Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

February 27th, 2017
Gaucho Gal for a Day

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Don’t worry, Federico said, We will find the perfect horse for each one of you.

I quickly moved to the back of our group. We were a motley assortment of tourists from different counties—Finland, England, Australia, Tobago Trinidad and the United States—some singles, some couples, of different ages ranging from 28 to 75.

Like me, most were both excited and nervous about the upcoming horse back ride across the expansive grounds of this Argentinean estancia on the outskirts of Bariloche.

Out of our 13 member group, Chris was the only avid horse back rider. She actually owns a horse back in England. So she was the first one to get a horse, and her horse was probably younger and more spirited than the others. Next up was her husband, Roger, who was the only other person in our party to have significant riding experience, although he doesn’t love riding the way that Chris does.

I think the last time that I had been on a horse was probably 20 years ago at a Club Med.

We will give the rest of you horses that have been specially trained for inexperienced riders, Federico reassured us.

Two gauchos were helping out. As a gaucho brought a horse forward, he pointed to the person that he felt was a good match. I was relieved to see that the gauchos also helped the selected person to mount the horse.

One gaucho, leading a black horse, gestured to me to approach. The horse looked reasonably docile. Not that I know anything about how to judge horses.

When I tried to put my foot in the stirrup, I couldn’t raise it high enough. Were my slacks were too tight? More likely, it was just my age.  The gaucho helped me by lowering the stirrup until I could manage to get my left foot into it. I grabbed hold of the pommel on the saddle and pulled.  The gaucho gave me an extra push.

Wow! My first happy surprise was that they had put thick sheepskin padding on top of the saddle to make us more comfortable.

The gaucho adjusted the stirrups for me after I was seated, and Federico gave us some quick instructions about how to lead our horses.

Pull the reins left to go left. Pull right to go right,  he demonstrated. Pull the reins back to make the horse stop. And kick the horse gently on the sides to move ahead.

Sounded simple enough. I tried to hold the reins gently in my left hand. Meanwhile, I gripped the pommel tightly with my right hand, fearful of falling off.

As we all headed out, there was a narrow area between the corral and a hillside. One of the Finns, Heikki, who was riding directly in front of me, started having trouble controlling his horse. The horse was trying to circle back within the confines of too narrow an area. The horse was almost bucking. I was right behind them with no idea what to do. A gaucho, riding further up the slope of hill, called out to Heikki to stop pulling back on the reins. But the gaucho spoke only Spanish and Heikki didn’t understand.

I translated urgently and the horse calmed down, realigned himself, and started moving obediently after the horses in front of him. When we reached a wider area, I managed to move ahead, anxious to avoid getting stuck again behind an angry horse.

Wanting to stay on the good side of my horse, I petted her neck and sang to her as we rode along. I’m not sure if this had any effect on my horse. But it helped to calm me and a got a couple of other group members to sing along with me. I also tried to hold the reins loosely, not wanting to repeat Heikki’s error.

The gaucho corrected me at some point, telling me to hold more firmly. Otherwise, the horse wouldn’t know what I wanted her to do.

We rode up and down hills, and through some creeks. I let the reins go slack enough so that my horse could drink when we passed through the water.  I was thirsty, so I figured that she must be, too.

The landscape was mostly scrub with some interesting rock formations chimneys on the hillsides, left over from ancient volcanoes. As I got more comfortable, I began to loosen my vise-like grip on the pommel. From time to time, I felt relaxed enough to release my hold entirely, holding on only to the reins.

After two hours, we returned to our starting point. It was time for an Argentinean barbecue lunch in the ranch house–they probably would have provided some vegetarian alternatives if anyone in our group had been vegetarian.

As an appetizer, our host passed around delicious empanadas, the best of any that I had during our two weeks in Chile and Argentina. They had salad, and sliced potatoes with pesto sauce, and, of course, plenty of beef and lamb that had been grilled over an open fire. I really liked the chimichurri sauce that was provided in little dishes as a condiment for the meat. We were also treated to as much wine as we wanted.

A few of the men felt so mellow that they decided to stay back at the ranch house and continue to drink wine and chat with our host after lunch. All of the women and one of the younger men went out for another hour of riding after lunch.

We got the same horses that we had ridden earlier in the day, and I continued to follow my previous strategy of petting her neck and singing, also telling her what a good horse she was. Feeling relaxed from the wine, I started off without holding on to the pommel.

I thought that Federico said this ride would be an easy ride on level ground. But actually, the hills were steeper than they were in the morning, and soon I found myself gripping tightly to the pommel. Still, no one fell off and the additional challenge added to the feeling of adventure.

Recommendations:

If you happen to be in Bariloche, I would strongly recommend that you go to La Fragua for a half or full day visit.

Also don’t miss visiting Cerro Campanario. You can walk up the hill or take the chairlift. It was a hot day, so I took the chairlift, which was mellow and relaxing. The panoramic views from the top of the hill are absolutely spectacular. Lakes and rivers, islands and peninsulas, surrounded by other hills, and the snow-topped peaks of the Andean mountain range.

Bariloche is a chocolate-lovers paradise. I particularly liked Mamushka.

This was my second trip with G Adventures. They provide affordable options for small group travel. Five of our group were single women, and three of those were solo travelers.

3 thoughts on “Gaucho Gal for a Day

  1. Enjoyed your entertaining and thorough tale of being a gaucho for a day. Your adventure became my adventure. Your trepidations became my trepidations. But overcoming your fears was your victory alone.

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