Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mendoza: Day Two: Caballera in the Andes

Dear Chicago,

Those Twin Lakes trail rides don't hold a candle to the day trip Sweeney and I took on Sunday. Late Saturday night we decided to book a full-day horseback ride in the region. It seemed a little expensive at $250 Argentine pesos but it came highly recommended and we felt we could spring for the $70 US. Sunday morning we woke up before the sun to dress in warm clothes (I was brilliant in packing ski gloves, scarf, hat and long underwear - hard to believe in June!) and pack snacks for the day. Our ride came right on Argentine time - an hour late! We piled in a bus full of other American students and some Brits and were off.

The bus ride alone would have been worth the fee:

From the bus we got on our horses and were off! It was a nice slow trail ride through big fields of dried grasses at the foothills of the Andean mountain range. We were about an hour from Chile.

The ride was easy at first, chatting with our fellow riders and following a little path. About half an hour into the ride, we were cutting across fields and going into little ravines and through streams. It was gorgeous and I felt like I was really riding a horse, not just following the one in front of me! We took a break to rest our horses after 2 hours. At this point I made new friends - ever the snacker, I pulled out a bag of dried fruit from Trader Joe's. Everyone huddled in a circle eating raisins and joking in Spanish as we took in the view and our horses ate and rested. It was such a peaceful afternoon - the only thing I could hear was the rustling of our horses legs through the grass, the sound of their horseshoes clinking into stones and a few eagles and hawks flying around the fields. We saw two giant hares bolt through the grass when we passed them - I've never seems rabbits so big! The day got very cold very quickly. Our guide explained that a 'sondra' was rolling in over the mountains. When the Chilean wind hits the Argentine mountains, the air gets very cold, the water evaporates and as a result it becomes a dust storm. In less than an hour our gorgeous panorama became a hazy field - I would never have been able to tell there were mountains! It was so lucky that our day started so early.

On the ride back to the ranch the group was joking around and we got to know each other better. There was a cute couple from Manchester, England, an Argentine couple and a strange old expat who went riding every weekend with this guide. We were a random group but had a blast trotting and galloping through the fields as the sun started to set. I've never gone so fast on a horse before!! Our last task was to drive home a herd of horses back with us to the stable. We were literally herding horses! There was a hole in the fence, so unfortunately our efforts were in vain.

We rode into the ranch for a big asado lunch, the typical Argentine barbeque the countryside is famous for. The group of us saddled up (pun intended) to plates of empanadas, salad, grilled ribs and grilled skirtsteak. Warm fresh bread and big pitchers of dry red wine took the chill out of everyone. The entire group spoke in Spanish and I got details out of the guide about the types of birds we saw and the specific towns we were in. Sweeney and I told the story of a day in Spanish class - our profesora had asked everyone what compliments the men shouted at them on the streets. All of the girls immediately chimed in "bella" or "chica" or "bonita". The only thing anyone has called me was "naranja" - orange! It got the table laughing and our very funny guide Rodrigo presented me with a fresh orange for the bus ride. It was a gorgeous day of fresh air - after a long bus ride home, Sweeney and I both napped. Dinner was at a fancy pasta restaurant that came highly recommended - but I have to say I liked the barbeque much more. It was, so far, the most memorable way to spend a Sunday I've ever had!

Ciao Ciao (no one here says 'adios')


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