Today we were instructed to “meet at the south door of the cathedral at 9:00am”. We arrived and found Carol Jones and Luca waiting in this beauty:
We were off on an adventure. Carol is an Argentine, by way of a Texan cowboy grandfather who moved here to herd cows over the Andes. She’s probably in her 60s and totally bad-ass. Luca has curly hair like David’s and was pretty quiet, clearly preferring Spanish over English, but very kind and funny.
Carol drove us about 20 kilometers outside of the city of Bariloche in northern Patagonia before doing some serious off roading in that beast of a jeep. I’m not talking unpaved roads; I’m talking making roads across a plain as you go.
The first order of the day was to round up horses for us to ride. On most ranches that would involve walking out to the stables, but not here. Carol’s twenty four horses roam free over a huge estancia (ranch).
Luca and Campero headed out into the the scrub grasses and forest to find the horses. After about five minutes we could hear Luca whistling to them. Another ten minutes later and the unmistakeable sound of whinying and hooves could be heard.
As the first few horses appeared out of the forest, Campero shot out of the bushes like a black and white lighting bolt running first ahead and then behind to keep the animals together. A dozen horses came galloping up to the corral, their hooves pounding the earth, while Luca whistled to them and Campero dodged under their legs. We gringos just turned to each other and grinned. It was a sound I never imagined I’d hear in real life.
Carol and Luca got the horses saddled up with a traditional Argentine set up, which included a saddle and sheep blanket. David was assigned to an horse named Paco and Jenny was assigned to one named India. India’s son, a young colt named Segundo, joined us for the ride. Segundo was was born in August and is the feistiest horse anyone there has ever met. When I asked Carol who the first person would be to ride Segundo, she replied “that’s what I’d like to know”. I volunteered David to come back in 3-4 years when he’s ready to be broken.
Luca led us, along with another girl from Chicago, out into the valley/plains, surrounded by mountain. It was cool and cloudy – perfect for riding. We saw several conejos (rabbits) and 2 types of ciervo (deer), along with about a half dozen condors (which are SO big). Jenny’s horse was a little on the lazy side and kept falling behind, so Luca fashioned a stick/branch to give the horse a little slap on the behind to catch up to the group. We’d fall behind, then trot quickly to catch up (then repeat this over and over).
Segundo, the son of my horse, was such a trouble maker. He would push and bite the other horses and sometimes decide to start chasing around Campero. Paco (David’s horse) was not impressed with his antics and tried to kick him. Segundo’s mom (Jenny’s horse), would not move if he got too far out of the group. Some of the time he walked in a line with everyone and sometimes he just ran circles around the group. While he was “bad”, he added a lot of entertainment to the ride. Campero enjoyed his role as the group care taker, staying in the back to keep everyone moving.
After about 2.5 hours of riding, including riding through a big group of horses in which several jumped in line with us, we arrived back at the building, with Carol having prepared a glorious asada lunch for us – essentially, a grilled picnic that is a cornerstone of Argentine family life (or so says our guidebook). We ate deviled eggs, cheese, salami, carrots, olives, choripan (kind’ve like a non-spicy chorizo sausage), then the main meal – a tomato salad, cabbage salad, bread, and grilled steak. I don’t really eat beef, but how could I refuse this cultural experience?
We even finished the meal by sitting around drinking mate, an Argentine tea ritual.
This was a successful cabalgata (horseback ride). Carol and Luca (and Campero) were amazing hosts and we felt like we had a really great and genuine Argentine experience. And they humored (and seemed to really appreciate) our Spanish. If you ever find yourself in northern Patagonia, go ride with Carol, Luca, and Campero!