For our fourth and final day at Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, we opted for the all-day horseback ride through the Enchanted Valley to Campamento Serón, a distance of 12 km each way for a total of a little more than 15 miles roundtrip.
Once again, we were lucky to find ourselves as the only adventurers on the excursion (it seemed that the more difficult excursions are not heavily attended, whereas the all-day, sitting-in-the-van Full Paine tour was so popular that the hotel had to provide a second van the day we went in order to accommodate everyone that wanted to go).
We started from the pesebrera and corral where we had been cowboys for a day.
Our guide was Eduardo, a native of Punta Arenas, of Croatian descent. Sergio and Paola also had Croatian grandparents and the owners of the hotel are Croatian, too. One of the stories I heard was that there had been a shipwreck in the early 1900s near Punta Arenas and the Croatian crew intermarried with the local population and stayed, calling for their relatives to come join them in Patagonia from Croatia (known until the 1980s as Yugoslavia) when WWI broke out in the Balkans several years later.
We started slowly with the horses walking uphill, through the area where we had picnicked two days before with Sergio and Paola.
After a while, we heard hikers coming up behind us at a very quick pace, loaded with tall packs that they made look weightless. To our amazement, they passed us. There were about 8 or 10 of them and Eduardo explained to us that they were porters, carrying the tents, cookware and supplies for a group of tourists that were hiking the “O” – a 93 km, 7-day hike around the Paine Massif.
There go the last of the porters, passing us.
After a while, the ground leveled off, then descended into the Enchanted Valley, following the Rio Paine.
Now on level ground, the horses began to trot, occasionally speeding up and galloping for short distances. Galloping was a new experience for Dale and when we stopped for a break, she asked Eduardo (who had only been riding horses for two years) if he was scared to gallop when he first started to ride.
Eduardo said, “Yes, but you just have to remember a few important things when you start to fall.”
“What!?!” said Dale, “you fell?”
“Of course,” replied Eduardo, “10 or 11 times. But if you remember to pull your feet out of the stirrups and jump when you start to fall, it doesn’t hurt so much.”
Needless to say, we didn’t gallop anymore, but with trotting and walking the horses, we made it to our destination, Campamento Serón, in about 3 hours.
Campamentos and Refugios are designated campsites and backpacker facilities along the “O” where minimal services are provided. Campamento Serón – indeed the entire trail we had ridden – was on the private property of the owners of Hotel Las Torres Patagonia. Here’s Campamento Serón:
It had started to rain as we neared Campamento Serón where we had intended to have a picnic. Fortunately, Eduardo was friends with the couple that were manning the place and he got us an invitation inside where, just as we sat down, the porters that had passed us showed up (they had taken a different path).
Some of the porters spoke English and the senior porter explained to us their arrangement with the hikers, in this case, a group of Australians.
By law, the porters cannot carry more than 25 kilos, about 55 lbs., but on this trip they were only carrying about 15 kilos each, about 33 lbs. Still, we were amazed at the speed at which they hiked carrying such a load; at one point we had seen them jogging!
The rain slowed as we finished lunch and unhitched the horses.
But, the air had turned cold, so we put on every layer of clothing we had brought before starting on our way back. Dale, unfortunately, had lost one of her gloves on the ride to Campamento Serón when her backpack opened up, spilling its contents on the trail, so she had to contend with a cold hand for almost the entire 3-hour ride back (we found her lost glove on the trail at the end of the ride).
After a while, the clouds parted and the sun came back out; it turned into a beautiful day.
As we neared home, we can to a narrow pass, but when we started to make our way through, Eduardo’s horse refused to go, so we had to detour up and over the adjacent ridge.
At the top of the ridge, we could see Hotel Las Torres Patagonia off in the distance, but no defined trail to the bottom.
However, the horses were anxious to get home and they found a way down the hill…
…and back to the corral, where the horses were happy and we were too, glad to be out of the saddle.
Six hours is a long time to be on a horse!