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Articles > South America > Chile > Maike's Horseback Story - Ride Adventure on the Inca Trail

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Maike's Horseback Story - Ride Adventure on the Inca Trail
Did you know, that there still exist a place on this earth, in which you find herdsmen on horses, who lead their goats up into the mountains on antic trails? A place, in which the front doors are never closed and women bake their bread themselves in the wood–oven every early morning? In which you meet locals who still live their old traditions and maintain the original culture of the country?

I have seen this place and, believe me, it was one of the hardest good-byes of my life, when I had to leave this little paradise at the end of my vacation. I am talking about the valley rio Hurtado, in the IV region of Chile, only 2 hours away from La Serena. Here you find the Hacienda Los Andes in the middle of unspoilt nature, surrounded by the gigantic Andes.

Clark Stede and Manuela Paradeiser offer adventure tourism at it's best in their little outdoor-centre. Excursion on horsebacks or by 4x4, mountainbiking or hiking through the 500 ha nature reserve: there is a bit of everything to give your original adventure instinct loose hand.

I decided to take part in the Inka Trail, which is a horseback riding excursion in the surroundings of the Hacienda, in which you follow the old trails of the Inkas. What a splendid event, to be able to be so close to the traces of history.

The Incas are famous for their skill to build up a well working infrastructure in order to trade and communicate over long distances. They used this trail as a connection in between the Andes inside of Chile and the region at the coast.

During this trip I had the feeling I am an Inca myself, exploring the Andes on a discovery tour. And let me tell you that my last time on a horse is looooong ago. But it is so easy to feel comfortable on the horses. All the Criollos, the names of these Chilean mountain horses, are very well trained, patient and have an extraordinary feeling of balance, so that even beginners like me might think they were born in saddles.

After a short introduction-course about the most common rules and security precautions we finally take off. Equipped with lunch box, camera and binoculars we begin our horseback adventure into the magical world of the Andes. At first we follow the river Rio Hurtado through the valley of the same name.

We pass beautiful Trauerweiden and romantic swimming places at the riverbed. You see one fruit tree next to the other and flowers lit up in never seen colours. The constant ripple of the river, birds chirping their lovely songs and one or another falling horse apple are the only sounds you hear.

We are in the middle of the semi desert, how is it possible that there exist such a green and flourishing valley? As if the guide read my mind he promptly gives the answer: the water of the river is melted snow, running down the glaciers of the Andes. The water nourishes the valley, so that the flowers and trees receive sufficient nutrition in order to grow and to blossom. But of course water's power is limited, so that you find this green valley next to the dry sierra.

Still deeply impressed by nature's wide variety in this green and flourishing valley, the guide leads us on an ancient cattle trail in a completely different landscape. Now there's no doubt that we are in the sierra. A totally different nature surrounds us: old cactusses, as big as myself, stony gorges and dry bushes! Unbelievable that two landscapes as different as that can exist next to each other.

So this is the beginning of the Inca Trail. We climb up higher and higher into the Andes and I am quite astonished by the balance of the horses, who seem to feel really comfortable on the narrow and stony paths right next to the steep gorges. Well, I do like sports, especially hiking, but this time I have to admit that I am quite happy, that the horses are in charge of the running, so that I am able to enjoy the marvellous views in the comfortable saddle, without gasping for breath.

Climbing up the Andes I like my horse more and more, giving him credits for not complaining once about my weight on his back! His name is Intocable, "the untouchable", and I am surprised about myself when I started talking to him and whispering words of motivation in his ear. But obviously that is not even necessary, he seems to enjoy the views as much as I do. At the beginning I was a bit sceptical, when Clark told me, that Intocable is a very special horse.

He not only took part in various "carreras chilenas", he also won some of them! The "carrera chilena" is a horse-race, which takes place in all the communities about once a week. This event is very popular among the Chileans, because it gives them the opportunity to celebrate once again. All the inhabitants of the community meet at the racecourse and those who own a horse take part in the race.

The surroundings of the racecourse changes into a wild fun fair: stalls with fresh, homemade "Empanadas", the chilean national snack, dancing and laughing children and adults, who can not wait to bet on their favourite horses. One part of the money collected by the bets will be given out to the winner of the race, the other part will be used for the community: new colour for the school, new equipment for the hospital or a new playground for the children. That's how everybody profits from the "carrera chilena".

"He won a horse race???" Clark heard me yelling," I do not think that this is the appropriate horse for me!!!" Laughing out loud Clark calms me down: "As long as I do not want him to put up a new record, he will not do so." Well, he was right, I get along perfectly with the little star.

We go on following the paths through the wild Andes. By now the people in the valley have the proportion of ants and I enjoy the breathtaking view over the whole valley. Far away I see the inhabitants working on their fields. This is what the people here live on: agriculture, cattle and the fruit trees of the valley. Especially the red grapes strike my eyes. "This area produces grapes with a high content of sugar. These grapes, Moscatel de Alejandria, Moscatel de Austria, Pedrojimenez und Moscatel Rosada, are processed into the national brandy called Pisco," explains our guide.

Chile was only able to keep the name "Pisco" for it's national drink, because the former President was very attentive: when Peru had plans to copyright the name of Pisco world-wide, the Chilean President Gónzales Videla renamed the former village of "La Union" into "Pisco Elqui".

Finally it is time to give us and the horses a little rest and to refill the energy for the rest of the day. The guide surprises us with a splendid lunch package with all what my stomach and my soul is calling for: fresh fruits, vegetable, sandwiches with goat cheese bought from the locals and fresh orange juice were hidden in the saddlebags. "All those saddlebags are self-made", the guide explains, "the women in the village weave them with their ancient looms and they only use natural colours, extracted from natural sources." "Vamos", I hear the guide after a nice break in the sun, "there is still so much to see!"

He does not need to say that twice, I am already back on the horseback full of new energy to explore more of the surroundings. The tour goes on through the silence of the desert, passing colourful Canyons and never ending cactus fields. Far away we see a little barn, left alone in the middle of nowhere. What makes a human being live so far out, without neighbours or any signs of luxury? I do not have to wait long for the answer. When we come closer to the barn we are welcomed by the man who lives here: "Hello there, what do you think about a coffee?" he asks us very friendly.

His name is Victor, he tells us during the following conversation, and lives for more than 25 years up in this place far away from civilisation. He is completely different than I would imagine a person, living half his life in loneliness. Happy and open minded he tells us about his life as a herdsman in the Andes. He earns his living on the goats and the cheese they produce. I am a happy person if I am able to differ a goat from a sheep, but Victor knows all his 50 goats by name!!!

The cheese is produced in his little barn. Right from the start the cleanliness of the barn in spite of the rough surroundings stroked my eyes. One time per week Victor loads the cheese on his donkey and rides down into the valley, where people buy his cheese. I wonder, if he does not miss social life, a bit of luxury, for example a toilet with water or a newspaper for breakfast.

With astonishment in his face he gives the answer: after having lived in Santiago for a while, he can say for sure, that he would not give up the peaceful life in harmony with nature for all the money of the world. "In the city, where all the crazies live, you never know if you will survive the next day, if you are still employed or if you can pay the bill. Here I have all the luxury I need, I live in peace and harmony and all I worry about is where to find water for my goats." Even though I could never live a life like that, I am sure that you have a lot less worries, I am thinking, memorising my last mobile phone bill.

After this interesting coming-together in which we learned so much about the original culture of Chile, we are taking off for new adventures. By now I am pretty thankful for the hat they gave me before taking off. The sun is shining from the blue sky and there is not one single cloud covering it.

Even though this is something I really enjoy – I am from Hamburg, where we are happy if it stops raining for three hours!!! – I am getting hotter and hotter and would really like to take a cold shower. I remember that they told us to bring bathing suits and just when I finished my thought the next surprise is presented in front of us after turnign into the next canyon: we are in the middle of a lagoon, with a little waterfall.

At first I only let my feet have the pleasure of diving into the cold water, but later on I can not resist the waterfall and all of a sudden the whole group is swimming in the natural swimming pool. I was so astonished about what nature has to offer, without being compelled to pay entrance. With refilled energy we climb back on the horses and slowly began the way back to the Hacienda, passing majestic canyons.

Coal, ore and gold, which are hidden under the earth in their original forms as minerals, leave their traces and let the desert shine in never seen colours. We are passing several mountain villages on our way back to the Hacienda Los Andes. Very simple houses, built of the typical material "adobe", bear the evidence of the original and the very rough life that people are still living here.

Even though civilisation found it's way into these remote parts of the world, having a look at the very modern schools as well as the krankenstationen, luxury still is a foreign word for the inhabitants. But in the faces you see so much happiness and contentment. Everywhere people greet us very friendly and our European outer appearance awakes a lot of interest, especially among children, who take a very sceptical look at my blond hair.

Still deeply fascinated by the new impressions we arrive at the Hacienda Los Andes after a very relaxing ride. Manuela is already waiting for us. With a glass of Chilean red wine we enjoy the clear blue sky with millions of stars above us and let the day end, remembering all the things we saw and heard today. Clark and Manuela are telling stories of old legends and traditions of the area, before I realise, that I can hardly keep my eyes open. And guess, what I was dreaming about that night...?
About the Author
Chile Riding Holidays in the Andes offers 1-8 day adventure riding tours since 1993. Pack trips tailormade, criollo breed horses, English speaking guides, quality equipment, mild sunny weather and riding off the beaten track into the world of Condors, into the Andes. Chile Hacienda los Andes is a colonial style hotel, top-service, German-Austrian run in the middle of the Andes in Northern Chile. Horseback, trekking, 4x4 tours, tailormade programs. 310 sunny days per year, 15 years of experience and mentioned in over 35 guide books worldwide.
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