Crossing the Andes

Crossing the Andes is not for the timid…..

It all began with Mongolia – with friends – June/July this year.

Impending Nanna duties put an end to that and left us with the question;

now what?

Well why not cross the Andes?

I mean, really. Why not?

Only for experienced riders and I’ve been riding for five years –

makes me experienced?

Just across the ditch…

the BIG ditch….

The South Pacific Ocean.

So far away that doesn’t fit in one photo –

you can barely see New Zealand!!!

The plan was to follow the route taken in 1817 by José de San Martín, and his army from Argentina to Chile,

The plan for us was to get our visas, and book our flights and beg, borrow or steal the funds. 😜

Little did we know that last would be the least of our concerns!

The visa application required return flights to be already booked.

On the other hand we were advised Not to book flights

In till we had visas and so the circle began……

a story for another day.

But a story, it was.

The very unattractive, but very important visa

And just like that –

we were ‘off’ so to speak;

or at least at Melbourne Airport,

waiting to be ‘off’

And there we were:
three Intrepid Australians set off…..
(well two in the photo – and me 😜)
We flew from Melbourne to Auckland

Auckland to Santiago. Santiago to Mendoza.

With our trusty 7kg luggage –

Hand luggage only –

determined we were not to have any

‘lost luggage’

Until at last Mendoza it was,

Some food, a rain storm and lots of alcohol

Mendoza – where it all begins, at least officially.

Mendoza where Jose de San Martin began his extraordinary expedition to liberate Chile from the Spanish.

With an army of 6 000 soldiers , 4000 cattle and unnumbered horses.

They took 21 days to reach the outskirts of Santiago.

There are various accounts of the numbers and losses, but suffice to say the losses of both horses and men was very large.

The expedition is often compared to Hannibal’s or Napoleon’s crossing of the Alps

And so, of course that is where we began;

exploring the city;

meeting the crew;

getting last minute hats, sweets,

and creating new memories.

The crew with two still to arrive.

We may have been a much smaller ‘army’ than Jose San Martin ‘s, but the preparation was anything but ‘small’

Eleven riders, eleven ‘gauchos’ two guides, and a whole ‘heap’ of mules to carry everything, except us.

These amazing, ever patient animals were our lifeline.

Every day, everything we needed was packed on to their backs with a complex roping system that left us all in awe of both the gaucho’s skill

and the mule’s patience.

We, on the other hand were spared the indignity of being tied onto our mules/horses –

although there were passes we rode that had us wishing we were tied onto our horses,

and some would happily have had their heads covered too!-😳🤣

Instead we were expected to climb elegantly into the saddle.

Which, of course we obligingly did,

elegantly is quite another issue!

But I jump ahead

(as usual my stories are all over the place, both literally And figuratively) –

Our first night together with our horses, mules, tiny two man tents

(really? – Pygmy man maybe)

last half civilised toilet,

delicious chicken stew and gauchos.

Not to mention the scrawniest roosters I have ever seen.

Actually, I do mention them

because they decided dawn was at 4 am

and let us all know, in no uncertain tones.


The first night, not perhaps our best night,

was at least not at altitude 😜

There is a saying “Ignorance is bliss” and so it was in our case,

Ignorance of what was to come, we blissfully set off the next morning:

full of energy and empty of knowledge of what to expect.

What we found were views…..
That took our breath away.

We travelled across the black pampa; the plains of Manantiales; Vega Larga; Valle de los Patos; Valle Hermosa; crossed the Argentina/Chile border; La Vegas Del: Laguinitas: La Colorado; Matten Bonito and who knows where else 😂

I certainly cannot find them listed on a map and perhaps more worrying, the tour organisers did not have a map!!!!!

But then, I guess, nor did Juan San Martin and he crossed them –

so we should have felt some comfort with that knowledge.

And so we ploughed on….

As you will see…..

The scale of…
The colours we saw
The ruggedness
It is impossible to describe
The variety…..

We crossed the Andes, we were high, very high.

Surrounded by mountains; Mercedario (6 700m); Aconcagua (6 960m)

We crossed the Passo del Espsinacito (4 400m); Cordon Limitrofe & La Colorado (both 3 500m)

We were out of breathe,

we had nose bleeds,

headaches,

I even lost my appetite as I couldn’t eat and breathe at the same time!!!!

And our poor horses did not fare much better; some of them would go 20 m. and stop to catch their breathe; their sides heaving from the effort.

It was really difficult to get
Photos that captured some of the
Scale and steepness of the ride

We watched in awe as the guanacos – local ‘llama like’ animal which believe it or not is related to the camel- raced across the face of the steep cliffs as if they had glue on their feet.

Little did we know that we too, would be, well not quite ‘racing’ but certainly traversing just such tracks.

As our lovely Devon reminded us, as we sheepishly navigated the tiny tracks,

her lovely large Texan voice echoing around us

“We ARE the guanacos”

Bringing a smile to what had been tense faces ,

filled with concentration and in many cases anxiety.

Another not great shot of concentration
It was either up up & up; or down down & down

Through it all, our reliable,

faithful leader Ramon

and his equally fabulous mule;

watched, encouraged and guided us all.

While his equally faithful, reliable and sturdy mules

carried & supported us every step of the way.

Either going on ahead or following behind;

but always meeting us at our camp

Ever faithful
Carrying our ‘everything’ – note our 7kg black bags 😂

There were tears of exhaustion

There were tears of joy

There was so much to celebrate

There were moments of rest…..
There were moments of contemplation
There were moments of separateness
There were moments of study
There were moments of togetherness
There were moments of madness 😂

And many moments of friendship

Often round ‘the table’

A week of carrying food stretched supplies……
But still it tasted good
There was the wonderful Mate drinking ritual
Time to ride together
Time to ponder the isolation
Time for patient waiting
Time to capture the sun’s rays
And enjoy being able to breathe at the lower altitudes

It will be along time before we have another border post

as charming as this one.

We were welcomed with tea and hot ‘sopapillas’

We were tired and somewhat dusty, but their smiles and offer of a

REAL TOILET

made the world a brighter place 😍

There were ups and downs,
That challenged our horses
And sometimes ourselves 😉
Those ever faithful mules
Bring supplies to our camp

There was a day of rest, for horses and us –

Giving us time to regroup;

brave the coldest water ever;

have a wash,

a wander,

some fun

Drink drink

Think think

Jump Jump
Birthday celebrations

We had a chance to try out the Peruvian Paso’s amazing gait

So smooth.

Such fun

But rest was short.

Mostly it was riding –

Sometimes uphill
And up some more
And those floppy ears – just loved her

Sometimes on El Blanco – the BEST mount ever –

and a mule, not a horse.

Goodness I loved her ;

sure footed; speedy; no nonsense;

Just the Best ride ever.

Who would have thought.

The Rock
Indicating the top of the pass

We were so lucky to have good weather with no wind.

This allowed these photos –

otherwise it would be straight over and seek protection.

Sometimes those moments were too special to capture completely 😉

And other times perfectly captured

They say a picture tells a thousand words – so how about a few videos?

And again, ‘our’ Devon summed what this trip in a remarkable ode to our crossing. Quoted below:

From the heart of the Universe”.

A poem by Devon Harrison

“The massive mountains of red, white and blue,

Oh dear Andes, how I love you

The guanaco he stands high on his perch warning his herd of our impending approach,

the majestic condors soar ever so high

Oh how they brought a tear to my eye.

To the horses that carried me so high and so low

and to all thE wonderful people I’ve been so blessed to know,

You will forever be in my heart, but now dear ones, it is time to part,

The terraIn was so rugged and yet so serine.

This is truly the best place I’ve been.

If it weren’t for the trails of San Martin, I would have never seen the things I have seen; the river that runs so clean and so clear.

Oh how I love the sounds that I hear; our Gauchos that worked tirelessly night and day to help us travel along the way.

The camping was challenging, dirty and wild – oh how it made me feel like a child.

Now coming down from such a high, all I can do is sit here and cry,

Andes oh Andes, how I love you so, in my dreams you will always stay until I come back to see you someday.”

And so Devon summed up for us all, what this trip was about.

And still no words, photos, videos can truly describe the feeling of Condors flying around us one day; the magnitude of the mountains, the range of colours, the solitude.

To quote another friend, Dave.

“It feels as though God decided he had done enough for us and wanted to do something just for himself.

So he found the most remote place on earth and painted a landscape for his own enjoyment.

If anyone puts in the effort to search it out,

they could enjoy it too,

but this was just for Him.”

Amen to that.

Photos are thanks to our amazing ‘Andes Gauchos’

Thanks for a magic time.

WALHALLA, January 2022

Girls just wanna have fun

And that’s exactly what we Did have.

FUN,

lots of it.

After almost 2 years of not being allowed to meet,

we Finally met.

In the beautiful Gippsland,

exploring the Mountain Rivers Trail.

Friday’s trail….
The routine, so special. The horses, so compliant.

After almost 2 years of not being allowed to hug,

we Finally hugged.

And hugged and laughed and hugged again.

Hugs and smiles and laughs…..
and catching up with friends, four legged and two: new and ‘old’

And just like that,

we were in back in the groove,

or should I say saddle

Another glorious beginning…..

Our home for the weekend

Was the interesting Walhalla Coach House

Built in the 70’s to replicate an old Swiss home,

it was quaint and quirky

and presented us with a list of do’s and don’ts :

Although if truth be told,

there were a whole lot more don’ts than do’s 😉🙄

Our Home from Home

The Coach House

Where we chatted, laughed, slept, drank and ate.

Did I mention we drank?

Did I mention we laughed?

Oh, and did I mention we relaxed?

As we watched the Walhalla Express pass below us.
We wandered Up…..
Wandering where……
Our leader was taking us.
Regardless, we followed……

With moments of contemplation
The “gals” played in the water too……
and down
from above
We wandered down roads….
….and around corners

As we explored the quaint Walhalla

What a history, what lifes were lived here

What about a repeat visit without horses to distract ….

Nature displaying its beauty
Reckless in its abundance
The history ….. the images…… the stories
There were tracks to explore
Things only the ‘they’ could see
And views we could all savour

And so, you see,

Girls just wanna have fun.

AND FUN WE SURE HAD.

There was so much to smile about.

And so it is with grateful heart that I write this.

Grateful that you:

include me in your rides:

allow me to ride Dolly:

took such great photos for us:

that you introduced me to the Gippsland.

Garrawilla Cattle Station

All’s Well that Ends Well,

so Shakespeare once said,

and who am I to argue.

After all he knew a thing or two about life.

So after a great time at Markdale riding with Brooke and her horses,

(Markdale Madams…..),

I jumped at the opportunity to go further afield and extend myself.

Ah, and go further afield

and extend myself, I most certainly did.

In more ways than one.

Firstly, the distance.

This country is SO vast it continues to surprise.

The two maps give you some idea of the scale.

Secondly, the time.

We booked these two rides long before the world was turned upside down by our friend with many names, Corona, Delta, Omicron. to mention but a few – there are many other names we down in Victoria have used to describe ‘it’

And so we waited, as the dates were changed again

and again

The Shearing Sheds – still standing, just – pretty much how we felt waiting….

and again.

And what do the trees know of time……

In fact we waited so long

I had forgotten what I had signed up for

and there was no Brooke and her horses,

nor was there the horseman Cody that I was keen to learn from.

Casualties of our country’s interesting handling of the virus.

And by the time we could go,

two years of non living was being condensed into a tight space

before Christmas,

the possibility of more lock downs

and in my case, at least,

age,

reminding me I must be mad…

causeways washed away…..

And Floods.

Did I mention the floods?

How could I forget…..

Driving up, being forced to pull up on the side of the road and wait till we could see.

Rain and rain whichever way you went
water everywhere…whichever way we looked….

Friends having to ‘take the long way round’ to finally make it to our home from home.

HOME

Garrawilla,was established in 1836. It is on the edge of the Kamilaroi Tribal are. 7000 acres of fertile volcanic land. Wagu bulls crossed with Angus heifers produce superb calves which form the foundation of the farming.

We were lucky enough to get involved with how they farm etc.
And stay in the original farmhouse.

The weather broke,

not just the roads,

but the horses

and

fixing bridges and feet kept us busy.

Whether it was riding one another…..
Relying on our own two feet and somewhat unreliable boots….
Or just playing with our trusty steeds……

Most days we played with cattle.

when things go according to plan…..
it is a beautiful, tranquil, ‘quiet’ thing.
and when it doesn’t, it can be ‘messy’
Some horses love this work and others (mine) do not 🙂
which made for interesting days……

And always we played with our horses.

With views to take your breathe away.

Roads to canter till your breathe went away

And field with grass so high it took ‘the other horses away’

It was ‘hard work’ this playing,

so sometimes we changed the game…..

lazing in the water;

snoozing on a log;

resting on the ground;

catching yabbies

There was down time,

to marvel, to rest,

to sit and think

To play

There was time to rescue;

to link arms

and line dance….

There were wild nights…..

With so much laughter
and joy

and ‘the morning afters’

There were friendships made,

friends come in all sizes…..
Our lovely guide, Carolyn Frost
Ben Newbury – a beautiful horseman.

There were friendships consolidated.

and just like that, two weeks was done.

There were ups and downs, in all sorts of ways,

there were tears and laughter;

there were amazing memories created.

Thank you team for the photos,

thank you Horses & Cattle Australia.

And so it was,

That

all’s well

That ends well.

And End Well, It did.

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