Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Horseback Riding Adventure

Pete and I just returned from a spectacular horseback riding adventure through the Andes, from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. We traveled by van, ferry, motorboat, and horse to a variety of wild and remote areas of the northern Patagonia region. We were fortunate enough to ride with a group of friends, all of whom were amiable and able riders. We were led by Open Travel, an adventure tour guide company operated by Cathy Berard and her mother, Francoise Dutheil. Paul Walker, known as a Chilean horse whisperer, personally guided us with the help of Tito, Dino, and Christian, local modern day Chilean cowboys, referred to as baqueanos or those who are experts in the area.

Traveling through a stunningly beautiful physical landscape, we rode 10-14 miles a day on Criollo horses, brought to Chile by the Spanish and prized for their sure footing and enduring physical strength. My horse, Kayak, stood less than 14 hands, and unfailingly displayed a steady mind and indomitable spirit. Wherever the horses went, he went too: across rivers, over rocks and boulders, and along granite trails and root tangled forest trails.

Our starting point was Chile’s Lake District departing Puerto Varas. By van, we traveled over gravel road to the Cochamo Region and into the Rio Puelo Valley where we met our horses and baqueanos. At night we stayed with rural inhabitants who live along the untamed rivers of Chile, at the end of remote alpine valleys, and on the shores of immense azure lakes. Most all subsist on what they can raise: growing bountiful gardens, raising a few sheep, and perhaps a small herd of cattle. They leave their homes only every few months for supplies and power their cabins with a variety of sources including generators, solar panels, and water driven turbines. They communicate with far away neighbors by radio and cooperate to assist one another, whatever the need.

November marks the beginning of spring in Chile so the temperatures were in the 50s and 60s. It rained the first few days of our trip and we were grateful to have packed all our layers including wool and rain gear. However, once in the elements there was an additional sense of adventure and satisfaction in being in the mildly adverse weather conditions. Our entire group was delighted to be on the trail in the care of a good and steady horse and willing and able guides and baqueanos, no matter the conditions. By the third day, blue skies and sunshine greeted us every morning and by the end of the trip, we were comfortable in our long sleeve shirts and for some, t-shirts.

Most days we rode four to eight hours with a picnic lunch stop along the way. We traveled through ancient forests, rich ecosystems; open meadows where old homesteads still stood, and frequently crossed southern Chile’s abundant waters. The horizon above was continually filled with the snow covered Andes Mountains and below our trail, deep azure lakes and glacial blue rivers.

At night, we were hosted by gracious rural residents who prepared the traditional Chilean tea complete with tea, coffee, and sweet breads and pastries upon our arrival. Dinner was traditionally served between nine and ten, often with lamb, fresh vegetable salads, potatoes, and bread. Desserts included cakes and one evening a traditional dried fruit soup with a light syrup and barley. Our evening meal was never complete without our guide, Paul, serving a variety of Chilean wines: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

As we prepared to leave our horses, baqueanos, and our guide, Paul, we reminisced about our days in the Andes. Most all of our group valued the sense of self-reliance we found in our guides and hosts. From making do with what they had, to managing and utilizing energy as needed, and growing most of what they ate, we, perhaps, re-imagined what life at home could be for each of us. Inspired too, by the Andean landscape, for a week we were freed and allowed to experience a moving meditation on the trail each day. The constantly changing trail and horizon demanded our attention and as we focused we thought of nothing else in the world but our horse’s next step and our riding companion’s next story. The lives of those we met left us nourished and inspired and Andean time allowed us to experience a sense of the eternal each day we found our way through the Andes.

For more information on our tour guide company, go to:

For more information on our guide, Paul Walker, go to:


V said...

What a beautiful site, love the photos

V said...

What a beautiful ranch - look forward to hearing more about your travels.

Mary B. Kurtz said...

Thank you V. I look forward to having you follow along.