Horseback Riding with Patagon Cowboys!

On day five of our Patagonia Adventure Retreat, we had the horseback experience of a lifetime. To get to the start of our trail-ride, we had to cross Todos Los Santos Lake, a stunning sapphire-blue lake at the heart of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, the first National Park created in Chile.

Walter, a local fishing guide, picked us up in his motor-boat, handed us life vests, and we were off. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and we were surrounded by volcano views. Walter's 11-year-old son regaled us with stories and pointed out the important landmarks along the way. We had a backpack full of natural juices and homemade crepes with "manjar," a Chilean delicacy made from caramel, and a day of adventures ahead of us. What more could one need?

After an hour of lazily bumping over the waves and enjoying the staggering 360 degree views around us, we reached a cove only accessible by boat or horseback. Three "gauchos," the name for cowboys in the Patagonia Region, were waiting for us on the dock. They were decked out in the traditional garb - crisp button-down shirts, tall leather boots, and the traditional hat of the southern Chilean region. They were accompanied by their herding dogs, and the horses were waiting patiently for us in the shade.

The three men helped pull the boat in and tie it to the dock, and greeted each of us with a kiss to the right cheek (the traditional greeting in Chile). They introduced us to the horses, and helped us up, teaching us the basics.

Then we set off for a beautiful hour-long ride towards Cayetue Lagoon. The sun beat down on us, and I began to understand why the gauchos wear light, long-sleeve shirts. As we rode, the dogs ran beside us, occasionally catching the sent of a rabbit and tearing off through the brush, only to return a few minutes later, tongues-lagging.

We rode through farm-land, and the gauchos expertly opened gates from the backs of their well-trained horses. They pointed out family land, and we passed through herds of cattle and horses that they owned. One of the men told us that he lived quite a bit farther away, in a different valley. He rode through the night, with four horses in tow, to be there waiting for us on the dock when we arrived. He had an 8-hour ride ahead of him to get back to his farmland, and he expected to arrive home around 3am that night. He explained that they didn't work with tourists often, and that taking a break from working with the cows was a nice change. He would spend those hours on horseback anyway, and working with the horses was his passion. It didn't feel like a day of work for him when he spent it with the horses. We were completely blown away by his story.

Finally we arrived to Cayetue Lagoon. We unpacked our picnic lunch -- homemade veggie burgers on rolls, iced tea, and crepes with manjar for dessert. Unfortunately we had a hard time enjoying the views of the lagoon... from mid-December to mid-January is the time of year that the "tavanos" (large horseflies) hatch, and we got severely harassed. We decided to keep moving, for our sake as well as for the horses!

When we got back to the lake where Walter was waiting for us, we were happy... and hot. We gave the horses a final pat and thank you, and launched ourselves directly into the water! The cool water was the perfect temperature, and before long we were taking turns diving, flipping, and hand-standing off the edge of the dock. It was the perfect way to finish our ride.

What's an adventure without a moment of panic? Our moment came when we got back onto the boat... only to realize that it wouldn't start. Luckily, some locals were watching from the shore, and hopped into their own boat to give us a quick pull and get us moving. We had a good laugh when we realized the motor wasn't the issue, but that the key had somehow gotten bumped to the "off" position. We waved goodbye to the cowboys and the local boat resuers, and were back on our way home.

We finished the day with a homemade cocktail, a sunset hot-tub on the porch, and our last group dinner. Not a bad way to end the adventure...

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