I suppose it was a lot of ego (combined with what little remains of my testosterone) that pushed me to make the decision to ride a horse through the Andes Mountains. Or maybe it was the great promotional copy and the photos at www.rideandes.com:
“…ride through a stunningly beautiful, remote area of Northern Patagonia along old smuggler’s routes—crisscrossing rivers, skirting around brilliant blue lakes, riding through ancient forests, stopping off to fish or swim in crystal clear waters… an exclusive journey into hidden valleys through this rural gaucho (South American cowboy) culture, from the Chilean Lake District to an Argentine national park. Enjoy the adventure long after the road has ended in the pristine Patagonian wilderness.”
Wow! It almost sounded like Robert Louis Stevenson was inviting me to visit Treasure Island. So, screwing up my courage, I decided to try to sell my wife Rose on this idea. (She is the one with the common sense in this family.) “Rose, I want our grandchildren to remember their grandfather as a man who, when he was sixty, rode a horse through the Andes from Chile to Argentina.” She looked up from her work and calmly asked, “Have you talked to Ken Ireland at Northwestern Mutual about this?” I answered, “No, why?” She said, “You need to take out more life insurance before you go.”
So with that heartfelt vote of confidence, I did two things:
I sent in my deposit for the horse trek; and
I applied for a substantial increase in my life insurance.
Later, I learned that when my mother heard about my plans to embark on this Andes Mountains crossing, she predicted that I would not come back alive. I chose not to mention her prediction nor my eight-day horse trek on the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance policy application.
Shortly before the horseback ride, I received a letter entitled “Travel Notes: Essentials!” We were advised to pack no more than 32 pounds of gear, and told that the airline would fine us for any overweight luggage. In all caps it stated, “RAIN PONCHOS will be provided. You must bring suitable waterproof trousers and jackets. Be prepared for wet and cold mountainous weather. Bring easy-to-dry clothes.” What?!
I said to Rose, “I’m going in February, but it’s summertime in South America, right?” Rose got on the internet and discovered that even though my horse trip was in the Patagonian summer, it’s still a mighty cool and wet place. In fact, one of the side trips that is offered before the ride is a day trip to the island of Chiloe to see the penguins, seals, and an occasional orca whale. Oops! I did not own any waterproof pants or quick-dry clothes—but I do now!
The weather did start out cold and rainy, but during the actual ride we had sunny skies. Every morning was cool and damp, but by 10:30 a.m. we had peeled down to shirtsleeves.
The trip was truly one of the travel high points of my life! If you would like to read the eight-day itinerary, you can click on this link: Ride the Andes Itinerary. If you would like to view a gallery of our photos from the ride, you can click here to see my photo album.
I highly recommend Sally Vergette and www.rideandes.com and Catherine Berard at Open Travel. I have taken some kind of a progressive horse trek every year since 1985, and this was one of the best ever. If you have questions or just want more information, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Bucket List Adventure: February 27, 2010
My traveling companion, Joaquin Tortos, and I had just ended our eight-day horse trek through the Andes Mountains, so we were sleeping soundly.
But the peaceful night ended at 3:34 a.m. (the middle of the night)… Our world was violently shaking, and all over the city, car alarms screamed that they were being violated. 300 miles away, chaos, death, and destruction devastated central Chile—but where I slept that night, no one died and no buildings collapsed. Joaquin awoke and exclaimed, “That was a BIG earthquake!” Joaquin Tortos is a veteran survivor of disastrous earthquakes. He lives within the shadow of the Turrialba Volcano which recently reignited after a 150-year siesta. His home is Costa Rica, Central America, which, like Chile, is a land of violent earthquakes and active volcanoes.
We were safe, but many miles away in Costa Rica and the United States, our families were deeply concerned that we might have been injured or killed. One of my daughters was worried that I had died, and her husband reassured her with this thought: “Honey, your dad is not dead—but if he is dead… that is the way that he would like to go!” When I heard about his comment, I heartily agreed.
One of my sons took a much more pragmatic approach and checked Google Maps to determine that I was about 300 miles from the epicenter and deduced that I was out of danger. As it turned out, there was extensive destruction throughout a 250-mile radius of the earthquake’s origin.
Although we were uninjured, our travel plans were turned upside down. Chile immediately declared a national emergency and began to ration gasoline and other fuels. All airline flights were cancelled due to the extensive damage in Santiago, the capital city. All domestic flights in Chile are routed through Santiago. The airport was out of operation, and many highways, bridges, and other infrastructure were destroyed. See photos here.
Suddenly, we had a BIG problem! How do you get home when your airline has shut down indefinitely and has cancelled all flights? All telephone lines are jammed with calls and you are a long, long way from home… At first I thought, “Well, if we can’t get home, then we will just make the best of it.” But I was promptly told that since gas was being rationed, there would be no more tours. Fortunately, our horse trek tour organizer, Catherine Berard, and her assistant Susana Uribe worked tirelessly to rescue us and “find us a way out of Dodge.”
Cathy apologized that the airline refused to refund any money due to the loss of our flights and that emergency travel was going to be… “a little expensive.” We assured her that our wives would be oh-so happy to have us back home and that they would forgive this over-spending. Unfortunately, I did not know that my wife had just sent an e-mail which stated, “If you cannot get back… I will just go on without you.”
Nonetheless, we hired a private driver to race through the twists and turns of the Andean passes to try to make the Chile/Argentina border crossing by the closing time of 9:00 p.m. We held our breath while our driver used both lanes to make better time. We reached the Argentinean border guards at exactly 8:53 p.m. and they closed the gates behind us!
Early the next morning we dragged into the offices of AeroLineas Argentina to see if we could get tickets to Buenos Aires, which we could. From there we flew to Panama City, and then to be reunited with our Costa Rican family and my wife, Rose. Whew!
Please help with Chilean disaster relief. Here are two trusted organizations which can help us make people’s lives better:
Habitat for HumanityAmerican Red Cross