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Horseback Riding Pinball

ARGENTINA | Monday, 22 October 2007 | Views [1921]

Supposedly Salta is breath taking... well, the natural rock and landscapes surrounding Salta.

I had read this on multiple websites, and guide books, but due to the fact that I arrived in the dark and had only wandered around the city (whose square is pretty stunning in itself) I had yet to experience this magnificence of nature.

In Tupiza, on my last horseback ride… interesting to say the least.  The novice Australian guy, who almost fell off when his horse broke into a gallop, informed me that Salta had some amazing horseback riding.  So, really, my only goal in Salta was to go for a horseback ride.

Luckily, at dinner with James and Emma, while having one of the worst bottles of white wine I’ve ever had as well as some fried chicken accompanied by a slab of lard and a fried banana (not one of my better meals, although one of my more expensive) I found out that they had signed up for an all day trip and they invited me along.  It sounded great, and at only $50 US for transportation, breakfast, lunch, and a full day of horse back riding, it was a steal as far as I was concerned. 

So, I attempted to contact the company.  Multiple emails and phone call to disconnected numbers, and no luck.  Finally someone responded to an email and informed me that the phone lines were down, but I was good to go.  They would pick me up from my hostel at 9am the next day.

9:30am the next morning I was in a car with James, his cowboy hat, Emma, and my new pair of jeans.  Yes, after a month and a half I finally broke down and bought myself a second pair of pants (with the excuse that it was because I needed them to ride) and frankly I’ve never been so happy to wear jeans in my life. 

The ranch was about an hours drive south of Salta in a beautiful valley (the vegetation and scenery were reminiscent of California and for the first time in weeks I relaxed a bit and actually started to feel like I was on vacation)  When we arrived at the ranch we were in awe.  A beautiful house and emerging from it was Pablo… our very own gaucho, in full garb: baggy pants, chaps, sash belt complete with unbelievably large silver handled knife, and of course the hat.  I think had Pablo looked a bit different it wouldn’t have been such a shock.  The problem was that Pablo had the face comedy actor/cartoon character, young but with the hint of jowls, so in full regalia, sauntering out, my first reaction was to giggle.  Knowing that would be inappropriate, I of course held it in and instead we all discussed Pablo’s appearance over our amazing breakfast on the terrace of an absolutely stunning 100-year-old ranch house. 

The house was stunning, and it wasn’t just that, Pablo had the perfect family: an absolutely beautiful wife and gorgeous 5-year-old daughter.  We had been dropped off inside an Argentinean fairy tale, and they were feeding us home-made bread and jam.  James, Emma, and I all decided we could skip the horse back riding and just hang out at the ranch all day, move in and make ourselves comfortable.

We were then informed the horses were ready.  I hadn’t emailed my experience level, so I was told I would be given an average horse (fine with me) and James was a dead beginner having never been on a horse, so we were all pretty sure he’d be getting a nag. 

I was the first to be lead to my horse: mildly over weight with the colorings of a dalmatian.  Looking at him I thought to myself, “perfect, short, stocky, probably nice and mellow.”  Wow, couldn’t have been more wrong.  Upon getting into my saddle my left foot apparently grazed, we will call him “Harmonica´s,” side.  Immediately, his ears were pinned back (always a great sign) and he was dancing to his right.  Spectacular.

The ride quickly became more interesting.  Harmonica (I call him this because his name was the word for one of those pan flute things, but Emma translated it as Harmonica… not that Emma spoke a word of Spanish) wanted to run.  But not in that happy, I just want to play way, more in the don’t touch me, I’m paranoid and freaking out kind of way.  I kept him under control most of they ride till we found the briar patch. 

I felt like I was in a pinball machine, bouncing from one sticker bush to the next.  The horse freaks out.  To get him to stop running I pull back on the reigns (apparently this was not the correct thing to do) further freaking the horse out.  Then he sidesteps into a thorn bush and spooks himself.  This is where I learn, hands on, that all the bushes in Argentina have thorns.  

Once Harmonica runs through one sticker bush and spooks himself, PING, he bounces into another, PING, further surprising himself, PING, side steps into yet another, PING, PING, PING…  Finally I am able to calm him and return to the group where Pablo (with a smile on his face) informs me that I am bleeding.

I look like I got in a fight with a cat on crack.  My forearms are a collection of criss-crossed scratches, which are actually dripping blood.  The thorns Harmonica had been nice enough to drag me through were razor sharp and crescent shaped, so they actually imbedded themselves in my skin. 

Asking Pablo if there was any way to calm Harmonica down resulted in a chuckle and a shake of the head.  Great, my horse had issues.  Pablo then informed me that all the horses are trained to run if you raise your right hand.  I hadn’t raised my right hand off my right leg the entire time I was trying to calm the basket case, but I did feel like this was information, which would have been prudent prior to beginning the trail ride.

I spent the rest of lunch trying to figure out exactly what freaked my horse out.  I found out he didn’t like it when my feet touched him at all, even slightly brushing him began a spastic trot.  He didn’t like it when I moved my right hand at all.  Any pressure from my knees was bad.  The slightest movement of the reigns was another reason to begin to panic.  He didn’t like rocks, was extremely uncoordinated, and wasn’t a huge fan of water.   Yes, definitely what I would have described as an average horse.


Getting off my horse resulted in the same ear pinning I received when I had mounted.  He really seems to like me.  I think we’re bonding.

Our horses were left in a coral and Pablo began to unpack ungodly amounts of meat from somewhere in his saddle.  We were informed that we were to have an asado, translation: BBQ.  The day just got better (not that it was really all that bad to begin with)  Pablo then unpacked a bottle of wine.  Wow, that had never looked so good.  So, while Emma, James and I sat down to a nice glass of wine out of some stainless steal cups, Pablo ran around collecting fallen branches for the fire he managed to start in a matter of seconds. 

Seasoned with salt, the meat was 5 or so pounds of assorted cuts that were thrown on the grill while we were finishing up the bottle of wine.  What´s this, a second bottle?  Where did that come from.  Sounds wonderful.

Meat cooking, sitting back and relaxing, we all decided this was truly vacation.  We hadn’t realized how stressful Bolivia was till we left.  If only everyday could consist of a beautiful breakfast at an amazing ranch, a horseback ride, and massive amount of beef and wine for lunch.  Piece by piece we tried the different cuts.  Amazing.  And what’s this? A third bottle of wine? 

The first was the perfect surprise.

The second was quite nice, it would be great to have some with the steak. 

The third… could you get a DUI on a horse?  My horse was a bit of an issue to begin with.  Did I really want to try to control him after almost a bottle of wine?  Maybe it would be easier… he would sense I was more relaxed and he would relax… that was what I was going to tell myself. 

The beef was amazing.  A true Argentina meal: 3lbs of beef and a bottle of wine.  Time to get back on the horses.  Surprisingly, Harmonica had calmed down, and I don’t think it was the wine.  We rode for about a half hour constantly being stung and pulled at by thorns and brambles (in the beginning of the ride, we were all curious why Pablo, in the unrelenting heat, had put on a long sleeve denim shirt… now we knew) till we were told it was too steep and we were going to have to hike.  Ah, nothing like hiking up hill in the heat after a bottle of wine.  But the view was worth it, absolutely beautiful.

Time to head back to the hacienda. 

The entire ride back we day dreamed of what we would drink upon returning to civilization: ice water, grapefruit juice, a huge pitcher of lemonade.  We had only had wine in the last 6 or 7 hours and were a bit parched. 

Upon arriving at the house, we were welcomed with an old gin bottle full of ice water and a table set with homemade crackers and jam (and hot tea, but that wasn’t as appealing) 

My day was made when Pablo’s wife emerged from the kitchen with chocolate ice cream.  I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better.  A tour of the grounds ensued: pool, pool house, guesthouse, garden, and they were in the midst of building another house.  Absolutely amazing.  We felt like we were welcomed into the family.  We met the grandfather, played with the 5-year-old nephew, met the sister and were finally driven home by Pablo’s brother. 

We finish up the day with exactly what we had been dreaming of… a huge pitcher of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice from a café in Salta’s central square. 

Perfect day… minus the fact that I had been a human pinball and the bumpers had been briars... but that just means free souvenirs.



Fight with a bush... spotty back there was part of the problem

Fight with a bush... spotty back there was part of the problem

Tags: The Great Outdoors

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