I couldn’t remember the last time I rode a horse. I was a kid, but I had no idea when and where or how it felt like. It was as if I hadn’t ridden a horse in my life.
All around Puerto Natales, the town to get prepared for Torres del Paine, companies provide tours for the National Park or the Perito Moreno Glacier at El Calafate. The other less popular option is cabalgata – horseback riding.
And with five days to spend in Puerto Natales, while waiting for my friend to arrive, I knew I had to do something. This town is small and devoid of activities. And so, I decided to go horseback riding up a hill.
Even though cabalgata is widely offered on the shop fronts along the main street, it was the off season. I enquired and was disappointed multiple times. It was from the least likely place that I found an available tour: W-Trek Hostel.
Signing up was a painless process, as hostels usually have English-speaking personnel. There were two options: a half-day ride up Cerro Dorotea and a full-day ride to more locations.
3 hours on a horse sounds plenty to me. I’m not that evil to overwork a horse.
On a cold Wednesday morning, we arrived at a ranch some 20 minutes from Puerto Natales. A ranch with a wooden cabin in the middle, surrounded by horses and dogs. There weren’t trees or tall buildings, so it was already windy at the bottom of the hill.
Two friendly looking gauchos – with their red and black gaucho caps – welcomed us. They were our guides and horse-handlers for the day.
After brief instructions on mounting and dismounting, and on controlling the horses, we don on a red helmet, leg pads and green ponchos as scarfs. Looking ridiculous in my OOTD, I mounted my big, black stallion. Regrettably I did not get his name.
This mischievous partner of mine disturbs other horses by sniffing and biting, sometimes overtaking and blocking their way. Just as I like it. He’s also very smart, to steal a bite each time we rode passed a luscious bush.
The most common problem that we newbie riders encountered was our horses stopping along the way for a refuel. This happened often. It was a comedic scene to be looking at riders trying, to no avail, to control these greedy horses and shouting “No! Vamos!” Let’s go!
After multiple failed attempts, I resigned to the phrase: What you resist, persists. There is no point in resisting the strength of a horse. The gauchos tell me to yank the rope hard, but the kind-hearted guy in me felt bad to hurt the horse.
And true enough, after I stopped resisting, my horse continued after just one quick bite.
As we rode past the horse shit-infested ranch and through forests that shielded the wind, we began to climb uphill. It was 360 degrees of pure greenery around us. Five little dogs from the ranch came along. They roamed around freely and play-bite each other, acting like guardians to these newbie riders.
“A la derecha, condor!” To the right, a condor! A rider shouted to her sister. We all turned to look at the magnificent bird soaring above us, like the king of the hill. Oh, how nice would it be, to be flying high in the sky, without a worry in the world.
Halfway up the hill, it seemed as if deforestation happened. Only tree stumps remained. A whole field of them. Without trees up here, the wind harassed us and the horses worked doubly hard to go against the wind. With the wind came the intense cold that Jed, a fellow rider, commented: “I couldn’t feel my nose.”
Near the top, at the first sight of snow-capped mountains, all of us exclaimed together: “Wow”. The leaves on the trees at the hill top were locked in one direction, swayed by the strong winds and frozen by the cold. We slowed down our pace to appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature, and brought out our cameras.
We stopped in the forests where the trees shaded us from the winds. The gauchos tied our horses and showed us the best panoramic view from the top: over a wide valley were majestic snow-capped mountains looming over turquoise blue lakes. Is that Torres del Paine? I never knew.
Riding on a horseback uphill at a slow, relaxed pace was comfortable. Descending, however, was challenging. The ride down was bumpy throughout. Swaying side by side, coupled with the mischievous horse speeding up at random intervals, meant that I had to hold on to the ropes the entire time. My hips hurt from the unstable ride and I almost fell a couple of times.
It wasn’t a big deal because the view while descending made it all worth it. Have you ever realized that the view from the top is always better? 600m of pure greenery dotted with tiny little houses and winding blue rivers made sitting on a horseback felt like sitting on a throne.
A distant rainbow sweetened the view as we slowly rode back into the ranch at the bottom of the hill.
Condors, rainbows and snow-capped mountains. Now I know how it feels like to ride a horse up a hill. What a great start to my Chilean adventures.
And now, it's your turn.