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Posted on November 29, 2019
I’d never been to Argentina and, with this being an exploratory ride, I have to admit that during the transfer from Ushuaia to the start of the ride I had mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation! However, any worries were soon allayed as we arrived at a shady grove on Estancia Maria Luisa and met our guide, Adolfo, and the horses that would take us to the End of the World. My horse for the next ten days was a beautiful Criollo cross called Soquette, due to his four little white socks. He was the perfect gentleman throughout, and carried me surefootedly over the different terrain we crossed.
The first day we rode for about four hours and took the time to get used to our horses and the South American style of riding. Accompanied by our guides Adolfo and Flori, with four laden pack horses and two spare horses, we made a happy gang as we enjoyed the unexpected sunshine; something we were told not to get used to as the weather on the Mitre Peninsula is constantly changing. The temperature can drop in the blink of an eye. As we rode along the beach for the first time we were delighted to see an albatross flying low along the breaking waves next to us.
After a good night’s sleep at Puesta La Chaira, where we met some of the gauchos who work this lonely land, our second day started out misty and damp but our spirits were high and, after seeing eagles and guanacos yesterday, we were already alert for new experiences. We were not disappointed as condors accompanied us over the headland and then, to our delight, a King penguin met us as we descended to the beach. He seemed a little lost and was obviously taking a break on his way to Antarctica.
The eight hours on the trail to Refugio Rio Buenos took us across rivers, over headlands and grasslands. We negotiated some steep descents to the beach but were rewarded with lovely canters on the firm sand.
We had a long day ahead of us today; peatland to negotiate and two rivers to cross. The Rio Policarpo was the widest and most challenging river on our trail. Our horses did us proud and, with their ears pricked, had fun running alongside the wild horses on the beach. As we picnicked by the wreck of the Duchess of Albany, we were reminded of the terrible toll this coastline could take.
There were no rivers to cross today and, as our route would not be governed by the tides, there was no rush to leave this morning and we had time to explore Estancia Policarpo. We set off at around midday, stopping for a picnic in the sunshine before continuing on to Bahia Thetis. Although we rode for fewer hours today, it was challenging riding as the route took us over peatland, through forests and along cliff edge trails. The condors accompanied us along the cliffs, often following us down to the beach and Caracara Australis flew so low over our heads you could have reached out and touched them. As the horses led the way down the last steep muddy hill, and we followed on foot, we were pleased to see Bahia Thetis in front of us where we would spend the next few days.
The final leg to the End of the World was on foot. We crossed the channel from Thetis Bay by canoe to start our hike over the unspoiled moorland to Cape San Diego lighthouse. With only occasional guanaco trails to follow, the 23km route took us up and down hill to a trig point from where we had a 360° view; clear skies to the north, storms to the south, which were moving in. It was another hour or so to the Cape San Diego lighthouse where a sealion colony resided on the rocks, and there was a glimpse of a school of orca out to sea.
We hiked back through the rain, delighted to arrive back at Bahia Thetis after a long eight hours. The storm passed and the night sky was filled with stars. Undiluted by light pollution, there is something very special about seeing the Southern Cross this far south.
A day off today was very welcome and the weather was kind to us again in the morning. Some took the opportunity for a (very cold) morning swim and there was definitely a fiesta feel as we sat down to home made pizza for lunch, baked in the outdoor oven. There were many quiet, reflective moments, so easy to slip into in such a beautiful and remote location. A starry night beckoned again, and shooting stars split the sky – now what did I wish for ….?
Time to retrace our steps and head back along the peninsula. Again we had time in the morning to gather our thoughts, not leaving Bahia Thetis until after brunch. The route was slightly different this time and, after leading our horses over some open peatland, we were enjoying cantering along the beach again. Eagles soared above us and the new-born calves gambolled with the wild cows. It is a tough life out here for the animals. We saw many guanaco, wild horses and wild cows, and there was also a lot of evidence of just how hard a winter it had been for them.
We left Estancia Policarpo for the last time early in the morning to cross the Rio Policarpo river at low tide. There was a strong wind and the tide came in quickly. Having been slightly delayed en route, we had lost time and the river was too high to cross safely. Adolfo made the decision to return to Policarpo Refuge and wait for the next tide.
Leaving Policarpo for the second, last time in the late afternoon, we expected a long ride well into the night to reach our destination. However, the weather and conditions were exceptional; the rain had passed and we had the most amazing ride. There was something very surreal about cantering on the headland with wild horses one minute, and the next dropping down to the beach to find a very inquisitive King penguin. The open beaches and firm sand meant we had a faster ride back than any of us had anticipated, stopping only to say hello to a leopard seal, accompanied by condors and an albatross. This is a day that none of us will forget.
A river crossing in the morning, and a steep climb from the beach at the end of the day, meant another early start today. Dawn breaks at about 04:00, so staying in bed was always more of a problem than getting up early! We rode across country, trotting and cantering when we could. The pack horses had lighter packs now and so the pace was much faster. The wild horses joined us again and we saw many foxes, mainly brown, before we returned to the beach. We had to take it slowly negotiating rocks around the headland but then the race was on to reach the base of the cliff before the tide came in! We made it, and from there it was just a short ride to Puesta la Chaira and lunch!
Our final day and, as we rode along the trail, slowly civilisation returned. Although this was our last ride, everyone was in high spirits. Adolfo led us on many a merry trail through the sheep pastures. As we reached high ground we took a final look back along the Mitre Peninsula as it faded into the horizon.
I have spoken about the things we saw and did but the real highlights of the trip were the horses, the amazing peace and tranquillity of the Mitre Peninsula and our guides. Adolfo and Flori allowed us the freedom of man, horse and nature on our journey to the End of the World and back. Thank you!