We woke up early the next morning, got picked up and driven to a ranch in the mountains about an hour and a half from town. Me and Hayley arrived in our matching red jackets, with Hayley looking slightly apprehensive about getting on a horse for the first time since she was 5. The hostess welcomed us and intorduced us to Pablo (our Gaucho for the day). Pablo gave the slightest of head nods to acknowledge us, if you blinked you would have missed it. The hostess then asked us (there were four of us including Jezza and Panola the Aussie´s) if we had any previous experience on horses. In true Pablo fashion i gave the slightest of head nods. Hayley meekly shook her head. We were then paired up with our horses. I was given a lazy steed whilst Hayley was given a smaller horse which she immediately renamed Peanut because she couldn´t pronounce it´s argentinian name. AND THEN WE WERE OFF!...at a slumberous walking pace. The horses didn´t need leading because they were well versed in the route, so i settled back and focused on the scenery whilst imagining myself as a fuzzy haired poncho wearing Clint
Eastwood character riding out to tame the native indians with my English charm and devilish wit.
The morning ride lasted about two and a half hours and there wasn´t much to say about it really. The scenery was obviously stunning, with the dry greyness of the desert flatlands being contrasted by the backdrop of the snow capped Andes. The other highlight was Hayley´s riding ability. On the rare occasion when her horse broke into a slight trot Hayley was sent rapidly bouncing, and by halfway through the ride she was asking me whether i had any painkillers for her bum.
After the mornig ride we returned to the ranch for some lunch. We had salad, potatoes and freshly grilled steak topped off with a bottle of red wine...it was bloody lovely it was! The food was served by Pablo (who had still not uttered a word) who intermittently entered the room to carve some more meat and then immediately left....i liked his style, it was like he was straight out of a ´Fist Full Of Dollars´.
After lunch we jumped back onto our horses (Hayley was given a new horse...I joked that maybe she had broken the
other one´s back). We headed out on a different route whose rocky ridges, tall grass and little streams was much more interesting terrain than the previous ride. Hayley´s new horse took full advantage of it´s new found freedom from the ranch and stopped whenever it liked and whenever it liked for a munch on some grass or a slurp from a river. The horse also seemed to have a phobia of walking in the middle of a path and always walked along the edges. All of this meant that her horse lagged behind and started to slow the group down because Pablo had to ride behind the naughty horse to speed it up. Then, about an hour into the ride, Pablo had had enough. He silently rode up to Hayley, grabbed her reins and then rode off at a trotting pace, leaving Hayley grabbing onto the saddle for dear life whilst being mercilessly bounced up and down on her already sore bum. At one point, when riding through tall grass, Hayley´s horse was hidden from view and all you could see was Hayley in her bright red jacket bouncing in and out of view...it was priceless.
We returned to
the ranch after an hour and a half, said thankyou to Pablo, who momentarily touched the rim of his hat in acknowledgment....man this guy was raw! We then headed back back to the hostel and cooked up some Spag Boll...sadly i do not have a picture for you guys (unlike my other meals).
The next morning we woke up early again and determinedly set off to the post office again to post the godforsaken parcel. This time we were successful! FINALLY! We then caught a bus to a natural thermal spring about an hour from town. There were loads of pools all at different temperatures and i had loads of fun jumping from the really hot one into the freezing one! Great for the old circulation.
This was a dark day in the trip. After returning from the Spa the previous evening i had become convinced that i wanted to see the Puente Del Inca bridge, which was a natural bridge over a stream of thermic waters that was rich in salt, sulphur and iron. This resulted in the metals oxiding with each other and caused them to build up around a man made
structure that had housed a thermal baths in the 1900´s. These thermal baths had been linked to a nearby hotel via an underground tunnel, but in 1910 a huge avalanche had completely wiped out the hotel, killing a large number of people. Ironically the only structure to remain untouched was the small chapel positioned beside the hotel...spooky aye!! However, as coincidental as this seemed, it was not enough to lure me away from the Big Bang theory i´m afraid (you´ll have to try harder than that big guy).
Anyway, we were told that the only way to see the bridge was to book a minibus tour that picked us up from the hostel and drove us up into the Andes. stopping briefly along the way for photo opportunities. Hayley was not interested and wanted to do another wine tour instead, but i had stubbornly made up my mind that i wanted to see the bridge and that it was going to be a magical experience! In the end, Hayley submitted and we booked the minibus tour. On the Friday morning we woke up at 7am! made some packed lunch and waited for the minibus to pick us up, which
was inevitably late...probably overslept or something because he didn´t get enough sleep the previous day during his ridiculously long siesta...lazy gits the bloody lot of them!
We drove out about an hour and a half (Hayley slept the whole way) before we stopped at our first photo opportunity...a man made lake. After taking a few pictures we were hearded back into the minibus and carried on driving for another hour or so into the snow capped areas of the mountains. We stopped again for another photo, this time of the mountains. Here it was ridiculously windy and i enjoyed doing the Michael Jackson lean. After 20mins we were once again hearded back into the minibus and drove onwards and upwards for another 40 mins or so. I would like to stress that by this time i was beginning to lose patience and just wanted to see the fucking bridge, but the tour guide had other plans for us and the other 10 helpless tourists that were trapped in his van, up a mountain.
The next stop was in a deserted town that looked haggard from the punishing winds that relentlessly ripped through it. We were ushered into a
empty restaurant for some food and were told the price was $50 pesos (7 quid). We smuggly explained to the tour guid that we had packed lunch and asked whether it would be alright to eat it in the restaurant. The tour guide explained that the owner was going to charge us $10 pesos to eat our own food in his restaurant (he obviously wasn´t happy enough ripping off the other 10 tourists that were paying over the top for shite food. We then asked the tour guide if we could eat it in the minibus, to which he smuggly replied that it was locked for security reasons. SECURITY FROM WHO?! the only other living being in a 40 mile radius was the St Bernardos dog sitting outside! And then it clicked...this tour was like those tuc tuc rides you get in Thailand where they eventually take you to your destination, but not before stopping off at their uncle, brother´s and cousin´s shops along the way!
We handed over the $10 and sat down with our empanadas. After a long long hour we jumped back into the minibus and headed back the way we came. After 20 mins we finally
arrived at Puente Del Inca! We were given 30 mins to see it and check out the tourist tat market stalls surrounding it. If i´m being honest...it wasn´t that great. It wasn´t as big as i imagined and whilst it was still interesting to see, it was not worth getting up at 7am and spending 5 hours in a minibus for. We jumped back in the minibus and were driven back to what we thought was going to be home...how wrong we were. We had barely been on the road for 20 mins before we stopped again, this time at a small ski resort! We were informed we were to spend an hour and a half here!! Doing what?! The tourguide informed us that we could get the ski lift up the mountain for $50. No thanks...so we just spent the hour and a half people watching. We saw one bloke who had taken his dog up the mountain and it was chasing after him as he skied down!
After a long long hour and a half we jumped back into the minibus and headed home...of course we didn´t. After an hour we stopped off at a shitty little
bridge that spanned a stream that i could have jumped over and was a replica of one which the Spanish had originally built. This time the tourists were so bored that most of them simply stayed on the minibus. And then...finallly...we made the 2 hour drive back home. We got back at 9pm...throughly vexed.
That evening we got the bus to Cordoba. We booked with the San Juan coach company and they proved to be below par. We got the bus at 10.45pm and were keen for some sleep. However, the coach decided to play a pretty gory action movie on loudspeaker that involved heads getting blown off at point blank range. The film stayed on until 1am...bloody bastards.
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