Whie Alaska, Canada, and Norway are perhaps the places best known for snow, ideal winter temperatures and dog sledding. There are places all over the world which are home to people who have been biten by the mushing basilisk. The next in our series Mushing Around the World, we sit down and talk with Miguel Isla Casares and Hernan Maquieira from Argentina. They hope that, by leading by example, they can build a mushing culture in their home town of Ushuaia Argentina.
Text: Barry Siragusa. Photo: Miguel Isla Casares and Hernan Maquieira.
Why don’t you introduce yourselves.
Hernan: My name Hernan Maquieira from Argentina I have lived in Norway since 2010 in foldal.
Miguel: My name is Miguel Isla Casares. I came to Norway one year ago. I have been been the handler for Sigrid Ekran for the 2014-15 winter.
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Miguel Isla Casares
You are both from Argentina. Are there many argentinians running dogs outside of Argentina?
Miguel: No, there is one other. The other guy, Pato Geron, is a friend of ours. He is in Alaska. handling for Lance Mackey. We are the the only three from Argentina running dogs that we know.
Even in Argentina? Are there people running dogs in Argentina?
Hernan: Yes, there are people running dogs where we come from. We come from Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city in the world. It is just 1000km from Antarctica. There are four or five kennels who work with tourists. None of them are racing kennels any more. Some of them have raced before in Argentina. Some of them went to the World Championships in Canada and the Dryland World Championship in Poland.
Are there no races in Argentina?
Miguel: There was a race in 1995. When the sport started in Argentina. Musher came from many places. Tim White came down and ran. Mark Nordman was the race marshal for 6 years. From 1996 to 2000. 2000 was the last year.
Hernan: Mark Nordman and my uncle made mushing more than just about tourism in Argentina.
What was that race called?
Hernan: The Ushuaia Sled Dog Race. I ran it 3 times. That is how I got started with dog mushing.
Miguel: That was the beginning of racing in Argentina, but after a while the mushers stopped running.
Why is that?
Miguel: Conflict between mushers. They stopped working together to build the sport. You can’t make the sport bigger if you don’t work together.
Hernan: To get sponsors for the race in 2001 was impossible. There was a huge economic crisis in Argentina. So there was no more money and no sponsors.
Miguel: Now there are a lot of young people who are getting interested. Like me. I started working in one of the tourist kennels together with my friend who is in Alaska. We ran dogs for 9 years without racing. Now I have a totally different point of view after being here. In Argentina you can’t buy any gear. You have to make your own sleds and make your own harnesses.
There is no one who sells harnesses in Argentina?
Hernan: My uncle was on holidays in Alaska in 1994 and brought the first team of Alaskan Huskies to Argentina in 1995. He brought back gear and used the gear as models for making his own.
Miguel: In Ushuaia we have the best conditions in South America to run dogs. We have snow and the good areas so we will keep working and make mushing keep growing and grow up in the right way.
-In Ushuaia we have the best conditions in South America to run dogs.
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Miguel training in Argentina
Will you both eventually go back to Argentina?
Hernan: No. I won’t go back. My wife and my dogs are in Norway but, I will still help. After I ran Iditarod in 2007, I went back to Argentina on holidays and just gathered the mushers and said ok now. Ask me. Because after all the years of living in the states and training dogs and running the races I felt like I had a little bit more experience to share with them. I tried. It didn’t work. Now we have Miguel here and Pato Geron in Alaska, who have the plan of moving back and lifting the sport up.
Miguel: The plan is to teach the people like we teach the dogs. Not talk, but show them. The goal is to go and try and do the best we can. Sigrid has been a big source of good information for me. I have been running dogs for a long time, but I was unsure about whether they were healthy and happy if I pushed them far. Now with Sigrid she has taught me all the tools for seeing whether they were happy and healthy on long training and races.
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Hernan at the finishline of Iditarod 2007
Are you bringing dogs back to Argentina? What is the quality of dog like there?
Miguel: Yes I will bring some dogs back with me. The dogs in Argentina were really good bloodlines during years the races were happening. Bloodlines from Tim White and others. Now I will bring back two dogs to Argentina. One is a female from Hernan from Jeff King and Kjell Brennoden lines. I will bring a dog from Sigrid too from the Minto Ed. (Lance Mackey’s Zorro). My friend in Alaska will bring dogs from Lance Mackey.
Is the plan to actually start a race in Argentina?
Miguel: Yeah, the plan is to start a mid-distance race there. Sigrid and Lance and other people have gotten interested in the idea of coming and running a race in south america. Now we know people, and now we can get people interested in coming to south america.
Miguel: I learned from Hernan and his uncle when they went to Alaska that it was possible to do it. Now, here we are!
Who were you handling for in Alaska Hernan?
Hernan: Two seasons in Michigan with Lloyd Gilbertsen. Then I was in Alaska handling for Fabriciio Lovati from Italy. He ran iditarod in 2006 and I ran with his dogs in 2007. I handled for him, but I trained the team I ran iditarod with from when they were puppies. He owned them, but I trained them.
-Sigrid Ekran and Lance Mackey and other people have gotten interested in the idea of coming and running a race in south america
Can one of you tell me more about the race you want to start in Ushuaia.
Hernan: The cool thing will be that the race will happen when it is winter there. So it will be July or August; summer in Europe and Alaska. Some mushers will see that they can have two seasons.
You won’t conflict with other races either.
Miguel: (laughs) That won’t be a problem.
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How are the winters in Argentina? I think of Argentina as warm.
Miguel: The winter is not as cold as it is here with -30 days. But we have -10 and -15 days. We have two or three months of snow.
Hernan: Argentina is a huge country. It is like ten or fifteen times the size of Norway. It is so big it has different climates. There is snow in the south of Argentina and in the Andes. In Ushuaia we have snow at sea level, just like Norway. Ushuaia is only 1000kms from Antarctica. In our part of the country you will find glaciers at 900 meters above sea level.
Miguel: We have a lot of work to do in Argentina to get dog sledding going. As I said, there are no companies making equipment. It is a hassle to get meat for your dogs, to get the companies to make blocks of meat is hard. So we are in the same place that I think Norway once was, where we need to start from the beginning. Now there are so many guys who are going over from Norway to run Iditarod, but when Robert Ed. (Robert Sørlie) did it people still considered it a little crazy. Now it is almost normal. Two or three teams go every year to Alaska. So I hope the same happens in Argentina. Either way, I want to run dogs my whole life. Whether I race or do it alone, I will keep running. I hope the sport grows.
So in 20 years you three could be the Godfathers of dog sledding in Argentina.
Hernan: Right now, if you go to Argentina, to Ushuaia and ask about mushing people will think about my unclePedro «el Gato» Curuchet. He started it all 25 years ago. Then when I came in, I thought it was interesting. My dream was to run Iditarod but in 1994 we had only 4 dogs and no idea what we were doing. It took me 12-13 years to fulfill my dream. I realized that we could do the same in Argentina. We have the place and the people and the conditions. We shouldn’t need to go to Europe or Alaska to learn how to run dogs!
Remember that Finnmarksløpet did not start off as big as it is now.
Hernan: (Laughs) I know it was crazy! I don’t think that mushing will be as big in Argentina as it has been in Norway or Alaska, because there is no culture for it. I will keep working on it from here in Europe.
Miguel: I would love to see dog mushing be taught in school. I hope to show people that it can be done with a bike and one dog. You don’t need 16 dogs to go dogsledding!
Hernan on the ATV in Norway.