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Posted on December 11, 2019
Last month In The Saddle guest Sophie headed off to South America to journey on horseback from Argentina to Chile – the Grande Traversée.
We invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy Sophie’s journal of her 13-night adventure:
Had dinner in Bariloche with my seven travel buddies – I think I’ll survive with them! Packed into my bag what I needed for the next six nights, plus a sleeping bag, hot water bottle and cutlery. We were warned of recent snow at the top of the mountains – not normal for this time of year – so we will be crossing in the snow and cold.
Had last shower for a few days, large breakfast and with our bags weighed, we were off. So excited.
Our horses were waiting by a river, which was to be the first of many crossings! We headed off to guide Tammy’s summer puesto for lunch. Yummy first lunch of a pasta stew cooked on the fire.
We then started the trek to our first night – camping. My horse was called Sarcoi and luckily, he had ten legs. I have never ridden up or down such steep slopes!
Filling up water bottles from the clearest river water I have ever seen – it tasted pretty good too. Tents for the night! We arrived and everything was a slick military operation, horses readied for the night, fire lit, tents put up, tea and cakes to eat.
I was very pleased that our tents had an extra waterproof base, followed by sheepskin for us to lie on, then our sleeping bags, a duvet and the all-important hot water bottle.
Fellow guests include four sisters from Scotland – two of them brought their musical instruments with them, a violin and an accordion.
Dinner was amazing, steak beautifully cooked and flavoured, served with salad.
I survived the night in the tent down to freezing. Woke up to a birthday breakfast on the campfire; fruits, cereal, toast, ham, cheese and cake!
We then set off for the highest climb on the trip to the pass at 1,800m. I just put all my trust in my little horse; held the reins and really wanted to shut my eyes in places. I didn’t steer him ever, he looked where he was going, adjusted his stride and I have never felt a horse have so much difference in the walk gait!
The steeper we climbed the more we stopped, took a breather then walked on again. Before we made the final push for the top, we stopped to adjust saddles again (this happens regularly due to steepness), add layers and get a briefing. It was gale force winds.
Very steep, up and along – the top was unreal, seriously thought I was going to be blown off my horse. We then went down, lunch by the river, fire on, don’t know how our guides lit it in the wind! Sausages, bread, salad and yes, more cake.
We hit our overnight spot in not-great weather, so felt pleased that we weren’t in a tent. Accommodation tonight was a mountain refuge at Foyel Arriba. I felt so dirty, I tried to do a part wash in the stream!
Amazing fillet steak for my birthday supper cooked on the log fire outside again. Great music provided by The Sisters as they were now known!
A cold, windy start to the day. Today experienced the scariest part of the whole trip, when we missed the path and went off-piste. Went across a steep slope sideways – my legs were jelly and I just had to trust Sarcoi that he knew where to put his legs. We then had to get off and walk down to the river crossing, watching as the horses make their own way down the worst section.
We camped by a small river, with a pool nearby. Had to jump in for a bath after three days without washing. The water was straight off the glacier and freezing! Wow, I felt so clean though, the water is so clear.
Our supper tonight arrived on horseback courtesy of the father of one of our gauchos – he had ridden for three hours with lamb on his packhorse for us. So cool. Fun night of singing round the campfire with music.
Today we headed to Tammy’s winter home, stopping off for lunch at the home of one of the gauchos.
They have a six-hour drive to the nearest shop. His parents have eight children and his mother, who was born there, leaves home once a year to go to town. They have a large pack of dogs which they use to hunt pumas who kill their horses, sheep and cattle.
Stay overnight at El Sapucai, where we can have our first proper shower. Went for a swim again in the cold river before my hot shower – what has happened to me!
Another awesome night, where I had another birthday cake with candles and a present.
We headed off early after another huge breakfast. Today was a long ride with our steepest climb in one day. Started at 1,000m and climbed up to 1,750m. Theses ponies are unbelievable. The views today were spectacular.
Lunch was at a lagoon which was stunning. We had to take a different route to normal due to the amount of snow.
On the route down there was a section where we had to get off and walk, as our horses made their way down loose. It was so steep that I managed to fall over, clearly not as good on my feet as my horse Sarcoi.
Back for a second night at El Sapucai. Great evening of Scottish dancing and music from The Sisters. Another huge lamb cooked on the fire.
Every day the food is first class. Huge breakfasts, then a snack pack of sweets for our saddle bag, a picnic lunch, tea with cake and bread, then canapés and huge supper. We were thoroughly spoilt.
We ride from El Sapucai down to the nearest road – 2 hours. We meet the minibus and drive to a beautiful lake. Had our passports checked and paperwork done at border control. We then hopped onto our speed boat, which crossed us over the border into Chile.
We were dropped off at the side of the lake, hiked through the jungle, got to border control again, more paperwork. Walked to the next speed boat, headed out onto the most amazing lake, with stunning views with the clearest water I had ever seen.
We arrive at our guide Cathy’s island, Las Bandurrias – WOW! It takes 15 minutes to walk around and there are two houses.
Sarah from the USA, the Scottish ladies and myself were in our own little house, whilst the others stayed in the main house with Cathy and the staff. We were given a huge lunch and shown around.
Had to have a swim in the lake – yup, I went in again!
We set off to meet our new horses. I was told that mine had character and was sparky. Set off on my new steed, but at our first stop at Cathy’s farm I mentioned how quiet my ‘sparky’ horse was. She watched me getting back on and told me I was on the wrong horse! Was I going to swap my quiet horse for the sparky one? No way, I liked him, so off we set to the lake for lunch.
This was my favourite lunchtime spot. Absolutely beautiful; sandy beach, crystal clear water, snowy mountains…. what more could you want.
So now being the norm we went for another swim before lunch. Another ride after lunch, back on the boat to the island for another night and another fantastic meal.
We set off with a long day ahead of us. The baqueanos had to work hard with their machetes to clear the path, which was so impressive as they were also riding and leading.
Arriving at a wide, deep river, we wondered how we’d get across….
Our guides had it sorted – a boat took us across, whilst the horses were un-tacked and they swam across two at a time with the baqueanos holding onto them from the boat. So cool.
The horses were tacked-up again and off we set. More up and down mountains, but then we came across a village, no, too big, a hamlet, no too big, ok so it was a couple of houses which even had numbers on and wooden church – so there were other people living out here in the middle of nowhere.
At the top of a mountain, we find another incredible view, with a lake at the bottom. Off we went down another ridiculously steep slope. Feeling the love for my horse Colarada, I just hold the reins and let him choose his route.
At the bottom we hit the Ventisqueros River and have to cross it before reaching our overnight stop, which is home to a relative of one of the baqueanos.
The river is really wide, with a strong current and you could feel the horses working hard to stay straight. If you watched the water and not the bank in front of you, it made you feel very dizzy.
A very long day, so nice to be able to have another swim. A great meal and then one of the baqueanos started playing music too.
We head to the second last house in the valley, having to get off at a steep rocky section and letting the horses go down without us.
Our accommodation for the next two nights was owned by a lovely woman in her late 60’s called Bernaditta. Since her husband died, she has lived on her own with a couple of horses (they are her car), pigs, sheep, goats and a dog.
Bernaditta grows lots of fruit and vegetables and has solar power for electricity. As with anywhere on our travels there is no phone. If someone wants to get hold of her, as with anyone else too, they listen to the radio twice a day at set times, if there is a message for them it’s read out on the radio! During winter our hostess doesn’t leave the property for three months, because the snow means she cannot get out of the valley.
During our two nights here was had yet again, fantastic food, everything was homemade including the bread.
We set off for the end of the valley on a nice quiet ride, no scary hikes up and down the mountain today, but we did have lots of river crossings. I now knew where to look, so that I didn’t get dizzy.
Lunch is at a great spot, followed by tea and more cake at the last house in the valley – home to the parents of one of our baqueanos. In May this year they had 24-hours of torrential rain, which nearly wiped their house out into the river and the bank started to give way. They had to rebuild their house further away from the river – no easy task when it’s all done by hand!
Back to another great meal and more laughter at Bernaditta’s house.
We woke up to torrential rain, and it had been raining all night too. We radioed to a place further down the valley, to hear reports that there was no way we would be riding out today. The river was far too high, and we would not be able to go cross. This meant a day off. So, we chilled out in the morning as the rain continued.
In the afternoon we walked to the river – wow, it was the right decision not to set off. The day before we’d had crystal clear water, but today it was a brown torrent.
So poor Bernaditta had to cook an extra day of breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for 12 people. Pretty impressive as we found her making bread the old-fashioned way at 10:30pm for our breakfast next day!
We sat tight, knowing tomorrow would be a long day’s ride out of the valley, the ferry and a road journey to reach the real world again.
We headed out early at 7:30am, as we had ground to make up due to being delayed for a day by torrential rain and high rivers.
Bernaditta had been an incredible host for the past three nights. So, we now set off, on what is her usual trip to the shops – no joke.
We rode for five hours, luckily with only one river that goes into the main river to negotiate. It was deep, with a strong current and you could really feel the horses working hard. We all made it through safely.
More steep slopes up and down, but with all the rain it had become hard work for the horses. On some of the downward slopes, the horses slid on their hind legs, a weird and slightly unnerving experience!
We then had a delay as a fellow guest somehow fell off when he hit a branch head on, which wiped him off his horse. He had hit his face hard, with blood to the nose and top lip, so it was swelling fast. He was dazed for a while, so we could only set off after a 45-minute wait.
Then we heard via the emergency radio that our minibus would be late due to a landslip; no problem as we were running late anyway! We carried on and hit the gravel road, but we had no way of communicating with the minibus, so we just rode down the road until we bumped into it!
With an hour and a half until our ferry was due to leave, we have an hour and a half’s journey to reach the ferry point. As we arrived the port in the minibus, our ferry sailed in – phew! It was just under an hour on the ferry, then three or four hours by road. We finally reached Puerto Varas after 12 hours or so on the go. This is what Bernaditta has to do every time she wants to go shopping, although she leaves her horse and pack-horse at a friend’s place at the end of the valley and says for a couple of days in town visiting her children, before heading home with her shopping. Quite incredible.
A farewell dinner last night in Puerto Varas and today it is time to say our goodbyes.
This trip has been a MASSIVE ADVENTURE, I highly recommend it. I have met some awesome people, had lots of laughter, eaten the best meat I have ever tasted, enjoyed stunning views and amazing horses. My advice is DO IT – YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.
A huge thank you to Sophie for sharing her travel blog with us.
As well as the 13 night Grande Traversée, there are shorter 5, 6 and 7 night rides exploring the Lake District featuring the same horses and guides as on Sophie’s trip. If you’d like to plan your very own South American adventure, please contact Abbie on +44 (0) 1299 272 239 or email email@example.com