Planes, trains and automobiles. Aggravated hours on hold with airline agents and customer service. Five blurry days of bloodshot eyes, urban hikes through bustling crowds and overnight bus rides. As soon as we caught our breath, we were in Cochamo, Chile – the small town at the end of the road, and the start of the trail. Our headquarters to get this expedition off the ground. Let the search begin.
Days pass. A fortnight. And now, through squinted eyes and sea spray I tried to focus on the cascading waterfall in the distance. Across the most northern of the Chilean fjords it gushed and spit, depositing snow and glacial run off into the salty azure waters through a narrow gash in the lush mountain-scape. Not only a stunningly beautiful landscape, but the ideal distraction from the stress inducing conversation at hand.
Daniel, Jakob and I were on a ferry ride to remote Chilean village called Llanada Grande. We had been taxing our bodies, minds and second-language negotiation skills for the last ten days trying to round up a herd of six healthy horses and all the associated accouterment. With three horses to our name and options waning within a 50 km radius, we were getting desperate and expanding our search into remote nooks and crannies of the Chilean backcountry.
On the ferry ride across the lake, and mid wild goose chase for a single horse, whom we had heard resided somewhere over the hills and through the woods, we met Toribio. Rotund and animated, Toribio must be a lot of fun, I imagined, if I could understand him at all. His slang-laced Spanish, slurred out of the side of his mouth at light speed, had me cross eyed and confused. So why bother with this character? He said he had two more horses – just enough to round out our growing herd. With promises that they were “bien mansos” and “acostumbrados a la cordillera” (relaxed and used to the rugged trails we of the mountain range we would be in), we set to negotiating and eventually, slowly, and borderline painfully, struck up a deal.
Nevermind that Toribio would stand us up due to drinking himself into a useless, bumbling stupor, within a few days we finally managed to pull together the herd of our dreams. To say the least, Chilean horses have set the bar for being well-trained, responsive and gorgeous animals. It seems they need to be, for the terrain and trails around here have menacing reputations. Steep, rocky and muddy, we’ve been warned more than a few times that they can claim the lives of our animal companions.
But that’s for another post. For now we sort gear, pack bags and plan our route. After over two weeks in Chile, we are backcountry bound in 12 hours. Wish us luck.