The Wild Bunch Ranch in Argentina
The Wild Bunch ranch still stands, wind-blown and weather-beaten, amid a grove of willow trees alongside the Río Blanco. The current occupant is Aladín Sepúlveda, who was born there in the early 1920s. Once a recluse, Sepúlveda has grown accustomed to visitors, because the ranch has become a favored destination for horseback riding eco-tourists who come over the Andes from Chile.
Stede has two facilities, Campo Aventura, the base camp three kilometers outside of Cochamó, and an Outback Camp, in the Andean valley of La Junta. "Americans call it the Yosemite of Chile," Stede says of La Junta, "because of the wonderful granite rocks, the pristine rivers, and the canyon setting." He has renovated an old wooden house there, converting it into a bed and breakfast that sleeps nine. The shower water is solar heated.
"We buy almost all of our food, meat, fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables from the farmers and fishermen in the zone," Stede says proudly. And the tasty meals, cooked at the camps by Stede's staff, are washed down with good Chilean wine.
The trans-Andean ride, dubbed "The Butch & Sundance Trail" because its destination is the Wild Bunch ranch, ascends the Andes on an old cattle trail along the Río Manso, a route pioneered by Jesuit missionaries in the early 1700s. Campo Aventura provides horses, camping gear, food and guides. Stede says that "previous horseback riding experience is necessary," but that the trip is worth the effort, because it takes people "into a forgotten world of pure nature far from the tourist track." (For the shorter treks Stede has horses suitable for inexperienced riders.)
Leaving the base camp, the trail winds through thick alerce forests and skirts upland lakes, including the remote, cobalt blue Lago Vidal. Further along is Lago Tagua-Tagua, which riders and horses traverse by boat. The majestic trees at El Arco, the oldest alerce in Chile, spire 155 feet (55 meters) and date back to B.C. 2,000. Before the cutting of live trees were banned in 1976, the alerces (often called the redwoods of the Andes, although they are actually cypresses) had been logged relentlessly to supply the wood for the shingles used in the region's vernacular architecture. Only a few stands, in remote areas like El Arco, still survive.
Accompanied by Chilean huasos (as the local gauchos are known), the riders cross eight rivers before cresting the Andes at the 3,800 foot (1,230 meters) Paso Leon (also called Paso Cochamó). Swampy sections of the trail are corduroyed with logs. Gauchos still drive small herds of cattle along the route, as condors glide overhead and pumas skulk in the brush. On the Argentine side, the riders descend to the hamlet Río Villegas and loop south to the Cholila Valley.
In his 1902 letter, Cassidy mentioned the construction of the Río
Manso road, which was built so that cattle could be driven from Patagonian
estancias to a slaughterhouse in Cochamó. The butchered beef
was sailed up the coast to hungry carnivores in Valparaiso and Santiago,
and the hides and tallow were shipped to Europe. The slaughterhouse
went bankrupt in the 1920s, but the route remained popular with gauchos,
not to mention the occasional rustler or bandit.
Heavy winter rains in the southern Andean forests restrict excursions to the summer season, which runs from November to April. Campo Aventura can be reached via fax at 56-65-23-29-10 or by mail at Campo Aventura, Casilla 5, Cochamó, Prov. Llanquihue, Chile.
T: 202-544-6541 Fax: 202-544-6556 E-mail: email@example.com
Outsider & Campo Aventura Office