There were a number of factors that added to the success of this particular ride, and they include the fact that the weather was particularly kind to us. The day that Ariane's gaucho and I set out for two days dawned brilliant and blue and by mid afternoon our coats were off, same for the next day. So despite the fact that May is cold and rainy, I was extremely lucky to enjoy a pocket of excellent weather. It was a perfect setup for a perfect ride.
First of all, having ridden in three places in Argentina so far, I can appreciate that Ariane's horses are well fed and energetic, and the tack is well-kept. Being an experienced rider I can also very much appreciate being taken on what I can only express was a rather epic ride as Cristian and I went on what I would say was either a very old trail or in places where one never existed at all, well up into very high areas where the views were breathtaking. We rode through thick forests where the heavy leather chaps which made mounting so challenging were perfect for protecting knees from trees, and from the thorns and bushes.
At altitude we saw two condors, surrounded by National Geographic photographic moments in all directions. The horses watered at a pristine river, and the final walk to the overnight at a gaucho's house was a measured trot as the sun slanted over the hills and began to go down. We made our way to Tito's wonderful house as this authentic gaucho came out to greet us. Ariane met us there as well, replete with merry dogs and plenty of food.
Tito, a true gaucho and a talented cook, conjured up some magical chicken for us for dinner and soon his small but warm house- heated by a 1910 wood burning stove- was full of people, food and wine. As the sun disappeared and the evening's cool set in we were joined by a young couple whose car had broken down and immediately chairs were added, wine glasses were poured. It would be hours before they would get help so we added them to the party.
I had been going on adrenaline all day, thoroughly enjoying the excitement of the ride and the sights, smells and sounds of mountains and surroundings. But as soon as that delicious hot chicken hit my stomach- and Tito said that the chicken was "good for sleeping"-almost seconds later I felt a nudge on my left arm. I had literally fallen asleep at the dinner table, and Ariane was telling me that it was all right if I wanted to go bed. It was only 9 am,but my eyes were glued shut.
Titos' house had no other heat source so when the wood burned out it was icy. I slept under about six blankets in his daughter's room. About 5 am, I awoke, and realizing that this opportunity wouldn't often come again, quickly put on my riding boots and down jacket to go see the night sky.
The hills and distant mountains shone with starlight, as there was no moon, and the Southern Cross was on its side near the far horizon. The sky was a mass of white, unlike in most areas of America where light pollution fades our view. It was breathtaking, and I craned my neck in all directions. The frost crunched softly under my boots as I took in the aging buildings of the estancia, made mystical in the early morning, the tall poplars, the sleeping horses. This is as authentic as it gets, a world that lives on the sun's time.
The second day Cristian and I set off later after a breakfast that began with Tito's magical concoction of Nescafe, a bit of water and sugar and milk which he hand whipped for twenty minutes- literally- into a taffy-like consistency the color of caramel, then spooned into our cups to make into coffee as we wished. It was delicious.
We made our way over frozen puddles, past fragrant pines and tumble-down houses, horses, cows and sheep, tree-lined roads and past fascinating rock formations. Ariane passed us in her big blue pickup loaded with the dogs, driving ahead to find the riverside picnic spot. On the way we saw raptors on the fenceposts,
We gathered at a picture perfect spot where there was plenty of grass for the horses to eat and roll in, a pretty stream and blue grey rock formations. The dogs were chasing and running, and Felipe, Ariane's affectionate dachshund, alternated between poking his long nose in my face and in my food.
We finished off the last of Tito's magic chicken, soup, fruit, yogurt and salads that Ariane had packed to suit my food needs and all our appetites, and Cristian and I were off for the last leg. Ariane packs a very dangerous Danish cookie which you must ask for.
I had asked Cristian for a little more fast paced activity, and today I got it. We did four full out gallops on the way home, which allowed me to not only have a great deal of fun but also to do part of what I came here for: to practice my riding skills. The gallops were up and down hills, around trees, on flat areas, and gave me plenty of chances to correct my posture, and weaknesses. I could not have asked for more. While the first day was all about up and down the mountain, which was its own kind of adventure, this day was pure adrenaline, and the joy of allowing the horse its head while the late afternoon glimmered on the lake's mirrored surface in the distance.
What I so appreciated about this ride was Ariane's sensitivity to my skill level, and ensuring that I had an authentic experience. Riding into Tito's estancia was nothing short of mystical and magical. There was nothing "tourista" about it, and it's what I came here for. I am willing to get dirty and full of thorns and bruised for the sake of embracing an experience, and that's what I got- although I will say that the chaps I wore prevented the full of thorns part. While they take some getting used to for those of us who wear regular breeches, they are absolutely necessary for mountain wear in certain areas, and great for warmth.
Ariane caters to all levels of riders, and she speaks five languages. I found her to be wonderful company, and very accommodating. I will most certainly be back again.
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