From the desert to the mountains!
After a short stint in Santiago, we hopped on a plane to the end of the world, and drove for four hours to the most spectacular mountains I have ever seen: the Torres del Paine in Patagonia.
We stayed at the Tierra Patagonia, which was very like its sister resort the Tierra Atacama in that it borrowed from the local environment for its materials. As a result, the hotel blended so perfectly with the landscape that you could barely see it until you pulled into the winding driveway. But enough about the hotel: look at the mountains! We spent five incredible days hiking, climbing, and riding through the three towers.
The most beautiful part of the trip was a 12-mile hike up to the base of the iconic peaks, aptly named the “Base of the Towers.” The climb was so temperamental: one minute, we were peeling off clothing down to our tank tops, and the next we were wearing three coats: one to wick, one to warm, and one to keep us waterproof. At the summit, the rocks melted into a milky turquoise pool of glacier water. We found shelter between the rocks and enjoyed an impromptu picnic that our guide had thoughtfully packed for us. Nothing is as satisfying as hot soup, hard bread, and sharp cheese after you’ve spent the day climbing!
The animals were so sweet. We made friends with the local lambs (all six million of them) after a long horseback ride where we wove our way through the huge flocks. Sheep are surprisingly loud, and surprisingly social. I feel in love with this sweet little lambie:
He came right up to our window, and when I pressed my hand against the glass, he pushed his nose into it from the other side. R swore off lamb then and there, and hasn’t touched it since. We did our best to leave the mountains how we had found them, but the mountains changed both of us forever.
It is so easy to get caught up in the grit of the every day routine: school, work, exercise, chores… The list is comfortable one, but it comes at a price: the routine has a voracious appetite for time that turns days into months and months into years. That is one of the reasons why I started writing this blog, and the more-thorough book that this blog is named after; as a means of celebrating the pearls in life that are too easily buried in the sand.
There are times, though, when life throws you an experience that is so breathtaking, so life-changing that you can’t help but be completely —if disbelievingly— present. Horseback riding through the Atacama was one of those.
I grew up horseback riding, and I’ve missed it terribly during the last two years. (Living in London and in Boston, both without cars, make logistics a little complicated.) I’m sure you understand why I was so excited that I could barely do up my chaps! When our guide led us to the stable and the neat procession of tiny horses, I couldn’t do anything but toddle towards my gelding like an ecstatic 3-year-old.
The Chilean saddles are so cool: a blend of English and Western, so for the your horsey folk, like a smaller western saddle without the big pommel. You neck rein, too, which was a treat for my English pinkies ^~ The tack was rugged, but by far the most comfortable thing I’d ever ridden with, and we certainly put it to the test. Our guide led us across the desert, between barren, rocky canyons, and finally up and onto the enormous sand dunes of the Atacama.
We rode through Moon Valley, aptly named because the rocky, barren surface resembles nothing you could find on Earth.
At the end of the trip, as our guide and I walked home after one last canter, he offered to let me stay with him to work with his horses and learn how to gallop through the dunes. My heart seized on the whimsical idea, but I had to delay in favour of the other adventures I have planned for the next few years: a master’s degree, a new language to learn, a wonderful boyfriend to share it all with…
But keep my saddle ready and my horse rested and fed. I’ll be back someday.