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Monday, February 08, 2010

A Tango with San Antonio de Areco

Dec 1/09

I´ve been robbed!!!! Some of you are now probably looking at this email in shock. What got stolen? My passport? My money? My cell phone? It is actually none of the above. The answer is actually a little odd. It´s my BLOOD!!!!!! You see, I´m here in San Antonio de Areco, a little town 90 mins outside of BA. Argentina has many things that make up it´s culture. One is tango dancing. The other is less well known. It is the Gauchos....or cowboys as we call them in english. San Antonio de Areco is the perfect little excursion away from the big city and everything here is dirt cheap. Unfortunately, for what I am saving in money I seem to be paying in mililitres of blood as swarms mosquitos insist on taking a bite out of me. But I make it very clear to the mosquitos that I am a bitter enemy and for many mosquitos, my blood was the last meal they will ever have.

Other than that, this excursion has been next to perfect. My adventure began yesterday when I woke up and for some reason I felt a sense of excitement about San Antonio de Areco. I don´t know why I felt so excited because it´s just a little town with barely two tourist attractions. But I felt somehow that this trip is meant to be and it is all part of the journey. So before you knew it, I found myself on a bus heading out of the city of Buenos Aires. It was about 12 noon when the bus pulled up to San Antonio de Areco.

My first goal would be to find lodging. I already knew where I wanted to go. The Gaucho hostel. I got directions from the locals and pretty soon, I found myself standing in front of the hostel. Once inside, I told the girl that I needed a room for two nites and didn´t mind sharing. She said no problem and told me that it would take another 30 mins to get my room ready. I said that was fine and that I was hungry anyway so I would go get something to eat while they finished preparing the room. She pointed me in the direction of a good restaurant and I went on my way.

I had lunch at the restaurant that she recommended and I came in and sat down and asked the waiter what was the local special. He pointed it out to me on the menu so I said I would like to try it. It was about 20 mins later when the food came. It look like it was slices of steak medallions with fried potato wedges (they were basically french fries in the shape of nuggets). The first thing that I noticed when my lunch came was that there was a funny smell. At first i´m like "this smells like horse shit!". But after taking a second whiff, I realized that it wasn´t the smell of horse droppings. It was the smell of that of a farm or a ranch.

Cautiously I pierced one of the medallions with my fork and put the it in my mouth. Immeditately I could tell that the meat had a distinct taste than the what I had tasted in BA. It had an earthy kind of a taste to it. But as always, the meat was thick and soft and I didn´t hesistate to leave an empty plate. I am so glad that the smell wasn´t really horse droppings. Little did I know that the very next day, i would spend the day on a ranch and there I would become quite familiarized with the smell of real horse poo :0

After lunch, I came back to the hostel to find that my room was ready. They took me into the room where I would spend the next 2 nights. Inside there was a bunk bed and off to the side was a seperate bed. My bed was the lower bunk and someone else had claimed the bed off to the side. The person wasn´t around when I checked in but one look at their possessions and I knew that it was definitely a guy. It turns out that my roommate is man from Ireland in his 30's or 40´s who has been vacationing here in Argentina for 7 weeks.

Later I met him and we ended up having a lovely chat as we sat in the backyard of the house. He was having a smoke while i was enjoying a mate. We talked about what a wonderful hostel this was. Truth be told, this is actually more like a bed an breakfast than a hostel. There is a backyard with a small patio. During the day some chickens that the family owns can be found either pecking at the grass for food or snoozing in the storage space for firewood. There is a kitchen that guests can use for cooking. The front of the house as you come in has a small area with tables in it and a TV. This is where you get served your complimentary breakfast of toasted bread with marmalade, dulce du leche and mate, cafe con leche or any drink of your choice. I find this to be an extremely nurturing enviroment and the simplicity of life is very nourishing to the soul.

I´ve spent the past two days exploring this tiny town which may be little but has a sweet ambience. Yesterday I visited a little museum which showed the history of the town and of the gauchos (cowboys). I got to see a neat little chocolate store which has a chocolate factory behind the country that results in all the chocolates being completely homegrown: The chocolates were so good, completely natural and not too sweet.

Today held an adventure of a different sort. I was told that at one of the ranches nearby, there is some kind of gaucho fiesta where there is food, song and dance and games. So I made my way over to the ranch where the festivities were beginning at 11am. And it was quite a deal for my dollar. For $25 CDN, I could go horse riding, take part in an "asado feast" (BBQ), see folklore dancing etc, It sounded like the perfect way to dive right into the gaucho culture. So I temporarily traded in my tango shoes for some cowboy spurs (metaphorically speakng of course) and forked over 100 pesos to get the adventure started.

It was really a blast. The feast left me full. The folklore dancing lifted my spirits. I actually ended up making some new friends who were at the fiesta as part of an excursion they had taken with a tour group. At the end of the day, I got 10x my money´s worth that afternoon on the ranch. One of the things I will always remember is the horse back riding. Part of what is included is that you can go on a 30 min tour of the ranch on a horse. So I braced myself and saddled up.

I had taken horse riding lessons when I was young but it was apparent that I retained none of my skills. The only thing I remembered was to tug the reins left or right to gesture the horse to turn either way. It felt really strange at first and it took a moment or two to gain my balance. Also, here in Argentina, they cowboys don´t use helmets. Sitting up there on that horse feeling bare and vulnerable reminded me of when I was 3 or 4 years old and I was in Thailand and I got to ride an elephant. You can only imagine how high up that must felt like when you are that age.

It was a very nice ride around the property but there is a portion of it that I will remember. The whole group of us came to a part where there was a bog and the water was up to the horses knees. I looked at that bog and I was like "No way, you have to be kidding." But fate would have us going straight through the bog...........on a horse. I´ve already mentioned above that it is wobbly if you are not used to a horse. Now imagine crossing a bog on a horse with absolutely no protection on either side and only the reigns and the saddle to hold on to.

I was absolutely determined not to fall when we were on land and there is no way I would let myself get shaken off the horse and landing headfirst into the bog. What made me even more determined not to fall off was when the horse in front of me decided to have a poo break in the middle of the pond right there in the water. Seeing that gave me a renewed sense of determination like nothing else on earth to make it to dry land. And I did!!!!! The tour continued and my horse slipped behind and was the last. As we approached the last leg of the journey, one of the gauchos who was on another horse said something to me. I had no idea what he said but I simply replied "SI".

Sometimes saying "SI" helps me get through a conversation but in this case, I didn´t know I was agreeing to something. Because a moment later, he indicated to me to loosen my hold on the reigns and grip onto the saddle. I did that and then he gave the horse some kind of signal. I realized in that moment what I had agreed to. I had agreed to let the horse break into a trot for the last bit of the journey. I could feel the horse beneath me accelerate and I felt myself bouncing up and down on the saddle holding on for dear life. 60 secs later it was all over. I was alive and not only was I alive, I was alive AND dry. What a bonus!!!!! And after 30 mins of being at the mercy of a horse, that was the only thing that I could have cared about at that point in time *SIGH*

So that is the story of my tango with San Antonio de Areco :)

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas