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Great Adventures: Tschiffely’s Ride

Pat Kinsella tracks the hoofsteps of Aimé Tschiffely and his horses during an extraordinary equine adventure across the Americas

THE LONE RANGER

10,000 miles in the saddle

Tschi ely’s horse, Gato, is led across an awe-inspiring chasm in Peru. This rope bridge swayed so much that nervous travellers were often blindfolded, strapped on a stretcher and carried across by the locals
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF BASHA O’REILLY, EXECUTRIX, THE TSCHIFFELY LITERARY ESTATE

“Dante’s Inferno is a creation of stupendous imagination, but the Peruvian deserts are real; very real”

Aimé Tschi ely on his voyage across South America

On St George’s Day 1925, a 30-year-old Swiss schoolteacher headed off on a horseback journey from Argentina. It would take him 10,000 miles across two continents, dodging snakes, crocodiles, revolutions, knife-wielding villains, vampire bats, bandits and outbreaks of bubonic plague en route.

Aimé Tschiffely began from Buenos Aires with a dog and a brace of barely broken-in Argentine Criollo horses, Mancha and Gato – descendants of the fine Spanish horses that arrived in 16th-century South America with the conquistadors.

The dog didn’t make it much beyond the city limits before being booted by moody Mancha, suffering a busted collarbone and forcing Tschi ely to turn back and find a friend to look after his hound. He wouldn’t return to pick it up for three years, in the meantime achieving a feat of equine endurance that to this day remains unequalled.

Most explorers of his era would have shot the injured dog, instead of inconveniencing themselves at the very outset of such an epic quest. But the mild-mannered school master had a fondness for animals – and a deep dislike of cruelty towards them – that would manifest itself many times during his journey. However, he wasn’t squeamish about using his weapons – including, on one occasion, against a drunk who attacked him with a machete.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

This is the December 2017 issue of History Revealed.