modernity in 1973, as well as military coups. Still, he stared up at the snow-covered mountains to the east and felt confident in the permanence of his land and his life and a day’s hard work.
Sergio followed the Rio Portillo south until it intersected the Rio Azufre. The waters were high and running strong. Just as he was about to turn his horse to the west, he noticed a skinny man on the eastern shore, waving at him. He was obviously out of place. Sergio rode close by the bank to try and see what the stranger wanted but the noise of the river’s rush made it impossible for him to make sense of the shouts. Besides, the sun was setting and his dinner was waiting. “Mañana!” he called out to the stranger. “Mañana!”When he returned the next morning, December 22, the man was still there and he had another with him. Sergio dismounted and pulled a paper and pencil from his pocket, tied them to a rock, and threw it across the river. The stranger retrieved it, spent a minute writing, and then threw it back.
Sergio opened the note and read it in disbelief.
“I come from a plane that crashed in the mountains…”The next day, after seventy-two days in the Andes, the remaining survivors of crashed Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued and incredible tales of heroism, and cannibalism, soon captivated the world.