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;
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.
And just like that –
we were ‘off’ so to speak;
or at least at Melbourne Airport,
waiting to be ‘off’
Auckland to Santiago. Santiago to Mendoza.
With our trusty 7kg luggage –
Hand luggage only –
determined we were not to have any
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.
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.
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…..
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,
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.
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.
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
There were tears of exhaustion
There were tears of joy
There was so much to celebrate
And many moments of friendship
Often round ‘the table’
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
made the world a brighter place 😍
There was a day of rest, for horses and us –
Giving us time to regroup;
brave the coldest water ever;
have a wash,
We had a chance to try out the Peruvian Paso’s amazing gait
But rest was short.
Mostly it was riding –
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.
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 😉
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.