After travelling from the UK to Argentina, Cathy experienced a warm welcome at Estancia Huechahue, a working cattle farm that covers 15,000 acres. It was only a matter of hours before she got her feet firmly in the stirrups in preparation to cross one of the world’s greatest mountain ranges on horseback…
On being introduced to our trusty steeds, Zorro in my case, our Argentine/Irish guide, Diego made sure the group was happy and comfortable on their mounts before we set off on the first ride. Within minutes we were riding amongst spectacular scenery, surrounded by fields, rivers and undulating terrain. Although that first ride was only a few hours, I already knew that it was going to be a memorable trip, for all the right reasons!
In 1817 two of South America’s most celebrated heroes, Bernado O’Higgins and Jose de San Martin took on the supposed impossible challenge of crossing the Andes, so I have to admit I felt like a true explorer! The first day of our trail ride was exhausting but exhilarating. We saw our first condors circling overhead as we climbed our way to the most spectacular view point and caught our first glimpse of Lanin Volcano before having the most fabulous canter through the shrub land, dodging or jumping the bushes and tussocks! The heat was intense and even the horses seemed to be feeling it, so we spent some time walking before reaching our campsite for the night by a beautiful river.
The next day delivered similar vistas and some fast paced riding, including a breathtaking gallop with Zorrowhere we travelled at over 40km/hr! After another long day of riding the river provided such a welcome solace after being in the saddle. The current was powerful and we had to grab hold of rocks to stay near the shore – trying to climb out was hilarious as we had to practically crawl in order to stay upright. The water was icy but very refreshing! After hanging out clothes in the tree branches we sat around the fire drinking and then had dinner of steaks done on the fire. I don’t think you can get much closer to nature.
As we climbed higher into the Andes the intense heat was replaced with chilly temperatures and we were soon surrounded by snow covered ridges – at one point Diego even had to cut steps into the snow for the horses to scramble up! Once we reached the top of the ridge the view was amazing, and on a good day you could see three volcanoes from there. As we descended through forests of bamboo – which the horses love to eat – I remember it being cold and blustery, however soon we reached a sandy track which opened up for us to have a fast canter to warm up before we pulled up to our campsite for the night. Wrapping up in thermals we settled by the fire and ate a delicious dinner of traditional beef ribs and green salad. Some people headed off to bed but I stayed up until 11pm because we could hear a puma calling! Our guides, Jane and Diego had never heard puma before and so we felt very honoured.
The next day we were met at the border to cross over into Chile, where we became acquainted with our new mounts. My horse, Primero, was described as ‘rapido’ and so the adventure continued. The flora and fauna in Chile was noticeably different from the dry wide-open landscape of the Argentine Patagonia, to the lush green rain forests of Chile. Chile offered plenty of exciting riding over challenging terrain. The last two nights were spent under a roof rather than under canvas which gave us access to some of life’s luxuries, such as hot water and proper beds, making this trip a perfect balance of comfort, combined with the great outdoors.
It was a privilege to see some of the sights that are virtually inaccessible other than by horseback. The scenery is spectacular; you can ride through the barren rolling hills and along the narrow rocky gorges of the Andean streams or take a ride to the hills where the mighty Andes rise up behind you and the vastness of Patagonia stretches out before you. Watch the condors and eagles as they float high above you, gallop across water meadows or try your hand at working cattle with the gauchos. It was certainly a trip I will always remember and I would recommend it for anyone with an adventurous spirit!