“Kat-er-in, squeeze ze knees, grab ze hair, hold on tight and laugh out loud” These instructions were certainly not what I remembered of pony camp. My horse Argo was chomping at the bit, eager to follow in the hoofs that had just galloped off leaving a trail of dust in their wake. My guide Santiago untied us from the tree and following his instructions, with a loud “Hup” we took off after the rest of the group. It was exhilarating and as I caught up with the Argentinian cowboys, our guides for the next three days, I felt like we were starring in a wild west movie.
We were 30 minutes outside the adventure capital of Argentina, Bariloche, in stunning surroundings,at the foothills of the Andes. Travellers primarily come to this part of the world to take part in any sport that raises the heart beat; paragliding, adventure skiing, rafting, hiking, horse riding and it was the latter that we had chosen to do. When I think of Argentina, I think of steak and Malbec, two of my favourite things on the planet! But Argentina is also famous for it’s horses and the cowboys who ride them in this part of the world and known as Gauchos. There are endless adventure companies you can book with in the town of Bariloche and we chose to do our trip with Bastion Del Manso. Three girls heading off into the wilderness accompanied by five Gauchos, for three days and two nights sounded like the makings of a great adventure to us!
The sun was beaming on the rolling green hills, with snow glistening on the distant peaks all around us. There were no paths, or roads, or fences just the wide open space under a vast expanse of sky. Because we were all confident on horseback we walked, trotted and galloped throughout the afternoon but you certainly don’t have to be John Wayne to join up with a group. The company takes people of all levels but it does help if you’ve had even minimal riding experience.
Our first night was spent in an open cabin in a small wood. Once the horses were tied up, wood was gathered and a blazing fire warmed our cold feet. A whole side of cow was unrolled from Philippes satchel. It was skewered and left to cook vertically in the heat of the fire. Malbec was poured and we sat around as the guys, Philipe, Santiago, Juan Carlitos and Paulo and told us a little of the history of the Gauchos; nomadic riders who lived by hunting wild cattle all across the great plains of Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil known as the Pampas. As the regaled their stories a round of Matte, their native herbal tea was passed around. It is served in a hollow wooden gourd and drunk through a metal straw called a bambillo. Juan produced a guitar and the sing song began that didn’t finish until the fire died down and we all had to climb into our sleeping bags to fend off the cold night.
Up early the following morning we began our five hour trek to the Chilean border to visit the home of Carlitos grandparents. The sun was shining, and the open space seemed to go on forever as we crossed one cobalt blue glacial stream after another. Climbing a steep hill, Carlitos informed us we had reached the Chilean border. The only way of knowing this was when we had our passports stamped at a tiny wooden hut in the middle of nowhere by a patrol guard who looked like we had woken him from a slumber Rip Van Winkle would be proud of. A few hundred metres away Carlitos grandmother and grandfather were waiting at the door of their wooden house as we dismounted and tied up our horses. There was a sign in the garden marking the international border, one side which said ‘Argentina’, the other ‘Chile’ which meant that the old couples house and garden were in two separate countries!
After a huge feed (in the same way your own Granny would feed you when you come to visit!), in the warmth of her kitchen, we all retired to our tents tired and happy before the long trek back to Bariloche the following day.
It was an amazing few days made up by the warmth and hospitality of the local Argentinians who escorted us, the incredible scenery and the sense of freedom wide open spaces invoke. If you’re planning a trip to South America, I highly recommend you try it. Salute!!
There are many agents/operators offering deals to Argentina from Ireland and it’s worth spending a lot of time researching your options. To fly from Buenos Aires to Bariloche it is generally cheaper to book locally when you get there. For good value, internal flights check out www.aerolineas.com.ar
If your trip is less than 90 days, no visa is required.
June 25, 2018