A proper lady might blush and say, "No thank you, maybe some other time. " But then I've never been asked by three Chilean cowboys, right...

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TORRES DEL PAINE, Chile — A proper lady might blush and say, “No thank you, maybe some other time.”

But then I’ve never been asked by three Chilean cowboys, right out of Hollywood central casting, if I’d like to come on down to the estancia and watch a stallion being relieved of his manhood.

And no one has ever accused me of being a lady.

Our group of city-slicker hikers was just finishing lunch at the quincho, a picnic shelter and wilderness tack shed for trekkers and horseback adventurers just outside Torres del Paine, one of Chile’s most spectacular national parks, when the three handsome huasos (Chile’s version of gauchos) galloped up from the grassy plain below.

They wore their pants gaucho-style, tucked into high boots. They peered at us from the shadow of wide flat-brimmed hats as they dismounted, adjusting the rifles slung over their shoulders and hitching up the long knives they wore sheathed across the small of their backs.

“They’re just wondering who you are and what you’re doing here,” our guide, Christian Sanchez, said after some discussion. “It’s OK. They’re my friends, and they know this is my uncle’s quincho.”

And then he added: “They say they’re going to geld a horse this afternoon and wonder if you want to watch.”

We looked at each other wide-eyed.

We were there to experience wild Patagonia by hiking in and around Torres del Paine, a wind-scoured wilderness that boasts some of the most inhospitable but eye-popping scenery in the world.

But, oh me, watching a wild stallion being turned into a meek and tractable boy-horse promised adventure we never dreamed of back home.

So, naturally, after worrying a little about how the horse would feel about us watching and whether the pregnant lady in our group would be so traumatized as to lose her lunch, we said “sure,” and lit out for the estancia.

Almost one-fifth of Chile is set aside in national parks and preserves, and Torres is perhaps the most dramatic. Its craggy peaks and rocky horns are half as old as the 60-million-year-old Andes range, which peters out before it gets this far south.

Home for our week in Torres was an “ecocamp” run by Cascada Expediciones, a campsite of 16 geodesic-domed tents set up just outside the park but still in the sundown shade of its granite spires.

Tent-camping is just about last on my list of fun things to do. But as accommodations go, these are both “What do you mean the toilet is out back?” and “Wow, fleece sheets!”

The domes are modeled after igloo-type huts used by the Alacalufe Indians, native to the area.

Theirs were covered with the skins of guanaco, the llamalike animal that runs free by the thousands in the park. Ours were built of heavy-coated, canvaslike material with a thick, quilted lining and lashed to wooden platforms to withstand the winds that buffeted us at night, causing them to groan and creak.

We watched the stars through clear plastic “windows” from the cozy confines of those weighty fleece covers.

The goal of the camp is to make as little impact on the pristine wilderness as possible. That means everything brought in is taken out, including the remains of the candlelight dinners served every night in the large dining dome.

Wind generators and solar panels provide what electricity is necessary — which means none in the sleeping domes. Campers share two toilet stalls, three showers and what hot water there is with 15 others of the same sex. And the crew of cooks and trekking guides washes the dinner dishes by hand.

The hiking was spectacular.

Doe-eyed guanacos treat trekkers with gentle diffidence, staring unselfconsciously from a distance. They share the trackless hillsides with gray foxes, shy and ungainly rheas (relatives of the ostrich), big-eared hares and pumas, which campers rarely encounter.

The rocky spires provide sanctuary for eagles, hawks and condors, all vying for soaring room overhead. And the lakes below, which come in every shade of blue, depending on whether they’re fed by glaciers or springs, are home to upland geese, ducks, oystercatchers and flamboyantly pink flamingos.

Just outside the park, but still in full view of its spectacular spires, are the sheep ranches and estancias that provide a living for the extended family of Sanchez and the three amigos on horseback who invited us to watch them work.

“You think the horse will be OK?” one of my fellow campers murmured nervously to no one in particular as the cowboys, joined by Sanchez and another guide (who apparently wanted to show us anyone can do this), entered the corral.

They lit cigarettes, Marlboro men in the flesh, and, between puffs, began cooing and clicking their tongues to settle the horse, even as they twirled the lassoes meant to subdue him.

It was over within minutes.

The men did their thing and let go of the ropes.

The horse, a beautiful gray, had gone down a stallion but found his feet as a gelding.

“You couldn’t have made me miss that,” our pregnant hiking buddy assured us as we picked up our daypacks to continue our hike.

The huasos sprawled on the grass outside the corral to have another smoke and pass around a wineskin.

And the horse?

He/it loped off into the grassy meadow for a post-surgery snack.

Sally Macdonald is a retired Seattle Times reporter.