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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2008 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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2009 Torres Del Paine
Images by Steph Teeter
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We invite you to experience this unforgettable equestrian event, in the extremes of Chilean Patagonia! The 10th of April 2015 kicks off the 11th annual running of the “Torres del Paine Endurance Race”.

Don`t pass up the opportunity to participate in this exhilarating sport, which takes place in the heart of one of the most important and breathtaking national parks in Patagonia.











Endurance Patagonia Video Clip

Steph's Adventures in Patagonia 2009

Luis & EnduranceX

Patagonia - Torres del Paine - Tierra del Fuego - Easter Island - San Pedreo de Atacama - Lago Rupanco - Ruta de la Salitre ...

It's a list of the ultimate Chilean tourist destinations, the most beautiful and sacred landscapes, places that are worth seeing from any perspective. Places that are almost beyond imagining from horseback - and for an endurance rider who likes to 'really' ride it doesn't get much better.

This is the dream of Luis Enrique Opazo, and the realization of the dream is EnduranceX. I never actually asked Luis what the 'X' stands for, but when I was showing him some of the photos I had taken during the Torres del Paine ride, where the trail dropped sharply down across a talus slope, crossed a wide delta with ribbons of water woven across it, climbed back up onto another ridge - horses and riders visible all across the landscape, all under the towering peaks he smiled and said 'si, extreme!' So I'm going to hazard a guess and say it stands for Extreme! As in extreme sports, extremely beautiful, challenging, the outer banks of endurance riding experience..

Luis is retired Chilean military, he seems confidant and comfortable in any situation - on horseback, exploring trails, or hosting sponsors and guests with fine wine and local food. His retirement has given him the opportunity to dream up new adventures, new exploits. He said that the other thing he's doing (with gusto) with his time besides the EnduranceX rides is falconry. And with the vast open country and abundance of falcons and prey, this is probably almost as seductive a pursuit as 'riding a good horse a long way across beautiful landscapes'. Almost!

Luis has combined his equestrian skills and passion and his sense of adventure to create EnduranceX. He has participated at national and international championships in equestrian polo and jumping in U.S. as well as Argentina and Peru. Between 1983 and 2001 he mounted several expeditions in the Andes mountains in the highlands of central and southern Mexico. Adventure and horses... a centuries old tradition, seems to be in the blood.

As EnduranceX gains exposure and reputability and participation, Luis hopes to build upon this momentum with increased sponsorship. He wants to ultimately expand the program so that endurance riders can experience the most beautiful and remote regions of Chile. He has the help and partnership of a few other Chilean equestrians - Elizabeth Huyghe, who is an accomplished rider, and an FEI official, and is also writing a book on the National Parks of Chile! Antonio Llompart Cosmelli, FEI judge, equestrian... many others that help Luis realize his goal.

This year Luis introduced an FEI division for the first time at the Torres del Paine ride. I only wish more FEI rides could be like this one! This is what Endurance Riding is all about, really - at least for many of us. It was still a race, there's no doubt about that - but it was so much more. The horsemanship required to negotiate the challenging terrain, the focus on the horse - the trail - the river crossings and ridge tops - the steep ascents and descents - the rock, mud, narrow trails, wide meadows - a constant shifting between focus on the other competitors and the immediacy of riding the trail and reading the horse. Its such a shame the FEI has removed this aspect of endurance riding by shifting the focus to absolute speed, rather than relative (competitive) speed.

Luis' program is also serving as a catalyst for growth of the sport in Chile, especially the more remote areas. In Patagonia there are several new endurance associations now because of the rides he is organizing (Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego, etc). Many are still competing on the criollo or native chilean horses, but others are now bringing in Arabians - both for competition and for breeding. They will mix the Arabian blood with the tougher native horses which have the disposition and conformation suited to the tough terrain and climate.

Several riders flew over from Easter Island to participate in the Torres del Paine ride. Next year there will be an EnduranceX ride on Easter Island. Wow!! I had to wonder about the availability of horses on this island, but everybody told me that the primary mode of transportation there was the horse! Hardly any cars or motorcyles, some bicycles, but mostly people get around on horseback. Sounds good to me!

The other place that EnduranceX will hold a ride in 2010 is San Pedro de Atacama - the driest place on earth! An unlikely stretch of desert on the northern coast of Chile - a stark landscape, with thermal springs, bizarre rock formations - a tourist spa destination. But - away from the tourist areas there are miles and miles of moonscape to travel by horseback. That's one I really want to experience!

I was totally impressed with the event at Torres del Paine. The venue was at the Torres del Paine Hotel - excellent food, service, rooms, ambience - a special place, and a nice complement to the rugged landscape. We had the best of both worlds - the pleasure of fine wine and great food in a comfortable (but not ostentatious) abode, and the physical challenge of wild country and exhilaration of a fast horse ride.

This may have been the best 'endurance riding in another country' experience that I've had. It was certainly the most beautiful scenery I've experienced on horseback, and the Chilean people are fantastic. A Ten.

Steph


Torres del Paine - Story - Part 1


Calafate leaf
To eat is to return to
Patagonia

At least that's what Liliana told me! (although she had nothing to do with my pathetic effort at haiku! ) At one point while we were riding our fast Chilean horses along the trail, she told me that the local lore says that if you eat from the calafate plant (a native thorny bush with edible berries and lemon-blueberry tasting leaves) then you will return to Patagonia. So we stopped and picked a few leaves to eat. And I've been trying to eat a leaf from every calafate plant that I see :)

During each one of these trips I meet special people that touch me in some way. Lili is one of those special people, we had a terrific ride together and I am very pleased to have met her. Lili is the grand daughter of East European immigrants. The two brothers Vincente and Antonio Kusanovic came to Patagonia to take part in the Chilean program to develop agriculture in this southern most part of the country. The brothers eventually became landowners, after the government granted deeds to the land that they worked sheep and cattle on. Estancia Cerro Negro is one of the original Kusanovic 'homesteads' where Lily's grandmother, Amor, still lives, along with a constant stream of family members that come and go throughout the seasons.

The Estancia is still home, but also opened up for tourists so that they can learn of the history of the area, and experience a (still) working Estancia, or what we would call a ranch. They run 4000 head of sheep on that many hectares of range land. The ranch also has a few thousand hectares of forest land and peat. The family business continued to grow - beyond the original ranching operation. Antonio also purchased several thousand hectares of land at the base of the mountains surrounded by what is now Torres del Paine National Park. The love for the land runs deep in all of the family members, who continue to expand their business.

Antonio Kusanovic was once quoted as describing the land as
"A landscape painted by God himself, where the silence can be heard".
I can see such a glow in Lili's eyes when she talks about this land also. She said 'it's part of me, I can't bear to be away for long'.

I had the absolutely greatest luck to have met Lili - and to have been able to ride with her - on good native horses, over spectacular trails - it doesn't get any better! I first met her when we stopped at Estancia Cerro Negro on our long journey from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine National Park, where the ride would be held. She helped show us around the old house where our group had 'tea' and then took us out to the barn where the hands explained the sheep operation, and the breeding program they had undertaken to introduce Merino genetics into the local sheep in order to improve the quality of the wool. She was also headed to Luis' EnduranceX event, having been bitten by the endurance bug the year before when she tried it for the first time. She packed into the van with us after the house/barn tour and several hours later we finally landed at the Hotel Torres Del Paine (also owned by the family).

The road into the ranch, and to the hotel is pretty amazing. Ninety kilometers of dirt/gravel road from Puerto Natales (after 350 km of highway from Punta Arenas), then another seven kilometers of bumps and holes and ruts, after crossing a very narrow, and fairly long, suspension bridge which is the only way across the river into the ranch. In order to drive the vans across the bridge, the drivers have to completely remove the left outside mirror, and then fold the right mirror in, and still there are only inches to spare between the sides of the van and the bridge suspension system. A very tight squeeze, with the driver leaning his head out the window to make sure he maintains that inch of space. We did this in the dark after 5 hours of traveling from Punta Arenas, and it was quite the amazing arrival!

I met Luis as soon as we arrived (another special person, mastermind of EnduranceX - more on that later), got settled into my room, made it to the dining room just in time for dinner, and then finally sleep!

In the morning I had breakfast with Luis, and Elizabeth Hughes - the FEI technical delegate for the FEI portion of the event. Elly was one of the first endurance riders in Chile, and she also helped Luis put this event together for the first time, five years ago. She helped design the ride - course and the trails, and helped improve the event over the years - and I can say (now) that it was extremely well designed, fun to ride, challenging but not impossible, and incredibly beautiful!! I had lots of questions for Luis (who/how/when,why/etc) and Elly was to be the translator. (A sad footnote is that she also had to translate 'my' Spanish to 'real' Spanish :)

After breakfast I joined Elly and a couple of the gauchos and another reporter from a Chilean polo/equestrian magazine. We took some stable horses out for a couple of hours - the check on the beginnings of the trails, to check for safety, and marking, etc. GORGEOUS! It was a perfect sunny day, with no wind, crisp fall weather, just perfect. In fact the entire time I was there the weather was perfect. (except the last four hours of my last day there which was also the time we chose to do the boat tour out to the glaciers.... that was an interesting boat ride - the wind finally kicked in).

After our ride I hung around the stables and saw Lili there. I went to say 'hi' and she was bummed because her mare was lame. She was pretty sore and my guess was that it was a sore foot - bruise or abcess - since I couldn't find any sensitivity in tendons or ligaments. Plus - the shoeing here is pretty rough - lots of long toes and under run heels, typical for stables I suppose - but I suggested to Lili that they bring an endurance farrier in to show the locals some basics of managing hoof balance for endurance. So, she didn't have a horse to ride for the race and was very disappointed. Also - at this point I was still assuming I had a horse to ride in the race the next day. I sort of suggested that she might be able to take out one of the stable horses, so she could at least ride. hmmm....

Lili's brother joined us and we talked some more, then had lunch together. They told me about their family, the history, the ranch. They both have the maturity that comes with being part of a focused family - and business. They are young in years (29 and 30) but mature with respect to their responsibility. Luis joined us a little later, and through chatting and conversation, it came out that I -didn't- have a horse to compete on after all. I had just assumed I was there to ride as well as report, and Luis had just assumed I wanted to 'write, not ride' . It wasn't a big deal, I've been in similar communication disconnects before! But it meant that I didn't have specific plans for the next day .... so maybe Lili and I could both round up a couple of the stable horses and do the 40km (25 mile) ride together, just for fun. Why not!?

So after lunch we went back out to the stable. Lili spends all of her summers here, knows all the gauchos and guides, and the trails, and the special places to ride, but she didn't know what horses might be available - most of them had already been given out to the people that came here to race. But Juan said there were two good horses left that we could ride - yay! but... why were these two horses not already given out if they were good? We were happy to have horses, but with this lingering question Lili went back a little later to ask again... why were they still available? She was assured that they were very good horses, but the gauchos had not offered them to any of the other competitors because they were somewhat special horses- a little more challenging to ride (a little hard to stop, a little spooky/jumpy) but great rides if a person could handle them. Ok.... what the heck.

It was almost time for vetting in at this point, the gauchos went out and found the horses - Mateco (a big black criollo for me) and Vitana (a smaller dapple gray for Lili). They said we should go and sign up and vet them in and then ride them around some and find saddles, bridles, etc. The vetting was slow and it got so dark, and cold (a clear sky and the air cooled rapidly) that in the end we decided to wait till tomorrow to try them out. Our ride (the 40km) didn't start until 11am! so we'd have time before the start to round up saddles and stuff and see how they went (I wanted to make sure I could stop Mateco :).

Ride meeting, dinner, a lovely evening, and then I spent a few hours processing photos of the day, email correspondence, etc. Set the alarm for 6am, and finally into bed, very tired and the bed was nice and soft with fluffy warm blankets. Music from the cantina faint in the background, just right. I went to bed dreaming of the mountains, ...and wondering about the horse I would ride!

- later,

Steph


Torres del Paine - Story - Part 2


I woke up just minutes before the alarm went off (I always do this, I wonder how our sleeping brain knows that stuff...). It was still dark and I spent a little time doing email and trying to get caught up and a little more organized. I wasn't really sure about the start of the 80km (the FEI ride), when, where and all that stuff. The riding meeting last night was in Spanish and I had to fill in the blanks in places... But I wandered over to breakfast around 7am, the officials and riders were there, and I eventually found out that the start was in a different location, the horses had been transported the night before, the riders and officials would drive out to the start - so I found a ride and grabbed my camera and away we went. Back down that endless 7km of road, across the bridge and around the lagoon to one of the little stables set up for horses and rides.

A spectacularly beautiful morning! Bright, clear, cold, there was frost on the ground, the puddles had a layer of ice. The mountains slowly lit up and began to glow with the sunrise. The riders saddled up in the cold, with Los Torres turning pink in the background. So beautiful!! And still, not a breath of wind. It felt like a classic fall morning in the rocky mountains. I hiked up a hill to get photos of the riders as the started off, and sat there waiting for them, taking in the cool air, the mountains, rivers... this place is something else. Off they want, I snapped a few photos and ran back down to join the group and head back up the long 7km road, back into camp.

Just in time for the start of the 60km ride, I took some more photos, and then that left another hour before we started the 40k. It find Liliana, all of her family was there for the race, and of course she knows everybody, so she can't get very far before she finds somebody else to say hello to. I went down to the stable without her, asked about 'Mateko' ? Everybody was busy getting other horses ready, and I wasn't sure if they would get the right horse :) There were two black criollos which looked very much the same... is this really Mateko? si! here, toma - take him. I still hadn't found Lili and wasn't sure about saddles, etc - but they rounded up an old Chilean saddle for me. oh boy, this is going to be interesting! They saddled him for me, cranked the girth down tight (those saddles are not terribly form fitting and tend to shift). Found a bridle, ok - ready, toma - Mmmmm.... maybe puedes montar primero? My Abu Dhabi run-away mare last year left me with a few jitters about climbing on horses for the first time (and I still wasn't totally convinced that this was the right horse) - si, no problem. The little gaucho sprang into the saddle, black horse's head went up - ready! He looked like a goer, but sane, and stoppable! I got on, the stirrups were short, but when I lengthened them they were too long, so I settled for short, rode around a little (cautiously) and then more courageously. He actually felt a whole lot like my horse Jaziret - a horse with the throttle always on, always always wanting to go forward, and a little hard to stop sometimes!

I tied him back up and went to find Lili - she was in a large group of people, she saw me and escaped and we went to get her horse ready. She was just a little anxious too, new horse, second endurance ride, all the family, all that stuff. But as soon as we were both on our horses and ready to go everything was perfect. It was a classic start! A classic 'LD - 25 mile start'! Lots of really ready to race horses and riders. They put the juniors up front by a few minutes (nice idea) and then - the ladies! So we moved up in front of the men, and away we went. Full gallop, mud flying, horses passing, being passed, looking for position. I was out in front of Lili somewhere, but didn't want to take my eyes off the trail to look back for her. It quickly got very technical, single track, mud and creeks, climbing, and as soon as the trail demanded attention, the horses settled in to work, and the riders focused. It was pretty darn fun! I'm generally the type who likes to be in mostly full control, but it was a lot more better to just go with the flow and worry about where the horse was going rather than how fast. Tons of fun! And I had been a bit worried about the saddle - it's very different, the stirrups are set forward, the seat is basically layers of leather and wool padding, not much of a tree. But it was just fine, and really pretty good to ride in for technical stuff - I could brace against the stirrups with my legs, and keep a fairly deep seat.

Lili finally came up behind me and we cruised along. The yahoos went out really fast and we settled into the middle of the pack. A few came flying by but mostly we just settled in to happily moderately zooming along the trail. What a fantastic ride! She knew this trail by heart, it climbed up over the ridge (she had to concentrate on following the ribbons rather than going the way she always goes) - into a deep forest, trees with leaves in various stages of fall foliage, or no foliage. It was quite wet and muddy on the trail. She said she had never ever seen it this wet here. Changes... After the hilly forest we dropped down into the 'Enchanted Forest' - Bosque Encantado (she named it when she was 14, and had picked out a spot to build a cabin to live there with her white horse and white dog... what a dream world for a young girl!). Then we rode across the 'we always gallop through here' meadow. A couple miles of meadow, some forest sections, some water crossings, at a good brisk gallop! Not exactly endurance pacing, but a great run. Mud splashed all over us and the horses... Riders come back against our direction, the 60's and 80's coming back into camp. Lots of smiles and mud flying.

We got to the cabin where the turn-around point was (this was an out-and-back trail) and stopped to chat with the gauchos who were taking numbers as the riders came in. Lili and the guys swapped stories, and smokes - an obligatory puff - and just relaxed for a bit. It's a good thing they didn't bring out the matte - we'd probably still be there. We headed back to camp and slowed down quite a bit, more relaxed. Lili said they always did it this way - gallop to 'Pueste Cerran' and then stop for a social time - and eventually ride back more leisurely. As we rode back she told me about the various gauchos that had lived there - Pueste Cerran, basically a line cabin - a lonely outpost for the gauchos who took care of the cattle - vacas - in that far section. She told me about the old fellow who lived there for years working the cattle, but drank too much, and he eventually died there alone having mixed too much medicinal alcohol and sugar for his relief from loneliness. And the other gaucho who spend his spare time painting the rocks around the cabin white, because he thought it looked more beautiful that way. And one fellow that would go to town once a week and spend all of his money on drink and women, or more accurately drink so much that the women took his money and they all had a grand party. But hey - what else would the old man spend his money on out at the cabin. Life there was simple - matte and bread and beef... the binges were probably worth it!

The ride back in was just as enjoyable - until a few miles out Lili thought her horse felt odd all of a sudden. Sure enough, he had lost a shoe. We'd just slow down and try to get a new shoe put on when we got to camp. I told her about Easy Boots! she had never heard of them - but thought what a great idea! We slowed down a little, but still made pretty good time. Horses vetted, new shoe, ready for the next trail.

- more in a bit,

Steph



Torres del Paine - Story - Part 3


Back out we go on the second (and final) loop. I love this horse!! He just wants to go and go. Whichever direction I point him, whatever the trail, he's a really fun ride. Very foot-sure, not a single stumble or slip or slide. He picks the best way through the muddy stretches and puddles and creeks. He travels with his head much lower than I'm used to. These horses are born and raised in this rough country, and they have free range grazing. This is not easy country, in fact it's very rough country, and they must learn at an early age how to cover the ground and keep up with the herd. I think the fact that Mateco travels with his head low (at least much much lower than my Arabian 'gotta go' horse) has to do with constantly judging the trail - the terrain, knowing where to put his feet with every step. One of the ranchers in the Owyhee country (which can be pretty rough too) commented once that his horses that range free will travel with their head low - they learn to dodge the rocks and holes. Same thing I suppose. At any rate I'm totally enjoying the ride and totally trust the horse.

This trail takes us in a different direction - off to the west, the country is much more open - just a few forest areas. A lot of talus and gravel, across a wide river delta with fine gray sand and gravel and threaded streams of water spreading out for a few kilometers. Stunning! So big, so open. Both horses are still strong and forward, tho I'm starting to feel some straps and buckles rubbing from the saddle - not bad, but if it were more than 40k it could possibly get bad... We make a loop around a lake, reflections, perfect footing, Mateco wants to gallop some more so we do. We're riding with several others at this point, some on the 60k, some the 85k, the horses are picking up the 'headed' back energy, and we keep rolling right into the finish. A little whoop and yeehaw just for fun as we finish (probably in 20th place or something like that) but it was a good fun finish :)

My wonderful black horse pulses right down and goes to the vet with a 48 pulse.... go Mateco!

Lili finishes fine too, we're both pretty happy - it was a fun and easy ride, and the most beautiful trail I've ever done. The Bighorn had some spectacular sections, the Blackfoot Valley ride that Sandy Bolinger used to manage had some fantastic country, and the Owyhee ride over Toy Mountain and Hart Creek can be pretty amazing too... but this country is just soooooo big, and extreme - with the glacial mountain tops, the unlikely granite Torres shooting up to the sky. It's very special, and I am very thankful for the chance to experience it on a good horse. wow.

I was still basking in the afterglow when I heard that the 85k riders were heading in to the finish, and several of them were still together ready for a race. I had time to go in and get the good camera, and get in place to get the racing finishers. Just right! And a very very excited Susie Haveruk (from southern California) poured it on at the very end to edge over the finish line. Number 1!! Susie was beaming and glowing for hours after, couldn't believe it. She said she had just gone to one of the USEF clinics at Inyokern, and learned so much, and said it helped her tremendously with this win. The strategy, the focus, the breathing to control her excitement and tension. It was pretty cool!

I took a few more photos, then decided it was time for a glass of wine and some food, and headed over to the fire pit where the lamb (cordero) was roasting and basked some more, and talked with folks, and totally enjoyed the last of the daylight hours. Lili and I shared a good bottle of wine, provided by one of the sponsors - Montes Vinyard - and shared thanks for a great ride, spectacular country and good horses!

more later - on Luis and his brilliant event-

Steph

(but it might be quite a bit later, I'm in the Santiago airport, just about to board the plane for Los Angeles. It will be good to be back, but I will miss this place more than I could have imagined)


Torres del Paine - OMG!!!

May 1 2009

This is without a doubt, sin duda, the most spectacular place I've ever been to!! Just a quick update, then I'll try to get some photos uploaded.

I had breakfast today with Luis Enrique Opaza - the mastermind behind this event, and Endurance-X. I can only think the X stands for extreme, exciting, exceptional, extraordinary.. I'll have more on Luis and EnduranceX later, but basically he's retired military, played polo so he knows/loves horses, fell in love with Torres del Paine, and along with his Endurance friends thought this would be a great place for a ride. This is the 5th year now, he's fine tuning the trails and the event, and he's added an FEI 80km ride in hopes of growing the international draw - esteem - for an event here. His dream is to offer the icon of endurance riding - technical trail, incredible scenery, all that. He's also doing endurance rides on Easter Island, and Atacama (San Pedros) the most arid desert in the world, a special place, some say a spiritual place. The three most spectacular places in Chile ... and Luis will have endurance rides in each of them. (more on that later)

I went out on the trail today with Elizabeth Huyghe, one of Chile's first endurance riders, who is here as the Technical Delegate for the FEI sanction. We took some of the stable horses out and rode for a few hours, checking the trail (the TD's job) for safety, and markings. OMG!!! It is so incredibly beautiful. Even without the torres - the unlikely granite thrusts that reach to the stars - even without the snowcapped peaks - it would still be breathtaking country. Vast, open, spectacular. And the mountains and the torres make it beyond beautiful... so beautiful and vast that I couldn't absorb it - just gawk.

I'm going to be riding tomorrow, just the 40km ride (25 miles) but I'll be riding with Lilian. I'm not going to try to spell her name until I get it written down, but she is the grand daughter of one of the original 'homesteaders' in Patagonia. Her family owns the Cerra Negra estancia where we stopped for tea yesterday on the way to the park. And the family also owns 5000 hectares of land within the Torres Del Paine National Park. They built a hotel here (I think it's actually a 5* hotel) which is very cozy and rustic, long hallways and large circular dining and reception areas with glass all around so the scenery is constant. The hotel is set against the backdrop of a snow capped mountain. The ride actually goes through the ranch - private land - which makes it possible to hold an endurance event here.

I also met Lili's brother too (Joe?) - they both speak perfect English, they went to school in Texas as kids. They're very close and two people who obviously love life. They spend all of their summers here, and are never away for long during any time of the year. I also met Lili's mother and grandmother. Her grandmother is a very special soul. Her name is 'Amor' and it is who and what she is. We talked a little (broken english and spanish) - I told her my life, mi vida, was endurance and horses. I said I was lucky. She had a glow about her, and said - yes, but in life we must find our own luck, it is not always given to us. (of course it sounded better in Spanish! :)

The family maintains the ranch, they run cattle here, and the children and grandchildren help manage it. Lili has recently started endurance, and I can tell from the look in her eye that she's a natural - she has that passion for the horse, and the land, and the gypsy - gitano- spirit that makes one want to keep moving. She came here (from her winter home in Buenos Aires) to ride her mare, an Arabian, but the mare is lame. She was so disappointed - so I suggested we take out a couple of the stable horses - the criollos - on the short ride just for fun. Ok then! The guachos round up a couple horses for us. I'll be riding 'Matako' - a black criollo - he's a good horse I was told, just a little hard to stop:) Well - this terrain is so technical that I don't think that will be a problem. Lili's horse is a smaller dapple gray criollo. It should be fun. We haven't ridden the horses yet, it was almost dark by the time we got them vetted through. But the 40k doesn't start until 11am, so we should have time to round up some saddles and try them out before we start. Another adventure :)

We took the horses back to the stable and Lili brought me into the tack room to warm up. It was actually a perfect sunny day with no wind, very nice, but as the sun set the warmth disappeared into the cloudless sky and it got colder and colder. There was a stove in the room, one of the gauchos was playing guitar, saddles, blankets, bridles stacked or hanging in every free space. They passed the matte around, it was warm and absolutely perfect in that little room.

It's almost 6:30 and its dark now. There's a half moon, a little linger light from the day. I'm hoping they start up the music again in the Arboleta room near the reception. Now - photos to come.

-later-

Steph


Torres del Paine - Made It!

April 30 2009

I made it! what a journey. The flight from Santiago was around 3 1/2 hours - we flew along the west side of the Andes, mountains and mountains and mountains. About an hour from the aiport at Punta Arenas the Torres del Paine were suddenly visible from the plane. Only the very highest torres - towers - peaks were above the clouds. As the clouds shifted, some of the lesser snow-covered peaks popped in and out of the clouds. it was spectacular, and blinding from the sun reflecting off of the top of the clouds.

We landed in Punta Arenas, the southern most airport of the continent, after doing a complete circle around the airport so that the wind was at the tail. The wind... it made the plane dance and skitter on its way down. And from what I hear, it wasn't even really windy...

It's actually warmer than I expected, though I think it's supposed to change a little. We were gathered at the airport (me, Ketty and her husband, and Alicia) and taken to a van, where three others had already loaded. A quick briefing on what we'd be doing, what to expect - we'd drive 2 hours north, and stop at the 3* hotel Estancia Cerra Negra, for 'tea' and a tour of their sheep operation. A century old farm, which over time was able to purchase land from the government (sort of like homesteading in N. America) - it now runs 4000 head of sheep on 8000 acres of grassland, in addition to 2000 acres of forest and peat. They've converted the spacious house and worker cabins in to a hotel for tourists and guests. One of the grand daughters of the original 'homesteaders', Lilian, gave us a tour and joined us for tea.

Our tour of the barn was interesting. Shearing season had just ended, there were bales and bales and bales of freshly shorn wool, ready to be trucked to the port, and then shipped to destination - much of it bound for England. Lilian and the farm hand also explained the breeding program they had going - introducing breedings (shipped semen and embryo transfer) of merino sheep from Australia - the goal being to produce a sheep which produced both superior fleece for wool (the merino blood) and also superior cuts for consumption - for meat. This estancia (farm) and a few others in Chile and Argentina were taking part in the breeding program.

We loaded back up in the van and kept up our advance north to Torres del Paine National Park. 250 miles from Punta Arenas to the park, that's a lot of miles, and after our last stop at C...?, the final 80 miles was over gravel roads. which got worse and worse, and finally very very primitive once we entered the park and headed towards our destination - a 5* hotel! - info on the chains of hotels here -

my room is close to the reception, and close to the WiFi, and also close to the music! tonight there is a trio of musicians playing traditional chile - gaucho - music to great cheering and clapping. The music, and the wind (which has really kicked in!) will be my lullabye tonight :)

later-

Steph



Endurance Patagonia and Torres Del Paine