We’d learned about Campesano, a horseback riding company nearby, from a couple who was also on their honeymoon (the same one that decided NOT to go into La Sebastiana after hiking all the way up there because “it was 6000 pesos”— about $8-9! I should have known something was up). They’d done a 1/2 day trip and had nothing but great feedback so in our search for a horseback riding excursion, they were top of mind. It didn’t hurt that their prices were considerably cheaper than most other horseback riding companies, and it has a 5 star rating on Tripadvisor.
I saw a two-day option on their website listed as “2 days horseback riding and sleeping in the mountains,” which was pretty much exactly what we got.
I have to say, setting up the excursion with Kai, the owner, was easy enough. He was very quick to respond, since we had been tentative up until the very day before due to us being sick. Usually they only do this particular excursion with four or more, he said, so Jon and I were grateful to be able to do this with just the two of us. In a few hours he contacted one of his local guides and confirmed our ride, so I hightailed it to the bus station to purchase round trip tickets for the 1.5-2 hour bus ride from Santiago to Villa Alemana, a small town just outside Valparaíso.
Pullman and Turbus are the biggest bus companies over here, and we ended up using Turbus on the way there and Pullman on the way back for the cheapest tickets. Somehow both legs of the journey were on sale, and our roundtrip cost for 2 was 14,500 CLP ($21-22 USD).
At 7am-ish Saturday morning we were on our way to Villa Alemana. Kai picked us up where the bus dropped us off, at parada 2 (bus stop 2). Apparently you can get dropped off at any bus stop along the route to the bus terminal.
We went to his ranch and ate ham and cheese sandwiches while waiting to meet our guide and the horses. We’d consolidated our pjs, changes of clothes, and other things we’d packed into one backpack which Kai said he’d bring to us in the evening when we had dinner.
This was really only my second time riding a horse in my life, the first being an hour ride in Griffith Park.
Kai asked whether we wanted a hat or a helmet (can’t do both I suppose), gave us leather shin guards, and then took us to the saddled horses. He explained how to move the reigns left or right to direct the horse, or pull them all the way back towards the saddle to stop him. “It’s like a joystick,” he said, and he wasn’t wrong.
We rode by the nearby ranch houses and followed our guide, Carlos, to the hills. He let us set the pace, and unlike in the US, we could run with the horses!
Carlos was a real Chilean cowboy, or arriero. He owns 12 cattle that roam the nearby hills and anytime he wants to capture a cow, he has to come up, find it in this big hilly area, and lasso it. This can take anywhere from half an hour to half a day, he said.
The cattle here are different than the ones in the plains. “Son bravas” he said, “fierce.” Just about a year ago one of them charged at him, causing him to fall down the side of a hill and hit his back on an angled tree stump, breaking his scapula.
We climbed up and up, following tiny trails that didn’t look like much to the outsider. I was thankful to have brought a large sweatshirt to stuff inside my windbreaker, this gave me a bit more protection from the many, many needles and brambles we rode through.
There were some extremely steep parts to the ride, where the tiny narrow path would drop off quite vertically on one side, but the horses were surefooted and steady as we were riding. They were Chilean horses, according to Carlos, and used to long rides in the terrain.
We stopped to rest the horses and to take a lunch break which consisted of another sandwich, hardboiled egg, an apple and canteens of water.
We rode through an area called Quebrada Escobares, with hills ranging from 200-500 meters. Once we got to the hillcrest, we rode along for at least 3 hours before the descent to camp.
Once we got to camp, we dismounted, and Carlos took care of de-saddling the horses and chopping wood for the night’s fire. We saw the stones set up for a campfire and ashes from previous fires, but there were no chairs, rocks, logs, or anything to sit on besides the floor, which had cow patties everywhere, along with fresh horse poo from the very horses we’d ridden there. So we waited for Kai to show up with supplies. We’d ridden in a half heart shape and camp was about an hour’s ride from the ranch. It turns out this was Carlos’ first time working with Kai on a two day tour too.
Carlos handled it well, showing us some interesting trees, one that has a bark that’s been historically used for soaps and shampoos (it had a very interesting floral scent in the cut branches and leaves). Another with spiny branches, he showed us, makes the best coal fire wood. Yep, those spines are serious business—we’d felt their wrath riding through their brambles earlier.
Carlos got a roaring fire started, which was especially nice since we ended up standing for 3+ hours before Kai and his stable hand Alejandro arrived. He and Alejandro unpacked themselves, placing our camping equipment on the poopy ground (the sleeping bags got wet, presumably from crossing a bit of water on horseback). We started to set up our tent before the sun set and waited while dinner cooked.
Dinner consisted of sausage appetizers, grilled tomato, zucchini, and slice from a roast. I won’t go into details of the preparation for those of you that are squeamish about mediocre food preparation (but know it wasn’t very sanitary).
Kai and Alejandro rode back to the camp in the dark (“I could ride with my eyes closed,” says Kai about the horses knowing the way back). I asked Carlos about the horses night vision and he assured me they have great hearing and an excellent sense of smell.
We enjoyed the night sky and then tucked ourselves in to sleep for the night.
Sadly, Kai had forgotten our backpack when he visited camp the night before, so no changes of clothes for us (or hand sanitizer).
The views on our ride the second day were even more spectacular. We saw more cows and even horses grazing the hillsides.
We learned that if one of the horses breaks into a run, the others will follow suit. They are pack animals after all. Carlos had some fun with us, running his horse unexpectedly a few times.
Carlos also showed us the round stone ovens where wood coal used to be made. He said they’d fill up the oven with wood (the one with all the brambles), would light it from a small hole on top, and once it would start to smoke, seal up all the openings to ensure the coals were made properly. If left unsealed, all the wood would turn to ash. He said that while no one uses it for wood coal anymore, sometimes people use it for shelter if they get stuck up here in the rain. When I looked inside, I saw a pretty large spider (tarantula, I think)…and was even happier that it was nice and sunny out.
On our way back to the ranch, we found a few horses that belonged to someone else. They were grazing and wandering the area and ended up following us for a bit. They got close enough to my horse to elicit a swift kick! I hardly felt anything while riding, but must’ve hurt enough to keep the other horse away.
Once we got near the ranch my horse got excited and stopped in front of the fence where his fellow horses were, knowing full well our time together had come to an end. Carlos let us take as many last laps around the arena before we dismounted.
As part of the tour, we got the photos Carlos took of us on horseback sent to us by Dropbox link—a wonderful addition to the memories of the ride.
If I were to rate Campesano on the 2 day ride, I’d give 5 stars for Carlos the guide and the horses but 3 stars for the trip organization.
While we were happy we made the trip out for the excursion, especially on such a short notice, a closer eye on the details for the camping portion and trip organization could have helped make it even more enjoyable. Campesano’s website advertised about 10 hours of riding between the two days, but I’m pretty sure we exceeded that (which was a good thing for us). We had a great time with the actual riding and on the horses and could not have asked for a better guide than Carlos!