The dogs had stuck with us since the night before we crossed into Chile. They had come down to the road from an old ranch just as the soft evening sun was sinking behind a mountain. Curious but cautious, they approached slowly to suss whether we would be friendly. We encouraged them closer and their tails started wagging as they ran up to lick us and be petted by us.
We pedalled on for a further mile before pitching camp by a golden field of wild grass. We organised the tent and had a little time to enjoy watching the colours in the sky change through blazing pink, orange, purple and into deep blue.
I expected the dogs – a border collie, about 3, and an old English sheepdog pup, less than 1 – would head off for home after we climbed into the tent for the night. After all, we hadn’t fed them. But they made themselves comfortable just outside the tent door and bedded down in the darkness.
The following morning we wake to hear our new friends whining for our attentions. We unzipped the tent to a double assault of tongues licking our sleepy faces. They seemed to really like us.
The entire morning of riding to the border they stuck close, trotting happily ahead to sniff out the road and doubling back to us again.
‘They’ll surely leave us at the border,” I said to Sophie, confident they would. “They’re smart creatures and know where their home is”.
But a few hours later, our passports stamped with Argentine bureaucracy, we arrived at the Chilean customs and immigration office to find a problem.
“Are these dogs yours?” – the official.
“They joined us from a farm 10 miles back, in Argentina” – us.
“This is a problem. If you don’t have papers for them, they can’t cross. I’ll have to kill them. I don’t want to kill them but I’ll have to.”
Yes, a problem.
I take the dogs back to the Argentine side and speak to the officials there. They take me round the back of the small wooden office block and show me a gated pen with a kennel at the end. They tell me to tie the dogs up.
I do as suggested, ensuring the gate was carefully shut behind me, and head back to the Chilean side, feeling sad at turning my back on these loyal friends who had trusted us so much.
But soon as we were making progress with immigration we heard the patter of paws and look up to see both dogs running up to the door.
A real problem.
I couldn’t imagine having any dog killed unnecessarily, let alone these two who, for whatever reason of their own, appeared to want to be with us. Judging by their excitement – whimpers and wagging tails – they seemed to actually love us.
There was nothing for it – I’d have to ride back to where we had met them the day before and leave them at their house.
I rode fast, keen to return to the border and enjoy the afternoon in Chile. The dogs didn’t tire and kept close.
When we finally reached their farm I approached the house, calling to see if the owner was around. Finding no one, I tried round back. Still nobody. Just wooden pens with hundreds of sheep crammed inside.
I left the dogs and hop back on the bike. They ran out to the road and followed me. I was forced to bring them back to the house and tie them up to a post there. I crumbled a pack of crackers I’d brought along and filled up a couple of bowls with water.
I felt rotten leaving them there, tied on a short lead. At least the land they were on was ideal for them, and they’d love having the sheep to look after. I just hoped the farmer would be returning soon.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks