With slow travel nearly forgotten, explorers nowadays are finding its importance in re-connecting them to elements often missed by journeying at unnatural speeds.
A wild, limitless place, Patagonia is filled with inspiring tales and unaltered truths from the distant past. Gauchos (cowboys) and their families have turned these lands and estancias (ranches) for generations. My mission for this trip is to discover, document and share these undying formalities during my solo journey covering over 1,000 miles by horseback, with my dog Darcie.
While many travelers, bikers and explorers are confined by marked routes or pavement, Patagonia offers one by horseback an exclusive path, that blazed only by the explorer himself. So there is no specific route or trail I will be riding. Even the most desolate areas of Patagonia are quilted with estancia fences. Traveling as a gaucha, working and staying with local gauchos along the way, and speaking the language will allow me to pass through fences, estancias and areas others cannot.
In a land that refuses to be explored by any other means, traditional horse-packing across Patagonia provides a traveler the chance to step back in time while exploring the culture and rugged, unforgiving landscape of one of the last untouched places on earth.
A gaucho without a horse is said to be a man without legs. My expedition will include two Criollos, Argentina’s national horse breed, which were the first horses introduced to Argentina. In 1540 Spanish explorers abandoned them on their brisk exit of the country. Less than 50 horses remained in Argentina. Even with dwindling resources, the Criollo would evolve into one of the hardiest horse breeds in the world, capable of surviving nearly any extreme. In 1925, a 30 year old Swiss man named Tschiffely rode two Criollos from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Washington DC. Both in endurance and stamina, the Criollo breed is unmatched.
“The word 'Patagonia', like Mandalay or Timbuctoo, has lodged itself in our imagination as a metaphor for The Ultimate, the point beyond which one could not go.” —Bruce Chatwin
The Trail Not Taken
Patagone will inspire those who enjoy slow-paced, traditional travel, while respecting and understanding the local culture. The name “Patagonia” is known by many. Pata, which means foot, paw or hoof; “Patagone” denotes going by foot, or in my case, all three.
“Nomadic and colourful horsemen and cowboys have wandered the prairies as early as the 1700s, when wild Cimarron cattle overpopulated the flatlands. In the 18th century, when leather was in high demand, Gauchos arose to clandestinely hunt the huge herds of horses and cattle.
The word ‘Gaucho’ was used to describe the free spirits, inseparable from their horse and knife. Over time, when extensive portions of prairies were settled and commercial cattle began, there was less room for the Gauchos to roam. As their way of living changed, the legend of the Gaucho grew.”- Jimmy Nelson
Carol Jones is considered “the granddaughter of Patagonia”. Her grandfather, Jarred Jones, was the first to settle here in Bariloche, as the Jones family name stretches across the Andes and prairies to the south. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid followed suit and became close friends with Jones’ grandfather.
“Camping out in the mountains, we fell asleep to the sound of the tucu tucus, small burrowing animals hammering away in the ground underneath us. Sitting by the campfire in the valley when the southern full moon slipped over the ridge, Mrs Wangford saw it upside down for the first time. The landscape was spellbinding. No wonder Jarred came here. No wonder Butch Cassidy settled down the road in Cholila. It was the ride of a lifetime,” Hank Wangford says in overwhelming wonderment documented in The Guardian’s article during his visit with Jones.
Patagonia is impossible to tame, but the Jones family has perfected the art of running the wild. The Jones family holds many of Butch and Sundance’s Patagonian secrets. I will have the unique opportunity to document their landmarks and stories as I come across them on the trail. It is an honor to work alongside Carol and help continue the Jones family legacy.
As a former West Texas rodeo kid, it’s safe to say that I’ve spent more days with horses in my life than without. I’ve had the pleasure of guiding backcountry horse trips both in Alaska and Minnesota. Upon arriving in Patagonia on my first solo journey, I was met with Patagonian gaucha legend Carol Jones, who quickly took me under her wing as I was eager to learn all I could from the way of the gaucho.
Gaucha Carol Jones by Erik Ljung
About the Adventurer
After growing up in the woods of Oregon and the deserts of Texas, the stunning wilderness of Patagonia has become my dwelling place. As much as I love my new home, though, I’ll always have the desire to step off an airplane and immerse myself in new cultures and places. So far, I've traveled to 49 states in the U.S. while living out of my van with my dog, Darcie, who will also accompany me on the Patagone Expedition. Some of the country’s most beautiful places, from the glistening rocks and waters of Yosemite to the mountainous horizons in Colorado, are held securely in the corners of my mind and heart.
Of all my adventures, my solo travels through South America to the southern tip of Patagonia remain a top favorite. Having fallen in love with the vast, wild land that is Patagonia, I never left.
Drawing from all of these amazing experiences, I am inspired to create innovative content for others through articles, photographs, and gear testing. I seek to marry my free spirit with freelance work in every way possible. My main goal in everything I do is to live wholly and passionately, devoting myself to new places and helping clients achieve their most ambitious marketing and strategic communication goals with creativity, excitement, and an unbridled spirit filled with life and adventure.