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Published: December 22nd 2012
So if you like wine, steak, beautiful sunshiny weather in December, friendly people and green rolling landscapes then you should come visit Argentina. It is an amazing country - definitely my favourite place in South America so far – and so totally different to anything we’ve seen since this trip began.
There are heaps of things about Argentina that excite me but 2 more than the rest stick out, Red wine, normally of the Malbec variety and Steak – rare, both of which I’m planning to become staple parts of my diet over the next couple of months.
My Argentina adventure started in Salta
, a beautiful green city, massively cosmopolitan, even more so when you compare it to the cities and towns we’d recently spent time in in. Arriving late afternoon as the sun was still high in the sky, we drove through tree lined streets, past well maintained parks and sparkling blue boating lakes, my thoughts for a second leapt from the plans for that evenings meal to the run I would be taking the next morning, finally in a city that’s not at altitude and the return of normal fitness!
Our hotel in Salta was a
Steak, Steak, Steak
Big enough to defeat 2 of us.
beautiful colonial building, dotted with courtyards and water fountains, definitely not a bad place to rest our heads for a few days. Dinner that night gave the first chance to sample the famous Argentine steak and it did not disappoint! A beautiful meal in its simplicity, steak – large enough to share between two - red wine, salad and papas fritas, after a diet of mainly, rice, fried meat and bread in Peru and Bolivia it was a welcome change as was the run through the streets of Salta the following morning. One of the best ways to explore a new city is by donning the running shoes and hitting the pavement before the city had truly woken was a fantastic way to start the day. The rest of the day was spent exploring the city further, travelling up to its peek by cable car, wandering the sun baked streets and diving in and out of the boutique shops, bliss!
After a few days recharging the batteries in Salta it was time to head back to the countryside and camping, it was time to head to wine country! On route to our destination we stopped at the Garganta del diablo
, clambering over
the rock formations and climbing up high allowed the stretching of legs and working off of some energy before heading back to the road and onwards to Cafayate.
Cafayate is a small town in northern Argentina and an important wine growing area. Within the small sleepy town sit local bodegas
, these offer tours of their wine cellars, some for free, some for the extortionate price of 10 pesos (£1.20)!!!, but each was similar in the fact that in order to tempt you to buy wine, they’d give you plenty of the stuff to taste. A great afternoon was spent, jumping from bodegas to bodegas sampling the wines and buying a few bottles in readiness for the Christmas period. Later in the evening, sat around the campfire wine was much discussed; and it was decided that, yes it really is good!
From Cafayate we were to head south, a two day drive taking us to Rio Ceballos and a stay on an argentine cattle ranch. As always with driving in South America it wasn’t as straight forward a journey as one would hope. A few 100ks into the first day of driving lead us to a road
that would wind us through a mountain pass, unfortunately the road in question had been closed since the night before and would not be open again for a few days, road works and dynamite were mentioned… the alternative route was back the way we came, retracing our steps lost us many many driving hours in addition to the extra time the alternative route would take us.
The plan had been to stop at a campsite early evening around half way to rio ceballos for a leisurely dinner, instead we end up travelling a totally different route, 100s of kilometres longer than expected, only stopping at midnight to set up camp on a patch of grass alongside a petrol station forecourt, and next to the loud hum of a generator. Showing once again how wide ranging the accommodation on this trip really is! But despite the road mishap and the dodgy overnight stay and thanks to the extra-long drive day and the amazing navigating of Matt and Zoe we reached Rio Ceballos pretty much on time.
To the east of the Andes in the centre of Argentina lie the hills of the Sierra de Cordoba and it
is here that the Anglo Argentine Estancia (ranch) Los Potreros
sits. The estancia’s owner (Kevin) welcomes us with tea and biscuits and gives us a potted history of the ranch. The working cattle ranch - farming prized Aberdeen Angus - has been in Kevin’s family for four generations and as well as cattle they breed horses, play and host polo matches, produce wine and sponsor a local school for the Gaucho kids.
After tea we set up camp in the grounds of his house. The campsite is shared with 6 ponies….. the hills surrounding the ranch are home to pumas, pumas are known to go after the baby horses so until they are big enough to fend for themselves the ponies are kept within the garden for the house - The proximity to people and Kevin’s 6 dogs keep the pumas at bay.
After a while the animal’s curiosity overcomes their initial wariness of us and we find that we have to keep shooing them away from the tents. Wet towels draped over the top of the tents disappear stolen by the ponies, at night it was normal to awake suddenly to see the shadow of a horse or
two looming over your tent in the moon light, whilst they’re chewing on the canvas cover or kicking at the guide ropes. We pretty quickly learnt to sleep in the middle of the tents rather than risk being stepped on by an inquisitive pony.
The estancia had a wonderfully laid back feel, heading off for a run that first day in the late afternoon sunshine, exploring the lanes and fields of the area installed a beautiful sense of calm and wellbeing, with a happy fizz of the knowledge that the next couple of days were going to be good ones.
Our first evening was spent sitting out under the stars, eating a delicious BBQ cooked up by the estancia staff and drinking local wine, later that night as we lay on the grass gazing at the stars – that were out in their thousands – we were lucky enough to witness a meteor shower, seeing more shooting stars in one evening than I have in my life time, what a way to end a fantastic night!
The following morning we were off out on for a horse ride through the ranch, up, over and around
the rolling hills we wandered, through streams and under low hanging trees, my horse, Sopresa (meaning surprise in English) was a wonderfully calm, statuesque lady, it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a horse (as the sore leg and bum muscles will attest) but it didn’t take long for the estancia ones to renew my confidence. Heading back to the campsite later in the day, as we bumped along the dirt tracks in the back of a pickup it was massive smiles all around for the wonderful time spent. The rest of the afternoon was passed doing very little, with nothing more pressing to do than find a shady spot, grab a cold beer and kick back watching the clouds and having a doze, I think I could stay here for years!
That evening two musicians from the local town travelled to the ranch to play for us, as the wine flowed we first listened then later danced and played into the night.
The next morning we hiked to the other side of the ranch where we were served an amazing lunch of salads and empanadas before attempting (in my case very unsuccessfully) to learn to lasso,
gaucho style, first a tree and then a calf. I found trying to lasso the tree dam hard and it didn’t move….. When it came to the calf I didn’t stand a chance! But lots of fun was had trying, you never know with a few years more of practice I may yet make a gaucho. After yesterday’s re-introduction to riding I was more than happy to be getting back on the horse that afternoon (unfortunately my screaming muscles disagreed), with the growing ease on horseback we got to gallop and canter our way back to the ranch house.
The days that we spent at the estancia were amazing and the nights full of fun, the memories will be kept in a special place in my heart and next time I’m back in Argentina I’ll be sure to book in another visit.
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