We always maintain that every trip advertised has been tried and tested by one of us or our associates. With the Glacier trip in Torres Del Paine Chile my friend and successful travel journalist/horseman Jasper Winn not only tested the trip but helped scout the trail with Mexican co-adventurer Alex Hayes. However that was some years ago so it was time for a re-visit as things can change. I decided to go in December just before Xmas as the kids would be very upset if I was not there for Santa. I asked if anyone wanted to join me and my sister in law, a regular well travelled client from Galway and a client from Scotland took me up on the offer. In addition we had a girl from Michigen and girl from London who joined up last minute so in total we were 6 which is a nice size group.
As with many of our adventures, part of the adventure is getting there and there is no denial that Torres Del Paine is remote. Flying to Punta Arenas, one of the most southern towns in the world, at the very bottom of Chile is painless if somewhat long and on our internal flight we were amongst a group of Chinese scientists who were off on a research trip to the Antarctic.
If horses are a passion for me, then food is a close second and something that can make or break a trip for me. Chile did not disappoint on both counts. Arriving in Punta Arenas we were met by our guide, Sabine, a native Chilean girl, and headed off to a local restaurant. Here we sampled local delights such as fresh crab and for the adventurous local meats such as Beaver Carpaccio, terrine of Llama, rare hare & goose – all delicious and beautifully presented. For mains there was an array of fresh fish and meats. I chose a traditional corn pie which was stuffed with fresh crab and topped with a sweet corn mash…it was just delicious & I am still dreaming of that sweet fulfilling taste. Of course house wine was served in abundance and the meal was toasted with local blueberry liquor which made us forget any jet lag fairly promptly!
The following morning after a good sleep in the very comfortable hotel we headed up to the park, stopping off on the way to visit the cute burrowing Penguins in their natural habitat. One thing that is striking about Southern Chile is that you are constantly watching out over picture postcard vistas. For me the scenery is bigger and more stunning than anywhere I’ve visited in the world and something you don’t get bored of.
Late afternoon we arrive at our camp site with tents pitched on the edge of a stunning lake and chef in place cooking up a delightful dinner of white meaty fish in foil parcels with lots of herbs. Unfortunately I am not going to lose weight on this trip.
Now me and camping don’t always go hand in hand, I’ve been spoilt with luxury in the past but my job running Zara’s Planet is to check out all sorts of holidays, not just the ones I would buy! I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little concerned about camping for 7 nights in a row after long days in the saddle since the past 6 months has been so busy I really haven’t got as many hours in the saddle as I’d have liked. By the first morning however I had switched into “holiday mode”…there is no mobile or wifi coverage in the park so one is completely removed from home for at least 7 nights.
The estancia’s in the park are great but I would encourage you to try the camping trip as it is more authentic, the campsites just stunning and I didn’t feel any hardship. The tents are set up for you most nights (we had to set them up one night when the backup vehicle broke down), your horses are handed over to the baqueanos (Chilean horsemen) and fantastic food is served to you cooked up by the full time chef allocated to your group. Of course there is the odd toilet (wooden hut) which could make you squeamish and a couple of nights where you must relieve yourself behind a bush but after a couple of days of settling into the “Baqueanos way of life” I promise you, even if you are a make up and hair blow dried daily kind of girl (or boy!), it won’t bother you.
The following day we were allocated a horse for the week and we set off. The riding was just fantastic and days merged into each other. I genuinely could have gone on for weeks and a trip such as this most definitely brings one back to nature and enjoying riding for the sake of riding. Because we were riding so many hours the general pace is quite slow…lots of walking and trotting but there are some pampas and open spaces where we’d have a few long canters. The horses are proper working estancia horses and whilst they wouldn’t win any points in the show ring they are brilliant at their jobs and extremely sure footed, essential given some of the extreme steep stony terrain we rode down and rocks the horses had to scramble up. Although the riding is not difficult riders must be brave and not afraid of heights as there are a few hair raising descents down steep shingle slopes. We did try to get our horses to pop over some fallen trees and ditches one day but decided they’d never make hunters as they don’t jump…they step over…however saying that our hunters would panic and fall over some of the terrain these horses take in their stride.
The Glacier View Trail is named as such as one of the days we ride out to the Dickenson Glacier….it is a long day and we clock up about 8.5 hours in the saddle. We start the day by rising from our cosy tents and brushing the cobwebs off enjoying a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and crispy bacon cooked up by our very own Chilean “Jamie Oliver”…except his name is Panche. We mount around 9.30am and start off with a long gallop across the wide open pampas to wake us up. Then we ride through seemingly unending scenery of scrub, dead trees, cactus like plants and an incredible array of mountain flowers. I am personally not used to spending so many hours and days in the saddle as when I check out rides I usually flit in and out and focus mostly on the procedural and horse care side. It was a great treat to ride as a client would and I found the long hours, the constant stunning view of the snow capped mountains with the local baqueanos scouting up ahead with their traditional red berets and one very much got into the swing of things and it felt like a way of life – a very good way of life at that! We stop for lunch in a grassy valley, top up our water bottles at a mountain stream and munch on garlic rolls, roast beef and sticky brownies washed down with strong black coffee…oh and a pisco sour (Chilean liqueur) for desert of course. Then the girths are tightened up and we head off again with a brief stop at an ice cold blue lake where two of our braver riders take a 30 second dip, experience brain freeze and quickly get dressed again. Later we reach an outpost and a look out point of the Dickenson Glacier which is quite surreal…the glacier is about the height of a 6 storey building. Much later we spot our yellow tents as we descend passing large herds of llama and then ride through a field of thigh high wild daisies…tired and happy to hand our horses over to the baqueanos whilst we dip our faces into the fast running ice blue river and gratefully take the cold beer and snacks carefully prepared by Panche for our arrival.
And so the days go on, a blend of riding, eating and drinking well and watching the spectacular scenery followed by nights around the camp fire telling stories and promising each other to make changes to our hectic lives when we get home. Through all the days in the park we come across very few people except for our own personal Bluegreen team which consist of our fabulous Chilean guide Sabine, our baqueanos Daniel and Yoyo, Panche the chef and Antonio the driver.
Our last day has come and we are all feeling sad that we are going to have to get back to the real world. We are riding up to the Baqueanos house which is a tin hut on the side on a mountain, we will camp there and eat in their house. As we approach the Estancia lands where they work, we come across their “herd” of horses – about 70 of them and it’s very sweet that our horses recognise their pals and perk up considerably even though we’ve ridden the guts of 250km on them over the past week. My horse still looks in peak condition and it’s hard to believe he has worked so hard and only gets grass…no hard feed. Sabine, our guide, tells us we can use the showers at the Estancia if we want but it’s a 15 minute ride…most of us avail of the opportunity and we gallop flat out across the pampas and make it to the Estancia in about 10 minutes. We tie the horses up outside on posts and sit in the large dining rooms enjoying a beer as we take turns to use the two bathrooms. All squeaky clean and fresh we ruin it by galloping home and getting sprayed with dust and mud but its great fun and a novel way to hit the local “drinking establishment”.
Our last dinner is a whole lamb cooked on a spit over the open fire and the only male in our group Thomas eats at least a quarter of it himself…later telling us he just didn’t want the evening to end. We all concur and agree we’ll all harbour a little longing for the baqueanos way of life once back sitting at our desks churning the corporate wheel. I concur it is this feeling and sentiment that keeps people exploring and travelling the world on horses and the high we experienced is definitely one that will keep all of us all going through the rest of the dark and cold winter back home.
Written by Zara Stassin