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Posted on February 28, 2019
In this blog, In The Saddle guest Dilys tells us about her recent trip to Estancia Los Potreros in Argentina.
“Argentina? But that’s an awfully long way to go for a week”, was the comment most frequently heard when I told people of my holiday plans. My answers are: (a) not really — just a tad longer than Bangkok, Los Angeles or South Africa, all popular choices; and (b) it was so very much worth it.
In The Saddle arranged my flights for me — Inverness to Buenos Aires (via Amsterdam), then an internal flight up to Cordoba. All went smoothly. The briefing booklet from In The Saddle could not have been more thorough and comprehensive and I do urge visitors to read it from cover to cover.
My taxi driver Fabian took me to the bottom of the drive in Las Potreros terms, the start of a track a few miles in length leading up to the estancia. Georgia, one of the many English-speaking staff at “Los Pots” met me with her warmth and fun. I felt immediately at home.
We’re bumping up the track in a 4×4 and I’m thinking: this is not what I expected. It’s very green and pretty, with an abundance of wild flowers, like a country lane in Devon or somewhere familiar, but with enormous blue skies and a sense of wide open spaces beyond the hedgerows. And, unlike Devon, it was 2 or 3 days before our daily ride took us anywhere near a road with actual traffic on it. This is rural, and remote.
My hosts Kevin and Louisa meet us at the house with a glass of home-made lemonade. I’m shown to my little house for the week which is full of interesting family furniture and rugs in deep, rich colours. Tea is at 4pm, my first ride at 5pm. As I sit on the terrace wolfing home baking and looking out at the softness of the green garden, I feel I’ve walked into something magical.
Horses, horses, and more horses
And I wasn’t wrong. The following days merged into each other with a pattern that was comfortingly familiar yet always different.
After breakfast, we rode out until lunchtime, never repeating a route. Our guides carried saddle-bags of water and that glorious lemonade and home-made biscuits for our pit-stops.
The saddles are well cushioned by a blanket and sheepskin, so the 5 hours of riding a day were not the physical challenge (i.e. sore bottom!) I had envisaged.
There are two breeds of horse on the estancia: the elegant Spanish Criollos, and — I fell besottedly in love here — the gaited Paso Peruano, a gaucho’s breed with a walk/trot gait so comfortable one can do it all day, which is of course the point. We rode Criollos in the morning, Pasos in the afternoon, never the same horse twice, so an excellent equestrian experience.
Every ride is accompanied by a gaucho (who has eyes in the back of his head for the welfare of horse and rider) and at least one of the English-speaking guides. Riders of all levels are well looked after, especially by the horses.
Each day we set out in a different direction, never crossing our tracks. The horses were so willing and really enjoyed their work.
Lunch, as every meal, was home-cooked, plentiful and delicious. Wine, beer and soft drinks always on offer. There’s was a surprising amount of pasta, but at least 60% of Argentines claim Italian ancestry — and where Italians go, their food goes with them.
A favourite part of the afternoon rides was bringing the foals and mares home. To explain: Los Potreros is a working cattle ranch covering 6,000 acres. Cows and horses roam freely in herds. The custom is to bring the youngstock and the pregnant mares in to the home paddocks at night, as pumas roam wild in the area (no fatalities in 13 years, Kevin assures me).
The chance to work with animals on horseback was, for me, one of the huge treats of my stay. For those of us who live and ride in the UK, most of our horsey activities are artificial, arena-based stuff. I’m not knocking it, but in my daily life there is no opportunity to “work” from horseback, to feel how it must have been in years gone by, when horses were an everyday part of our lives. Rural Argentina is still very much a horse culture.
Out of the saddle
Evenings at Los Potreros start with drinks on the terrace or in the garden, and dinner follows.
Over the week, some evenings offered a surprise diversion. One night a duo of musicians come to serenade us under the golden dying sky with examples of Latin music and explanations of their origin and meaning.
One night we were all herded into the kitchen, issued with chef’s hats and aprons, and “cooked” our own dinner under the supervision of Charlotte, the English chef, who had us making bread, ravioli and empanadas, with plentiful local wines on the side. There was a lot of fun, and the professional kitchen staff deftly repaired the worst of our errors before serving.
And, this being Argentina, there had to be an asado, of course (the asado is to a barbecue what Harvey Nichols is to shopping).
Did I mention the polo? No, well that’s on offer too. A walking version in our case of a game that I now realise is skillfully exciting. My team won, mainly because one member of the team is a golf player — it really does help if you can hit a ball.
There is often also the chance to try your hand at barrel racing and a game called ‘sortija’, a traditional gaucho sport where you have to pick up a small ring with a stick at the gallop.
January is summer in Argentina, and the rainy season. Winters are dry and surprisingly cold. In 7 days we had one dramatic storm which deluged us with tropical rain, and then stopped. The only weather in which riding won’t happen is during electric storms, for obvious reasons. I loved the excitement of the storm — a pair of woodpeckers came and nestled under the eaves on the porch.
All too soon, it was over. Los Potreros is a family home, not a purpose-built holiday venue, and I felt like a family guest. The Beggs have an interesting and unusual history in this place that stretches back over 100 years, and they are keen to share it with their guests.
Kevin’s family originally came to Argentina in the 19th century from Scotland, and it didn’t surprise me they adopted this area as their new home. Imagine Scotland with a tropical climate, and you have it.
Burrowing owls and parakeets
My object in choosing Los Potreros was a riding holiday, but I can’t emphasise enough that the place is not just about the riding. There were non-riding guests there along with me, and it was good to share adventures at meal-times. You can walk, or watch birds, or swim, or take photographs, or paint and sketch…or just sit in the sun and dream until the next meal.
The whole area is rich in bird and wildlife, and much of it seems to come right into the garden too, such as hummingbirds and parakeets. Near the cattle station, burrowing owls peer out at us fearlessly from their underground nests.
The one thing you can’t do is text your friends or prowl Facebook. Well, there had to be a negative somewhere, if “negative” is the word for radio silence. Your mobile dies as you approach the front door, symbolic to me of the way in which the place is a space apart from the busy noise of the world. There is no TV.
Personally, I found that a bonus, adding to the peace and sense of special-ness. Is this holiday for everyone? No. If you can’t live without texting and TV, if you need room service with hair dryers and a nail salon on site, if you need a night life that is bars and bling rather than listening to the bats and the birds in the purple night, and you know you can’t get through a week without shopping, then perhaps look elsewhere.
For me, it had everything: and the sense of personal peace I found there was a major part of it all. It was truly different, and I can’t wait to go back again.
A huge thank you to Dilys for sharing her wonderful experiences with us.