Rob has never really liked horses and has always refused to ride. However, following the passport debacle l think he thought nothing could be worse…! So, when I suggested we go horse riding in the Andes, to my surprise he agreed.
We signed up to Horse Riding Chile (does what it says… etc, etc) and were picked up from Santiago by a very erratic taxi driver. By the time we reached the Parcella, which is essentially a small farm, we were both feeling a bit sick. We were greeted by an English couple – Ellen & Harry – who run the place. They moved over to Chile about 8 years ago and randomly her family also owns a holiday cottage in East Prawle in Devon – a stones throw from where we got married! It’s a small world.
They were very chilled out (which helped Rob stay calm) and introduced us to our Arriero, Leo. An Arriero is essentially someone who works with horses and understands how to ‘load the mule’. The concept of the ‘mule train’ – linking mules together, laden with goods and leading them over the mountains – is still alive and well in the Andes. The animals are exceptionally strong and we had a mule with us who carried the tent, bedding and food. I can’t remember his name but he wasn’t called Muffin.
Before we knew it, we’d donned our cowboy hats and mounted our trusty steeds (Rosaro and Lucero). They’re much smaller horses than I’m used to riding in the UK; very strong, stocky and amazingly sure footed. Leo didn’t speak any English and our Spanish doesn’t really extend past Hola and Gracias (!) but somehow he signalled that we were off and we followed behind his horse and the mule up some of the steepest and rockiest terrain I’ve ever been over. Rob was doing well and looked confident and luckily the horses were absolutely incredible over the difficult terrain, so we made good progress.
We went up through a valley and then down through a river and climbed across what seemed like a cliff face. They haven’t heard of well maintained bridlepaths in the Andes…! I wouldn’t have even wanted to walk on some of the trails, and my horse at home would have run the other way if I tried to get her to attempt them. (Cowboy) hats off to those Chilean steeds.
Just when we were getting used to the horses navigating their way over boulders and clinging to paths with vertical drops to a rocky river hundreds of feet down, there was a crash of thunder and a streak of lightning! I would count myself an experienced rider and yet I’ve never ridden in an electrical storm. The jagged forks looked like they were touching the mountains and the thunder rumbled and crashed directly overhead. I was scared. However, Leo kept going, smoking a cigarette casually as he rode into the eye of the storm. At least Rob was distracted and totally forgot that he was riding! He did brilliantly – it certainly wasn’t a novice ride.
Thankfully we arrived at our camp for the night and the thunder, lightning and rain stopped. The ‘wild camp’ was literally some trees next to a gorgeous river. Leo was the perfect host; he caught fresh fish and cooked them on the campfire. Delicious. We also ate a ridiculous amount of meat – the Chileans certainly know how to barbeque – and got through a bottle of wine each…
We were pretty merry by this time and despite the huge language barrier, we managed to have a 5 hour conversation! At one point, Leo asked if we sang and we tried to think of something we both knew. We ended up singing Jerusalem (Nick Hodgkinson you would have been proud)! Definitely one of the most hilarious and random nights we’ve had.
The next morning we braved the freezing mountain river for a (very) quick dip before climbing back in the saddle (with a few groans from Rob) and setting off for the Parcella. It was like a different valley; the weather was glorious. We needed our cowboy hats to shade us from the strong sun (not rain) and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
I’m not sure when I’ll get Rob back on a horse, but I’m pretty sure it won’t involved thunder, lightening or cliff edges. He’ll be a pro!
J & R xxx