Not everyone comes to Argentina to ride, but I did. I don't eat meat, drink wine or eat empanadas, so there was surely more to the country than the comestibles. Los Pingos was my fifth ride in the country since arriving May 2nd. I was directed to Diego via the Empedrado Hostel.
Diego agreed to take me on alone for two days over the high mountain pass, and I explained to him that I had riding experience. I guaranteed you the number of times these guys have heard this claim only to watch some tourist lurch classlessly into the saddle then hang onto the pommel for dear life at a trot, let's just say they have heard and seen it all. Which is why I appreciated very much that within about five minutes after setting out on our two day ride, Diego took off a dead run,.and I was fast on his heels. He turned and checked as he came to a stop, for hand, body, and heel position. You're lucky if you get a "bueno," But this is the acid test and it ends the argument. You can or you can't. The rest for this two day trip was a multiple pleasure of the senses.
Mendoza in May is past high fall colors, so the poplars are largely bare. You can see the estancias where you're headed by tall stands of these trees and some evergreens. The area is blessed with much sunshine and very, very bright light, so good glasses are a must. Diego had taken careful notes of my dietary needs and true to his word, our first snack was yogurt and a granola bar. By lunchtime, our planned stop didn't have anyone home to accept us, so we continued to make our careful way through the cactus - spattered landscape and enjoyed the beautiful weather.
For the night we rode up to the second ranch, which is nestled in some high hills. Since we had skipped lunch, Diego concocted a fantastic mash of eggs, onions and vegetables which was gone in minutes. The near full moon rose perfectly over Mendoza, far in the distance, and we were joined by the sunset ride (also his outfit) for a dinner of beef and much more.Again Diego had planned for my meal and I had a lemon chicken to die for.
Diego sings every night for the sunset rides, and I was more intrigued when his very sweet voice took on the gaucho songs. When we got to Baby Boomer singlaongs it was time for me to enjoy the Southern Cross, the shadows and the night wind.
Diego took the time to train and coach me, which is what I came here for, and why I don't ride with groups. He taught me how to saddle the more complex tack, how to better instruct the horse, and how to set the saddle for steep uphill climbs,which was our plan for day two.
Lunch the second day was from Deigo's inventive cooking, taking zucchini, broccoli and eggs, and it didn't last long. We rested the horses and ourselves before taking on the pass.
The pass is nearly straight up in places, and is a mass of tight switchbacks barely narrow enough for you or the horse but not both. The horse is heaving uphill with you and bags, and if altitude is a problem, this is no ride for you. But if you love magnificent views at every stop, the exhilaration of riding a tough, surefooted mountain horse to the top of the world, then this is your cup of tea.
The way down is similar in that you must position yourself on the horse to best advantage which means leaning way back. You can also glue your eyes shut and let the horse take you down but it's far more interesting to watch for animals and see Chile in the distance. At one point you can get down, take a breather and see both.
There is a long, long winding road, a rest of sorts to get back to the second ranch.As we came within the last mile or so,there was a perfect violet moon rising over Mendoza, and it followed us back home.
We had spent some nine hours on horseback on Day 2, which is not for the faint of heart. What I loved about this trip was a combination of Diego's close personal attention to diet, riding level and variation on the trip. We rode in quiet most of the second day and that was perfect for me. Sometimes conversation takes away from the very thing that mountains give us which is a deep silence. Diego is very customer focused and not demanding. I prefer for a gaucho to test me right away- respect is earned here- and he was happy to provide guidance so that I could improve my skills. The ride to the summit was full of moments that left me with a combination of pounding heart and chillbumps, and this for me was wonderful.
The solo two day ride for me was $2250 AR. He caters to groups, couples, and people like me who don't possess the sense to stay at sea level. His horses are extremely well cared for and if you're lucky, Chalco might follow you the whole way and you can cuddle him when he lies down in a sun warmed spot next to the kitchen at night.
I've now ridden with five outfits here in Argentina, and by far the two, two day excursions were the best. IF you are looking for personal attention and IF you want to learn a bit, Deigo, who is bilingual, is your guy. Highly recommended, I would do this again any time.
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