Riding to the Hills

My parents had told me that they wanted to experience what my life has been like in Argentina while visiting. While I didn’t make them stay at a hostel and share a room with 7 other people and a bathroom with even more, they did agree to try one of the famed long distance Argentine buses. 18 hours between Bariloche and Mendoza to be exact.

It started out utterly entertaining, as the man came around passing out bingo cards for the chance to have some fun with your fellow passengers while competing for a bottle of decent wine. Porqué´no? Then it was movie time. At about 11:00pm as we’ve been listening to the cymbals crashing in the dramatic intro music about every 2 minutes on repeat, we see people hunkering down to sleep for the night, and I am whispering a massive apology to my parents that this is the first time ever that I have not been served dinner on an 18 hour bus ride. We decided to eat the peaches that we had brought with us for breakfast and are throwing the pits in a plastic bag as the lights are flicked on and everyone is woken up for dinner, hilarious and so Argentina. So after a couple hours in one town getting gas, a ham and cheese sandwich, 3 alfajores, 4 movies, and a little bit of sleep, we arrive in Mendoza.

I think my parents deserved a bit of a reward for bearing the experience with me, although as far as buses go, they are rather comfortable and nice here…if you avoid the bathroom. We were sitting in the sun enjoying some drinks, listening to some talented buskers play guitar and sing when we spontaneously made the decision to go to Estancia Alejandro the next day. I wish all of my decisions turned out so well. We knew we wanted to get into the mountains somehow, we love riding horses, and I wanted my parents to experience a genuine asado. This had all of these things.

Our first delight was the car drive there, it was further into the mountains than we expected and as we drove around bend after bend we were surprised with freshly snow capped mountains including El Plata, which is roughly 22,000ft. Sometimes things are even sweeter when unexpected. We bounced along a rocky road, through some gates, up a dirt path to La Alejandra, a charming building nestled in the arms of the mountains that were so big and so present. The surrounding land was a contrast between deep green potato plants sprouting and shocks of golden grass that looked like the soft bristles of the very paintbrush they appeared to be painted with. The dreamscape kind of grass, tickling your fingers as you graze the top of it, meandering through an infinite field.

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We were invited both figuratively and literally to settle into one of the cowskin covered wooden stools and ease into our day and the surroundings with some hot coffee. The word to describe this day is genuine. Everything there was true, not trying to be something, not trying to create an atmosphere or experience, just real, raw, and true. Our gaucho, Lucas. You could tell that the land is just as much a part of him as his fingerprints. He and his horse were not separate things. I wanted to eat him up in his polo shirt, a leather belt that he himself had made in the Huarpes leather making tradition, gently worn cordoroys, and the knitted white beret. He didn’t look the part, he was the part.

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We climbed onto our horses and began our wander through the surrounding fields, no set path, just a few curious explorers experiencing the land as it showed up. I tried to take a cue from Lucas and melt into my horse, letting it gently rock me, feel the land through the horse. We road by dozens of other horses and Lucas told us they were the mares and their sons. We would later meet their father.

Lucas and I spoke to each other in Spanish all day, and I was just asking him if they see condors very often when right on point, we saw a few flying in the distance. And then they landed. He asked with a sparkle in his eye if we wanted to ride around in a big loop to approach them from the back of the property and see if we could get to them up close. Only someone who truly loves a place can take a familiar, maybe regular experience and approach it with wonder and admiration. This wasn’t a tour or an excursion, but an invitation into someone’s world, their passion.

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Another invitation is delivered as Lucas asks us if anyone wants to gallop. I’ve been waiting for this and eagerly nod yes. Seconds later my horse bolts forward, electrifying, born to feel free and alive and make me feel those same things. It was pure presence, pure joy. The year of the horse en vivo. Strength, power, life force, action, fear. I laughed the way you do when you’re being tickled, both enjoying it and terrified at the same time. I had to anchor down and trust the horse. And trust myself. And trust Lucas….who just told me to trust myself. It was glorious. Like a view of the mountains, it never gets old, but only gives me a feeling of being back in a space that I know and love dearly every time I get to do that.

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The safari continued; we came upon a baby cow that was a day or two old, curled up, with its baby fur all matted and curly from its journey out into the world. Lucas try to help it stand, as mama watched nearby almost looking grateful for the help and encouragement. I gave him a little healthy fear as I reached out to pet him as well.

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Soon after we started to head back in, we were told to hang back for a bit so Lucas could take care of the stallion guarding his harem of women. It was a genuine stand off straight out of Nat Geo or Planet Earth. Lucas and his horse would make their move, stallion would counter, rearing up onto its hind legs, making its presence and size known. It was serious. It danced and weaved and bobbed. It pawed the earth as if to say, you are really pissing me off and I will charge if you do not leave. This was a stand off to be the alpha horse and the stallion was not so ready to bow out with making his intentions very clear. Intense.

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The day ended doing what Argentines do best…savoring the day over a relaxed, leisurely asado, an event in and of itself. The roasted veggies were straight from the garden, and I’m not sure there is a truer red or the corresponding taste than a tomato from your own garden. In fact, this whole day encompassed that level of richness.

 

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