Caballadas

Paradise Lost and rediscovered

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Cheeky and I had had found ourselves in Argentina on this occasion, we had been invited by local Argentinian Agustina Lagos Mármol to experience something wonderful in deepest darkest South America. We flew from the cosmopolitan Buenos Aires all the way down south to Neuquén, the largest city in Patagonia. From here we had a three hour drive that would take us through Northern Patagonia following along the Alumine river basin. The landscape evolved in front our eyes from barren, arid plateaus through to subtropical forests, dramatic mountains and vast landscapes indicative of the Northern Andes. Eventually we reached the Quillen River Valley, where we followed the river west towards the Chilean border until we entered the Private Estancia of family Lagos Mármol.

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The Story goes that attorney Don Juan Lagos Mármol was in the region investigating irregularities at the local justice department and to cut a long story short he fell in love with the area; when the opportunity arose to buy land, he took fate by the horns and in 1908 he moved his family to the estancia. The rest is as they say history, five generations later his descendants are still here in one of the greatest wildernesses on earth. Agustina along with her sister Isabel and husband Santiago plus the rest of the family have opened the Estancia up to adventurers hungry for once in a lifetime experiences, and by golly that is what we were about to have… an experience that we will never forget.

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We entered the Estancia and climbed our way up to the timber lodge, sitting amongst the trees on a hill overlooking the Rio Quillen just north Lanín National Park. With a warm welcome we made our way into the traditional cabin and through to the main lounge area at which point everyone’s jaws dropped! The views were spectacular. Through the giant panoramic windows or from the terrace was the type of landscape that no words in any language can describe. What lay in front of us was a vast unspoilt wilderness, almost fake in it’s perfection one felt like one had travelled back in time and discovered the garden of Eden itself. Valley, forest, mountains and river continued on for as far as the human eye could see; so rich and detailed was the landscape that one could just sit, with an empty mind and watch as the light changes from day to night and some of the brightest stars light up the darkest skies that one will ever experienced. Medicine for the soul indeed.

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Over the next four days we were to lead what one can only describe as a perfect existence. Caballadas has 60 horses that roam free through the 60,000 acre estancia; a mix of local breeds with Anglo-Norman, Criollos and polo ponies, the horses of Caballadas something to behold. Generally small in stature, but vast in bravery these horses are bomb proof and more surefooted than a mountain goat. They are spirited animals who love to venture out and we got to experience several of the horses with their various characters from some who were eager to be up front at all times to others who were steady, solid steeds. All were happy to ride over anything we threw at them from overgrown forests, through flowing rivers and up and down some of the steepest mountain terrain; man has never managed to build an all terrain vehicle to match these wonderful beasts. Thanks to Santiago, an international Polo player, along with his team of gauchos who live and breath alongside the horses and seem to have a supernatural understanding with the horses, these horses performed with flying colours.

The weather gods smiled on us as we ventured out each day in Argentina’s spring time November. After a hearty breakfast we would stroll down to the horses where we would saddle up and ride out. We explored much of the local terrain, from thick forest to barren mountain slopes and open planes. Around midday we would stop for several hours whilst the Caballadas team would prepare a vast picnic in the shape of a barbeque with the finest Argentinian cuts of beef and various local meats. The food and wine was endless and we would gladly eat and drink our fill each time. Nothing beats the taste of fine food cooked over an open fire in the wild; at this Isabel and her team were true masters. Lunch was usually a long relaxing affair, with the chance for a traditional siesta, an invigorating dip in the bracing waters or speed boat tour of Lago Quillen or to simply sit around drinking fine local wines with friends whilst regaling stories and previous adventures.

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On one particular occasion we were lucky enough to be invited to help the Gauchos round up the steers to deal with any that had longs horns that might damage other members in the herd. This is one experience that we will never forget. Riding out over the last few days we had built friendships with our fellow travellers; and now we were working together as a team, moving in a harmonious line with the gauchos we drove the steers through gates and several fields, driving them closer and closer to the paddock where they would be sorted and dehorned if required. This way of life has been protected and preserved for generations, to be part of this for just one morning really was something quite enchanting. Working in synchrony with animals like the horses and the wonderful dogs of Gauchos made for a memory that I will take to grave with me. A special mention goes out to old Poncho the dog who was always by our side despite his old age and arthritic joints. Riding out daily with us, Poncho would howl with joy as we embarked and when we finally returned home at the end of the day; suffice to say his enthusiasm for life and loyal partnership touched all of our hearts and he became a bit of a mascot to us all.

At the end of each day, we would return back the lodge, which had become a home to us all;  with aching legs and posteriors we would sit down and reap in the views whilst sipping on G&Ts and snacking on fine appetizer. How can it get any better than this? Well, four course dinner and fine wine from the fabulous kitchens of Caballadas of course. Each evening we would gather around the large round dining table; eat, drink and be merry… My legs may have received a work out during the day, but my abdominals and cheeks received a work out way beyond compare with the laughter and frivolities. When we finally had to disembark the Estancia it was a sad day, one felt like a wonderful dream had come to an end sadly. Agustina, Isabel, Santiago and family have created the most amazing experience down here in the furthest reaches of Patagonia. These four days I will never forget and I look forward to the day when I- Adam, can step back into the Garden of Eden.

Caballadas offers riding trips from November to mid-December, and March to mid April. Prices start at $750 per person per night, all inclusive. Optional add-ons are available via Mai 10.

British Airways flies daily from Heathrow to Buenos Aires. Flights start from £701 return, including all taxes and charges and can be booked online.

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