Turbans would surely have completed the look as we cantered up the sand dunes of Ritoque, in the spirit of Lawrence of Arabia or some other influential desert icon.
Photo by Charlie Mountford
We were part of a group of thirty-odd intrepid riders being led by the experienced huasos (Chilean cowboys) of Ritoque Expeditions, on a trek that would take us across mountainous sand dunes and back again along the crashing surf of the beach on our hardy Chilean ponies, all by the light of the full moon.
The jovial huasos in their ponchos and flat Chilean hats herded the slower riders over the high sand hills, while those with the need for speed raced ahead. Every so often the horses bent occasionally to crunch upon thyme growing in the sand, sending up a wild perfume.
Ritoque, though not actually a desert, is an impressive span of towering dunes that separate land from ocean just north of Concon and Viña Del Mar, in the central costal region of Chile. The nocturnal adventure across this mini wilderness happens once a month on the full moon, run by Ritoque Expeditions and organized by María Elena Rodríguez.
María Elena’s young daughter helps too, riding along beside her mother on her lively pony. The eight year old fearlessly gallops and swerves, even standing fully upright, balancing on the saddle as her horse walks on unphased.
About half way through the ride, just when weariness is setting in and saddles are getting sore, there was a glimmering light in the distance. Sheltered between the dunes, beneath an oasis of trees was an already roaring fogata (campfire), snacks and copete (liquor) galore,
all of which were to be enjoyed with the soothing sounds of authentic Chilean live music.
After a few full glasses of wine around the campfire, the complicated task of locating your horse midst the many braying beasts tied up to the trees in the blackness began. The brightness of the moon failed to penetrate the canopy, and each caballo (horse) looked uncannily similar in the gloom. After several minutes lost in the dark, futilely calling out horses’ names, groping for saddles, the huasos intervened and all were again seated on their steeds and the party set off into the night, in search of waves and wide open space in which to really let loose.
With renewed gusto and horses eager to head for home, we embarked on a truly unforgettable gallop along the wet sands of
Ritoque beach, some riders entering the surf while others raced alongside each other in a bid to see who had the fastest steed.
The best thing about Full Moon Cabalgata is the organic, family-feel to the whole thing, with the organizers and guides genuinely enjoying the trip as much as the new recruits. Not only that, it also seems an undiscovered gem of an experience with the group mainly comprising of Chileans and not so many Gringos.
The night sparked a confidence in even the most timid riders among us, as we crashed through deep waters, sometimes up to our horses' bellies, to get back to the stables. The sense of freedom and adventure was huge, considering the round trip had been only five hours long -it felt like we’d been riding over dark sands like wild desert nomads all our lives.
Cost: CP$25,000 per person for the 5 hour trip including drinks and snacks
When: Friday or Sat closest to the full moon
Full schedule available here: http://www.ritoqueexpediciones.cl