Travelandleisure.com - Full Article
For passionate equestrians, this region's rugged mountains and lush pampas provide an experience that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. This is the story of what happened when two old friends who'd long promised each other an adventure finally saddled up and went on the ride of their lives.
by Maggie Shipstead
My best friend, Bailey, and I were lying in a tent on a windy Patagonia night, cheerfully cataloguing the parts of our bodies that hurt. A few hours earlier we’d been cantering through golden fields on the third day of a five-day horseback trek through Chile’s Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-nay) National Park. The exhilaration hadn’t faded, but my back wasn’t happy. Nor were the parts of my pelvis that had come into relentless, sometimes percussive contact with the saddle. Also sore? My knees, ankles, quads, inner thighs, trapezius muscles, upper abs, right elbow, and, as a kind of garnish, my pinkie toes, whose circulation had been cut off all day by my socks. Bailey dug through a stuff sack for more ibuprofen. “I guess we know why it’s called Torres del Pain,” she said, pronouncing it like what we were feeling.
Our group consisted of our guide, Armando, a pair of gauchos who tended the horses, a pub owner from Calgary, Alberta, and the two of us. We’d spent the morning riding from our campsite on an estancia to Grey Glacier, inside the park. The journey, across terrain that abounded with flat expanses ideal for galloping, should have taken 2½ hours. But Calgary, as I’ll call her, wanted to stay at a walk because, she claimed, her horse kept tripping.
“You don’t like the horse?” Armando asked.
Calgary grimaced and shook her head. “This one’s a bit of a dog.”
Bailey and I exchanged glances. Never, ever blame the horse.
We plodded for more than four hours through cold wind and spitting rain until we reached the shore of the glacial lake, where we had a damp picnic near the Hotel Lago Grey, an airy lodge connected to blocks of rooms by raised walkways. Electric-blue icebergs floated on the milky water. Calgary had signed up for a boat excursion to Grey Glacier, but since high winds had made its departure uncertain, we retreated to the hotel bar to have a cerveza while we waited. Clouds scudded over the lagoon. Then, after an hour: a miracle. The boats were going, which meant Calgary would catch a lift later with the support truck, and Bailey and I could return to camp with Armando and the gauchos at our own speed. We practically skipped back to our horses.
Set loose, we breezed across the meadows, passing in and out of sun-showers while black-faced ibis took flight around us. A magnificently craggy clump of ice-topped mountains and cloud-snagging granite spires loomed in the near distance. This was the Paine Massif, the centerpiece of Torres del Paine. Its individual rock features are named after things like horns and cathedrals and fortresses and, most saliently, towers, or torres. Paine is a native word for “blue,” as the massif appeared at a distance to the Tehuelche people. According to Armando, they preferred not to approach too closely, spooked by the frequent thunder of avalanches...
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