Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Galloping on the Beach

Riding horses on the beach has always been a dream of mine. I love horses and have been looking for opportunities to ride in South America, the home of the caballero and the gaucho.

We took a bus to a deserted beach town an hour north of Valpo called Concón where we were instructed to wait for our ride to Ritoque Expediciones. At la hora Chilena (everyone in Chile arrives about 30 minutes late) a small chubby man pulled up in a neon blue sports car with music blasting and a virgin mary hanging from the rearview. I thought, this is no gaucho.

Luckily, he was just the transportation and a few minutes later we pulled into a farm with a beautiful view of dunes and creeks, free roaming horses and humble stables. There we met our guides, Cristian and Jose, and I knew we were in good hands. Cristian was a handsome stout man with full leather chaps over blue jeans and a beret typical of gauchos. Jose also wore chaps but he had a wide brimmed straw hat and on his boots were spurs the size of hockey pucks. Cristian spoke great English and Jose, not a lick. They demonstrated how the Chilean saddle works and told us what to expect from the small, portly Chilean horses. The saddle was comfortable and the reins were made of woven rope ending in a leather strap used for whipping. The stirrups were the most alien of the outfit - wooden clogs that fit half your foot and were typical for the northern region of Chile where riders need protection from brush. They handed us small chaps to fit around the bottom of our legs to protect us from the horse's sweat. Then we mounted our horses. My horse was Pompero which means "of the Pampas" and Clay's horse was nicknamed Killer but only for comic effect.

We left the stables and descended into a beautiful landscape of hills and streams. We crossed several creeks with still white herons and cautiously grazing cows. We climbed the white Ritoque dunes which, once deep within, looked like a never-ending desert. After so many ups and downs on the sand, the horses were soon sweaty. The sun was descending in front of us, casting sharp shadows along the spines of the dunes.

Cristian told us about his nomadic life as a horse trainer and guide; an endless summer moving between companies in North and South America. He grew up on his family's large estancia "Dos de Enero" in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Down there, the philosophy is to break a horse as if you were one of the herd and to treat them like the social roaming creatures they are. Later, he showed us pictures of the estancia on his iPhone complete with hundreds of cattle and horses and the Torres visible from the property. He said he didn't remember the first time he rode a horse; that as soon as he was walking he was riding. He was a true gaucho.

After a short break we were leaving the dunes and descending to the beautiful serene beach. The sun was now setting over the Pacific and only a few fisherman remained. The waves crashed almost in silence as we trotted into the water. Soon we began to gallop and it was exhilarating. Holding onto Pompero, both of us deeply breathing the fresh salty Chilean air, I felt free. Giddy laughter echoed as Clay filmed the gallop- a welcome distraction to the rapidly moving animal beneath him. We galloped parallel to the ocean with the sun warm on our shoulders and the smiles never left our faces. It was perfect and my dream had come true.

1 comment:

Athena said...

So great to hear Clay laugh and Temple smile!
Love you both, Beanie