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7th March
written by Justin

Throughout our trip, Hazel and I have been planning a few bigger trips to mix in with our more everyday low-cost hiking and hosteling adventures.  We’ve been keeping an eye out for a horseback ride that sounded exceptional, as Hazel in particular has wanted to get back on a horse again ever since her accident over two years ago.  Well, it took almost 3 months, but we finally found one in Criollo Expeditions.  They advertise a number of different trips on their website, but one in particular struck our fancy: an overnight trek at the fabulous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

The company turned out to be a family operation.  We called hoping to come to their office to talk about our possible riding options, and were surprised to be invited to the home of Magan and Boris Radich outside Puerto Natales where we got to see one of their herds and chat about riding.  We decided to depart in two days (Monday the 28th) and raced home to prepare for the other impending adventure – the 5 days of hiking in Torres del Paine known as the “W”.  I’ll talk about that in another post!

Monday morning arrived and Boris pulled up (right to our fabulous hostel “The Singing Lamb“) in his 4×4 truck with our box lunches and a happy greeting.  It was really wonderful that Boris drove us to the park, since he was able to point out the owls, eagles, foxes, guanacos (Patagonian llamas), ñandu (Patagonian ostriches, also known as Rhea), and caracaras that we saw.  This was just on the trip to the park!  We couldn’t believe how much we saw, besides the normal sheep and horses you might expect in a wide open landscape like the one that leads to the mountains.  Boris was raised in nearby mountains at a remote ranch and he knew all sorts of information relating to the history, flora and fauna, and geography of the entire region.

We picked a couple of fairly cloudy days to go riding, which turned out to be a blessing and a curse.  A blessing, because we weren’t burned to a crisp by the really stark sunlight that shines through the region’s hole in the ozone layer, and because the wildlife comes out to play more when it’s cooler.  On the ride home from the park, we didn’t see nearly as much wildlife (though a border collie herding some sheep provided a great deal of entertainment!).  Our first sight of the park was obscured by the clouds, but we were able to see Lago Sarmiento, a lake whose water is so full of minerals that white calcium deposits on the edges of the lake form interesting structures.  It’s also a huge lake, being some 33km long and 300m deep.


Lago Sarmiento

Then we got closer to our destination, and saw Laguna Amarga, a beautiful green salt lake near where we’ll be riding out from.  To our surprise, there were flamingos grazing in the lake!  Hazel and I were blown away – we never expected to see flamingos in the middle of nowhere, Patagonia, but there they are, acting like they own the place!  We’re starting to figure out that this will be a special expedition.



Not long afterwards, we arrived at Refugio Laguna Amarga, where we’ll be departing from both days, where our tent will be set up, and where the other herd of 6 horses that Magan and Boris keep are located.  Boris went out to the pasture to catch the horses that we’ll be riding, and comes back with three horses (did I mention that there were no other people on this tour? How special!).  His was a bay named Panda, the largest of the lot, and the most recently tamed (get back to that later).  Hazel’s was Havasu, a reddish horse whose coloration term I forget :) and mine was Grizzly, another bay horse.  Mine was the smallest of the lot, but he was enough of a horse for a beginner like me.

We're On A Horse

We're On A Horse

After we got saddled up, we started straight up a hill!  I managed to remember to lean forward to help the horse, and together we scrambled up the sparse slope.  The vistas were amazing despite the fact that clouds obscured the mountains of the park.  As we walked we learned about the wildlife.  Guanacos were everywhere, and we saw where they roll in the dirt, where they all poo in giant piles, and where the unlucky ones were brought down by pumas.  I’ve never walked across land with so many bare carcasses littered about!  The horses didn’t mind, and just walked where you pointed them, whether or not they had to crunch some guanaco bones to get there.  It was spooky seeing the results of the combined efforts of the pumas and condors – bleached white rib cages with not a speck of flesh remaining.  Unlike in California, condors are quite common in the high mountainous areas of Patagonia, and we saw a few several times during the week we were at the park.  Like California, however, it is fairly rare to see a puma in the wild, since their camouflage is so effective and their primary hunting time is in the small hours of the morning.

Lunch Cave

Lunch Cave

We stopped for lunch in a cave that was used by natives before the Europeans came in and conquered everything around here.  There were even a few lithographs!  Nothing spectacular, but definitely unexpected.  This is not your average trail ride.  Apparently there were other lithographs with recognizable images of guanacos and condors – but those were destroyed by a recent fire caused by a moronic backpacker who didn’t take care of the pointy end of his or her stove.

The mention of that fire gave Boris a chance to reveal a little bit about himself.  He is a man who is completely self-sufficient in this area of the world.  This fire actually trapped him and a group on a ride between it and the icy Rio Paine.  Boris managed to find a boat and carry the passengers to safety while driving the horses across the river.  A brave feat!  But there is more. Boris also told us about how he catches wild horses himself in order to expand his herd.  He is able to catch, tame and ride a wild horse in 4 hours.  I couldn’t believe it, and thought that there must be an error in translating between Spanish and English, but as we rode on it became clear that he actually did mean catch a wild horse.  This stuff just doesn’t happen in the US!  He also told us how to make bread in the campfire by making an oven out of two holes in the ground.


Boris and Panda

We had a really nice box lunch with sandwiches, fruit, chips, chocolate, more chocolate, coffee tea and juice.  We definitely didn’t go hungry on this trip!

After lunch we started looping back.  Along the way we startled a wild bull (who didn’t appear to have horns and mostly just ran away) (by the way Boris has caught a wild bull for dinner before).  The best part was when we walked through a huge herd of guanaco.  It seemed to just go on and on!  There were many family groups of 6 or so llamas, including month-old youngsters trying to get their parents to play and frolick with them.  This is also when we discovered the really strange bleat that a guanaco makes.  I don’t know if it’s on the internet but if you find it, do post it in a comment!  It’s really an unusual sound!


A few Guanacos

We arrived back at the camp, tired and happy, where a full dinner of soup, Chilean “Canneloni” which turned out to be sort of a burrito whose tortilla is a crepe with pasta sauce on top.  An unusual but delicious combination.  Of course there was also a delicious postre to finish it all off.  After dinner, the Torres finally revealed themselves through the cloud and we went to bed really happy campers.

Torres del Paine

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Day 2 Coming Soon!


  1. 07/03/2011

    This youtube video shows a guanaco in captivity who talks a lot:

    Sounds like a great adventure! I’m totally in awe of your trip and your enthusiasm for travel and the unknown!

    Keep the posts coming!

  2. Justin

    Thanks for the vid! They really are wacky creatures.

  3. 08/03/2011

    What an adventure – and this is only day 1!…. Love reading about it all and seeing your pictures.

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