Horse Riding in the Cochamo Valley

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This continent just continues to amaze me! I thought I’d seen some of the most spectacular places in the world, but yet again South America has shown me that it is a land made of jaw- dropping scenery that you could never get sick of.

The Cochamo Valley in northern Patagonia was one of those places that stopped me in my tracks and had me shaking my head in disbelief at just how beautiful this part of the world is.

After a 2-hour bus ride from Puerto Varas we arrived in the town of Cochamo where the riverside lodge of Campo Adventura is located. It was here that we would begin our 5-hour ride into the mountains. After being kitted out in wet weather gear, we met our guide Kurt, who owns Campo Adventura, and our Chilean ponies.

Then our group of seven horses and riders was off. The ride started out nice and easy on the flat, following the river, but soon we started to head into the thick of the forest and up into the mountains. I’ve been trail-riding before but this was something entirely different. The track wound through the most beautiful green forest, with the aqua-marine waters of the river visible through the trees and over a number of smaller creeks running down from the hills.

I know it sounds lovely but it was a tough trail. The path is over a hundred years old and in some parts has been cut in so deep that the ground rises above the horse on either side and is so narrow your knees often scrape against the rocky walls. And the mud! I’ve never seen mud so deep or so thick! But the horses took it in their stride and traipsed through even though at times it was up past their knees.

The horses were incredible! They could take a hair-pin turn while stepping down two feet from one slippery rock to another even slipperier rock. In places they needed to walk across mossy wooden poles that had been put along the track because the mud was too thick. They crossed freezing cold, fast-running rivers that came up to their bellies. And they did it without any fuss, like absolute troopers. Incredible I tell you! I have always loved horse but these ponies gave me a new found respect for just how intelligent these creatures can be.

So after 5 hours of absolutely grueling, but incredible trail riding we arrived in La Junta Valley where the Campo Adventura mountainside lodge is located. As we rode out of the forest and into the open fields if the valley I was amazed by the astounding beauty of the area. On every side the valley is surrounded by enormous snow-capped mountains made of granite that are so dark in colour that they have a metallic shine – it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

The lodge was a gorgeous little wooden building with a warm kitchen and cosy beds. The trail we took is the only way to get there so everything has either been brought up on horseback (or by mule) or on foot (including the huge slow combustion oven) and it also means there is no electricity. What an incredible place to live. We were well looked after by the locals Tatiana and Horacio who cooked us a delicious dinner of salted pork and vegetables.

In the evening and also the next morning Kurt took us for a walk around the property where we saw beautiful waterfalls, got to take a ride on a cable car across a raging river and at one point had to make a river crossing in bare feet through water which two hours ago was snow on the mountain tops (brrrr).

I couldn’t believe that one place could be so beautiful – lush green rainforests, spectacular waterfalls and awe-inspiring mountains – what more could you ask for!

Riding back down was once again an amazing experience and I still couldn’t believe the things these horses could do.

Thanks so much to Kurt, Cochelo, our local guide, whose horsemanship was incredible to see, Tatiana and Horacio for allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience and see a place so beautiful I know I will never forget it.

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The Journey South

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From Mendoza, I took the bus back to Santiago where I was to join a tour group for a 5-day journey south (Pachamama by Bus Tours).

The bus picked me up early in the morning and we headed off. On the first day we visited the small town of Pomaire (not much there really) and Rapel Dam before stopping in Pichelemu, a small beach town that is famous for its great surf. I went for a bit of a wander around town and then the bus driver took us to nearby Punta de Lobos where we could watch the sun set. I’ve never really seen the sun set over the ocean before and it was incredible how quickly it disappeared below the horizon.

The next day we headed for Pucon. Along the way we stopped in the town of Santa Cruz where we visited the Museo de Colchagua. The museum is owned by a local man called Carlos Cardoen who made his fortunes in arms dealing and was at one stage one of the most wanted men by the US government. Here, though, he is a hero because he has funneled much of his fortune into the town, building facilities and creating jobs.

The museum was probably the best I have been to in South America. It includes a huge collection of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones, pre-Columbian artifacts, gold Conquistador work and much more.

The township of Pucon is similar to that of a European ski village. The town is built on the side of a beautiful lake with the peak of Villarrica volcano in the background. Here you can do any number of outdoor adventure activities, such as climbing the volcano, trekking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, horse riding etc. Unfortunately it rained the whole day we were there so we weren’t able to do any of these things. It sucked! In the afternoon it cleared up momentarily so we headed out for a wonder around town and down to the lake. In the evening we went to some nearby thermal pools, which was great – lounging around in the hot waters with the forest around us and a raging river right next to us. It was beautiful.

The next day we left Pucon and of course the sun was shining – a perfect day to do all those awesome activities I couldn’t do the day before. Not happy!

We headed for Valdivia where we stopped at the river to view the sea lions. Apparently an earthquake near the city caused a tsunami which washed a large population of sea lions into the river and they’ve stayed there ever since. It was quite bazaar to see these huge creatures sitting up on the pier in the middle of town.

The next day we headed to Puerto Montt, a small salmon-fishing town. We had an enormous seafood lunch and checked out the handicraft markets where I bought myself a flashy red poncho. Very stylish!

Then it was onto Puerto Varas where we were spending the night. The main thing I wanted to do here was to book onto a horse riding trip in the local area, which I managed to do, so stay tuned for more on that in the next blog.

Hasta luego.

Mendoza, Argentina

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The trip from Santiago to Mendoza was an 8-hour bus ride over the Andes with the border crossing high up in the mountains. We’d been told that it was spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours, which is what we did and I’m very glad. The views were just amazing! Driving up through the mountains with snow covered peaks on either side of the road was unreal.

After the border crossing we descended to the other side and into the flat valleys of Mendoza where 70 % of the country’s wine is produced.

The next day we spent wandering around the town of Mendoza, hanging out in the Parque General San Martin and browsing Mercado Central to pick up some goodies for lunch among the vineyards the next day.

In the morning, Alan, our new friend Dan and I caught a local bus to Maipu where all the vineyards are located. We rented bikes from Mr Hugo’s and we were off. Throughout the day we visited around 4-5 bodegas (wineries) and a liqueria (where Alan decided to try a tobacco flavoured liquor – surprise, surprise, it was disgusting).

The wines we tried were mainly Cabinet Sauvignon and Malbec (which I’ve decided is my new favourite wine). The vineyards were all lovely and after paying a small entry price were happy to let us try a generous amount of wine (which we of course spat out like proper wine connoisseurs – NOT!!)

We had a delicious picnic lunch at one of the vineyards which consisted of cheese, prosciutto, crackers, strawberries and chocolate, and was well accompanied by a bottle of the winery’s Cabinet Sauvignon.

At the end of the day we bought a bottle of wine and went and sat among the vines to enjoy the last of the days sun before heading back to the bike hire place (a little wobbly on our bikes) where they supplied us with more wine until well into the night.

Now, I must warn anyone who thinks this sounds like a sophisticated day among the vineyards that it definitely was no stroll in the park. I think we probably ended up riding over 20 kilometers during the day, most of the roads are badly sign posted and a couple of the vineyards weren’t open when we got there. However, it was one of those truly unique experience that only South America can provide and I can honestly say that it has been one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Thanks to Alan (or Al-baby as he is to be known forthwith) and Dan for a great day and for not leaving the slow girl behind too much.

Looking a little worse for wear at the end of the day.

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