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Crossing Chile on Horseback

by Beverly Stelljes

For those looking for a wilderness experience which includes the many challenges and rewards that come from immersing yourself not only in the out- of -doors but also in the culture of a land, this is it! My husband and I are wilderness seekers and have had our share of working with outfitters who promise a wilderness experience but have left us desiring more culture and more wilderness. Not so with this trip!

Our trip began with the delight of having our guide arrive at the hosteria looking like anything but a guide! He was a true working "rancher" and what a pleasure it was to sit back and watch this man work in his element.

Without many words exchanged between us, as we spoke little Spanish and he no English, we had one of the most educational and culturally rich trips we have ever experienced!

Our first day entailed saddling up on some of the most sure-footed horses I have ever ridden. I have owned horses for 25 years and ridden many places and never felt as in awe of what these animals were capable of and how comfortable the ride. Sitting atop 3 - 4 sheep skins with our guide in his beret, wool poncho and sheep skin chaps we were off!

Riding through old growth forests, thick bamboo stands filled with blooming fuchsia bushes we crossed beautiful glacier fed streams to arrive at a stream crossing where we met up with a group of native Chilean's loading a packhorse with wood flooring. This was an amazing work of art and engineering to watch this loaded horse cross a roaring river loaded with wood which was going to this rancher's home 20 miles away! The last we were to see of people for many days!

Our first night the rain started and our guide found a small barn for us for camp. The rain came but sitting under a roof with a backdrop of waterfalls, glaciers and a beautiful stream our spirits would not be affected by rain! To sit quietly and watch our guide at work was like watching a National Geographic special.

He begins by pulling a knife from his pocket and removing a shoe from a horse, filing the hoof down on a stone found in the barn and wetting the sharpening stone in the rain. He then sterilizes the knife in the campfire and begins another work of art in preparing a piece of meat for smoking. By cutting along veins and arteries "just so" and then salting the meat it is ready for smoking over the fire for several days.
At days end he unrolls his bedroll which again consists of the ever-present sheepskins. The next morning before daylight he is out rounding up horses that have been free range grazing all night. The morning fire was warm and welcoming. The rain continued but we were well dressed and the scenery, challenges and adventure were waiting!

The next several days consist of more varied terrain that you could possibly ever dream of. We had glacier-topped mountains, waterfalls to climb and cross on horse back, open fields with a small farm here and there. As we were riding through a beautiful open pasture that had been cleared by the "slash & burn" method we observed a horse & rider coming our way. This scene was South America's version of The Sound of Music. A young native Chilean girl came galloping over the hillside with her toddler brother sitting in front of her riding atop the layers of sheep skins! No words were exchanged but the sparkle in the children's eyes told you they were happy just to see us! Our guide exchanged some greetings and we sent off the waves and smiles of these two lovely children.

The riding became ever challenging with steep climbs, narrow trails and river crossings. Our guides' silence was an opportunity which allowed us to become immersed in this land. From the roar of rivers to the silence of the forests it became an important and appreciated part of the journey. We had all of this to ourselves! There were no roads and very few and far between "farms".
After several nights out in the true beauty and isolation of this route we cross over a pass in the mountains to be met by a rare but beautiful falling snow in a mountain meadow.
Following this meadow down through the mountains into a small settlement and down to Lake Espolon. We are not greeted with cabins and motorboats but yet another remote wonderland.

We ride for a day along the steep sides of the lake always in view of the lake or the glaciers that surround it. We arrive at our guide's ranch in awe and wonder. Sitting on the side of the lake, here is a place of meticulous workmanship. Without the benefit of nails, hinges, posts and all the modern day conveniences he has built himself a home, barn, fences and corral for his horses over looking an isolated lake with glaciers as its backdrop! His words to us as we arrive at his home are " Mi casa , tu casa”. No electricity, no plumbing, no TV's, no Internet or hot shower and yet he is inviting us to make ourselves at home! He is so willing to share what we might consider the bare necessities. Never did we feel more welcome and comfortable!

Our trip ends with a ride the following day into the pueblo of Futaleufu riding our horses right down "main street" to the Expediciones Chile office!
We are welcomed into town by Chris Spelius and stay at his wonderful hosteria.
Warm food, warm beds, and hot showers. Something that feels so good, yet we leave behind an experience we will never soon forget. Having dinner the following evening with Chris and our guide allowed us communicate on the more traditional level with our guide through Chris.

The beauty of communicating silently throughout the trip allowed us a unique experience. Then being able to share all of this together over wonderful food and wonderful company was the perfect ending.

Having Chris put this all together for us was not like dealing with an outfitting company but more like having a good friend or relative in the area that wants to show you all that they have come to know and love of the country.

We have had many wilderness experiences throughout our travels. From being flown in by float plane and being dropped off with just ourselves and our canoe in the wilderness of Canada, to riding the Bitterroots along the Lewis and Clark trail with a veteran rancher from the mountains, to exploring Alaska on horseback and rafting, but this trip by far is our greatest experience.


Expediciones Chile specializes in adventure travel vacations in Patagonia Chile. Rafting in Chile on the Futaleufu River. Torres del Paine, Cerro FitzRoy trekking in Patagonia. Off season skiing in Chile and Argentina. Equestrian vacations and mountain biking holidays in the Futaleufu Valley. Whitewater kayaking in Chile. Whitewater rafting outdoor guide school. Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile and Argentina. Learn to roll a kayak at the Expediciones Chile kayak school. Eco tours and yoga vacations. Information on the climate of Patagonia, traveling in Patagonia and regional maps.

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