Galloping North from Ushuaia
13 Mar 2008
|Since turning north in Ushuaia we've covered a lot of miles but not many of them on 2 wheels. Yes, the last 6 weeks have been very different to the rest of the journey so far but they've been excellent.
First we took the bus back to Punta Arenas where we had arranged to meet June and Laurie, Nick's mum and dad, in a cafe on the main street at 6.30pm. Apart from us being half an hour late (you just can't rely on public transport!) we duly met and it was just great to see them. For them it was the start of a 4 week holiday to Patagonia and we were going to spend the first 2 weeks with them before heading on our separate ways. We started with a trip to see a colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdelena about 3hrs from Punta Arenas. June was determined that she would not leave Patagonia before seeing a penguin and I'm pleased to say that she wasn't disappointed........there were thousands of them. The whole island was covered in Penguins and not much else. You got so close you could have touched them, if you were that way inclined. We were content to wander amongst them with the rest of our fellow tour goers and just enjoy watching the adults with their now quite mature chicks. They apparently head off from here in March to warmer waters before returning again in the Spring.
It was then back on a bus to Puerto Natales and another great walk for the 4 of us in the Torres del Paine National Park. We chose a different area of the park from where we had been before and we enjoyed 3 days of walking and camping in amazing weather with spectacular views. A treat indeed and from our point of view great to see the mountains from a different angle.
The 4 of us then settled in to our 4 bed cabin on the cargo/passenger ferry that was to take us north to Puerto Montt over 3 days. The route takes you through some wonderful country and we had heard many great stories about the scenery along the way. However, we were not so lucky and athough the first day was reasonable weather we then had a day and a half of thick fog. So no great views of scenery or wildlife. Very disappointing but there you go, the weather is one thing that you just can't plan. We were rewarded with beautiful sunshine and clear skies on our last afternoon and evening so at least it ended on a high.
We then hired a car and did a 3 day trip together on the island of Chiloe. It's an island famous for it's high rainfall but we had fabulous sunshine the whole time so it certainly helped to make up for the ferry. It's also famous for its sea food and wonderful churches all made of wood and in a similar design so we enjoyed the eating and visitng a few of the churches on our travels. The highlight of our Chiloe experience however had to be a boat trip that we took to some small islands just off the coast in the north. We were promised that we would see more penguins but this time Magellanic and Humboltd living tohgether. Well we certainly saw the penguins but we also saw seals, dolphins, many cormorants and the absolute highlight - 5 otters. They were just fantastic and so close. The first was floating on his back eating a crab for breakfast, we then saw 2 young ones playing on the rocks then 2 adults mating (we think!!) and then just as the trip was coming to the end we saw another one on a single rock sticking out the water feasting on a crab and apparently completely unaware of our presence.......just magic!
It was then back to Puerto Montt where we left the car and June and Laurie caught the bus and we rode our bikes to Puerta Varas, 20kms further north on a beautiful lake. It felt quite strange to be on the bikes again but good too. We stayed a night there before saying our goodbyes. J and L were heading on a bus and boat trip to Bariloche in Argentina and we were back on the bikes also to Bariloche but it took them one day and us 4. It was sad to say goodbye but we had had a great time and managed to fit in a great variety of activities in a relatively short space of time. J and L seemed to really enjoy it and we have since heard they have returned home safely and thoroughly enjoyed their final 2 weeks making their way back over to Chile and heading north back to Santiago.
In the meantime we had finally managed to arrange some horse riding on an Argentinian Estancia for 5 days. It was always my dream to ride in the Andes as part of the trip and Nick had always been game to give it a go, despite his lack of experience. We had trouble finding the right place with the right package but finally we managed to contact an Estancia where a friend had been about 4 years ago. When we spoke to them on the phone it sounded fantastic but I nearly fell off my seat when they told us the price! Well, we're only here once is our moto, and money is for spending after all! So, after considerable soul searching, a check on the finances and much deliberation we decided it was worth the gamble.
Before we left Bariloche our new local friend Baldy took us to a real Goucho shop where they had all the kit you could possibly need for riding. As our travelling wardrobe is considerably limited we decided we needed a pair of trousers for the job (or bombachas as they are known here). To our amazement they actually had a pair to fit Nick and some for me for under 10 pounds each. Feeling better equipped we then headed off on the bus back to Junin de Los Andes where there was a huge festival taking place and it was buzzing. There were horses and gouchos everywhere from 8 to 80 (but no ladies) and stalls galore with even more kit for riding. This time we couldn't resist buying a hat each. We knew we would need them to keep off the sun but we also felt it was crucial for getting in to the spirit of things.
We arrived at the Estancia early the next day in time to have breakfast with our fellow guests. They were a group of 6 friends from around London, some of whom had been before. We felt a bit like the new kids at school. However, everyone was really friendly and it was a great relief to Nick when he heard that they were not all experienced riders. We were duly asigned a horse each and within 2 hours of arriving we were off. The first ride was an excellent warm up through beautiful country at a very relaxed pace but over some rough and steep ground. The horses were wonderful; sure footed, relaxed and obedient. For me it was great to be back on a horse but with very different tack to what I am used to and a very different style of riding. Cowboy style as we used to call it as kids with huge sheepkins over the saddle making it very comfy, long stirrups and neck reigning only (some of you will know what that means). For Nick it was a great confidence booster and a chance to get a feel for what he was meant to be doing. At the end of the ride the less experienced were given a ride in the mini bus back to the Estancia while the rest of us we were charged with taking the horses back at a much faster pace. The spare horses were just left to run with us, something they had obviously done many times before but what a buzz for the new arrivals like me. The whole ride had been about 4 hrs which meant sore legs by the end but we were both grinning from ear to ear and just knew we were in for a good time.
We had another fantastic ride that night in the evening sunshine. This time no sooner had we started than Jane our host asked if we were ready to canter. With a few words of instruction to Nick we were off! Well, I have to say his technique of hanging on to the mane and hoping for the best worked a treat and he hung on brilliantly. After that there was no looking back. The next 3 days were then spent on a pack trip where we carried all our food and belongings on our own horses and one pack horse. Our Goucho leaders Rudolpho and Salvador along with Sarah from the Estancia looked after us brilliantly and lead us through beautiful country through the Andes around Volcano Lanin. The food was amazing with huge steaks cooked on an open fire washed down with beer or wine. We were provided with tents but some of us chose to do it real Goucho style and sleep under the stars. We were shown how to use our saddles for a bed and were given ponchos for warmth. As we lay in our bed the first night with a nearly full moon over our heads and Volcano Lanin towering over us we could hardly sleep for smiling!
The next 2 days carried on in the same way and despite the aching muscles of our fellow riders (eased by consuming a vast quantity of ibuprofen tablets) everyone was in great spirits. We laughed a lot, ate a lot and were amazed by the variety and beauty of the countryside as we rode along sometimes with Condors or Eagles for company. We even climbed up to 1800m just below the volcano, up a track that you wouldn't believe horses would be happy to climb. We did have to lead them back down it again but it all seemed so easy to them that it gave everyone great confidence. Just an amzing experience all round.
We then returned to the estancia for our final day and just as we thought things coundn't get better they did! Nick, Michael(one of our fellow gouchos) and I headed off with 2 of the Estancia real gouchos and Tattiana, a local girl who works there, to round up some cows. Well.....this felt like the real deal, we were even given the leather whips that they use for whacking the cows with. We cantered off from the estancia and rode about 10kms to find the cows. Between us we then did some proper herding (although there were only about 20 cows, it was enough to get the idea). We took them through streams, along steep paths and across the main road back to the estancia. It was so good and just what we had hoped we would do. We were buzzing by the time we got back and bored the others with our stories, with everything being exaggerated of course!! To finish off the whole experience we went for a ride that night for about 2 hours with loads of cantering over rough ground. Of course by this time Nick was an expert and just loved the fact that his horse prefered to be in the front and he just had to overtake us all!! We then stopped by the river where some of the staff were preparing more huge steaks on a bbq (or Asado as they call them here) by the light of the full moon. We then rode back in the dark with the plan being to be guided by the light of the moon. however, it was a full eclipse that night. It was wonderful to see the eclipse but not very helpful when you want the light. Mind you it didn't stop us cantering along the track totally reliant on our steeds knowing where they were going. We all arrived safely back about 1.30am, feeling pretty exhausted but exhilarated and very happy. Certainly for me a childhood dream had come true and for Nick a whole new world has been opened up. So much so that I thought at one point he was ready to sell the bikes and buy a couple of horses instead!! Logistically it could prove quite a challenge so we decided to stick to the bikes....for now anyway!!!
So that was our riding experience and you can probably tell how much we enjoyed it by how much I've gone on about it. It certainly proved to be a gamble very worth taking and it was money well worth spending....we loved it all but it did make life afterwards seem quite mundane and we had to give ourselves quite a kick to get going again. We took the overnight bus to Mendoza one of the bigger cities in the north with a lovely backdrop of the mountains, and prepared ourselves for getting back on the bikes and continuing with our journey north. We have been on the road for just over a week since then and have cycled through some great desert country and managed a few other activities along the way. However, I'll save that until the next time or I'll never get this away.
As always we hope you are all well and happy. Please keep sending the messages.
Loads of love
Vicky and Nick