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Riding through these lands you feel like a definite outsider, this is the territory of condors and eagles in the skies above and guanacos, hares, and the elusive pumas below. Every view begs to be photographed.
I'm getting into a routine now and in the evenings, I return to the hotel, shower, and head to the spa for a sauna, swim and lake plunge before sitting in the hot tub sipping fizz. Life at Explora Patagonia is very civilized. This is a place for lovers of the great outdoors, people who want stripped-back, rustic luxury where the focus is on days in the elements and accommodation that prioritizes good warming food and fabulous views.
The hotel is made from simple natural materials — mainly wood — with an emphasis on looking out through large frame&ndashlike windows. After all, with this view of the Paine Massif you want to make the most of it, and there are even windows in the bathrooms so you won't miss the mountain views when taking a bath or brushing your teeth.
Two days down, and my muscles are feeling tender to say the least, so I decide to indulge in a soothing massage before supper. Whether traveling alone, in a couple or a group, there's a friendly convivial feel at Hotel Salto Chico. Tables merge and conversations overlap as people compare tales of the day whilst they tuck into local beef or trout fillet. Each night the menu has two options for starter and main, and a handful of choices for dessert. They cater very well for allergies and intolerances too.
Riding to the Icebergs
My last full day dawns and the plan is to see the icebergs: Puntilla Pehoé is the name of the ride. Icebergs are, after all, one of the most iconic sights in this part of the world near the bottom of South America, so I'm more than keen to see them. We set off at 9am, heading to the nearby stable block. It's going to be a demanding full-day ride, taking between 6 to 8 hours depending on our speed, and totting up a total of 21 miles. My horse today is called Uyni and he's a beautiful bay creature with constantly perked ears. We set off into the northern part of the pack, climbing rocky paths and soaking in the incredible views over the Paine Massif and Lake Pehoé.
Growing from a dot in the distance, the Grey Glacier draws ever closer which each stride. After a couple of hours, there's a chance to pick up the pace as the rocky paths turn into open grasslands and we canter to a viewpoint over bright blue floating icebergs and the glacier itself in the distance.
This is our view for a picnic lunch, and it's hard to believe the backdrop is real as we tuck into our sandwiches. I find my brain can hardly comprehend the scale of this giant swath of ice as it pours forth from the grey rocks as though petrified in its course.
Reaching that sleepy point after lunch, I'm grateful for the soft saddle as I climb back aboard Uyuni rather than facing a hike home. Retracing our steps, we gallop across the pampas again and return home. Sometimes when hiking, the limitations of one's own body serve as a distraction from the views around. But on this trip, you're free to sit aboard a very well kept steed, soaking in the views and indulging in your own thoughts as the world passes you by. The last day dawns all too soon, and I open my eyes to this incredible lake and mountain view for the last time. No amount of imagination can prepare you for the sense of awe that fills your body when your eyes lie upon the mountains, lakes and grasslands that make up the Torres del Paine National Park.
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it is best explored by spending as much time as possible in the elements. Whilst hiking is both challenging and rewarding, there's something unbeatable about exploring along with Patagonia's own settlers: the gauchos. These horsemen have been herding cattle across the pampas for over a century. Forget trekking along paths passing other travelers, with Explora's equestrian tour you can gallop with the gauchos across the open grasslands, traveling for miles without seeing another soul. As you can imagine, it was with dragging feet that I returned Punta Arenas Airport.
If you go:
Explora's Patagonia equestrian tour is $2,820 to $6,240 for four nights full board, including guides. See our full review of Explora Patagonia and read more about their upscale adventure offerings at www.explora.com
Review and by Gabriel O'Rorke