Across the Andes – Argentina to Chile

From the rolling open grasslands of Argentina, up through Andean steppes, fording rivers, through great forests, over a wind-swept pass and down into lush green Chile – it is a unique experience. The ride is run by Jane Williams of Estancia Huechahue and starts out from Huechahue near San Martin de los Andes in Argentina’s Patagonia and ends up near Puente Barras in Chile. It is nine days of riding long hours.

We went a few days early to have some time to ride at Huechahue. Days on the estancia are dependent on the guests’ wishes and whatever work is going on. We chose to accompany the gauchos’ rounding up cows and calves and helping to vaccinate the calves, or at least chase them into the pens. We passed on the castrating part. It is a wonderful landscape to ride through looking for cattle in wide open grasslands punctuated by stony cliffs and canyons. We carried traditional cattle slapping implements – I have no idea what they are called. They have a wooden handle and a short leather blade or strap and you use them to hit the cattle, slap your boot or saddle to make a loud noise or even on occasion to encourage your horse. Day two I abandoned mine. Cattle work is often not fast riding but we made up for that after we left the cattle and had lots of good canters on the way home. One day we spotted a wild boar family with parents and 10 or 12 tiny babies. The babies are very cute with their little tails straight up in the air but their parents are not nearly so appealing. Another day we saw a group of Guanacos with tiny wooly babies.

There are several cliffs that have caves. One day’s ride took us to see caves that were first used for native burials and then Christian burials. It is surprising to see the crosses in the caves marking Christian burials. Another older burial cave system has no remains left at all. It is reached by some very careful crawling through narrow tunnels. Our guide went ahead and lit candles. It was an amazing site with the flaring candles illuminating the rock walls.

When the rest of the group arrived, we spent the first two days at Huechahue and tried out several horses to decide which equine companion we wanted to ride across the Andes. It was difficult to choose. The horses are Argentian Criollos or crosses and are incredibly fit. I hated choosing but was told firmly that I could only take one. Day three we started on our adventure riding out across the grasslands towards the white cone of the Lanin volcano.

Lanin volcano

The tack is functional rawhide rather than polished leather. The saddles are based on a McClellan tree and covered in sheepskin, very comfortable. The horses are very well looked after. They are unsaddled at lunch time, their backs rinsed with a bucket of water and they are usually turned out or tied where they can graze. The lunch breaks are long so humans and equines get a chance to have a siesta. Sometimes the lunches come by van and on other days they are carried in your saddlebags. On saddlebag picnic days, I usually tried to avoid carrying the wine or the horse food and grabbed the bread and the plastic cups. I am sure my horse appreciated that. The lunches are delicious but they do emphasize meat. This is not a ride that caters for vegetarians.

horse riding

Camping is not for me but I knew that I would love the riding so I decided to brave the six nights of camping. Not only did I survive, I thrived on it but I must admit that the camping was pretty comfortable. Our first night out on the camping part, we rode into camp to see a white linen covered table of drinks beside a roaring fire. The tents were comfortable and the sleeping bags warm. Our camp sites were beside rivers and the hardy swam and the timid bathed timidly using our washing up bowls to pour water over ourselves. The turn down service was a plastic wash up bowl, a small towel, a packet of Kleenex and of course a wrapped chocolate. Continue reading Across the Andes – Argentina to Chile