Argentina: Salta Estacion

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IMG_2195-001We had another high-light for our trip this year, during our 3 day stay at Sayta-Cabalgatas,  Enrique’s Estacion in the countryside outside Salta. We arrived from Buenos Aires in the late afternoon, so we stayed a night in an inexpensive hotel in town and were rested and ready when the driver showed up to take us out to the countryside. We arrived at the estacion in time for a light breakfast of coffee, juice, bread, and the ubiquitous (and irresistible)  dulce de leche. We introduced ourselves to the other guests, many of which were just there for the day and a few who were also spending the night.

IMG_2190-001Our gauchos (Javier and Pata) introduced us to our mounts for the day. Alex and Patrick were smiling ear-to-ear and couldn’t wait to get on the trail and show off some of their horsemanship skills they picked up at Horse Camp in New Zealand. Suzanne and I were looking forward to a new experience, and being older and wiser we both predicted the inevitable saddle soreness. Javier helped me into the saddle, handed me the reins, gave me quick directions on how to go left/right/stop/forward, suggested that I “go up and down” during a trot; and we were off. The horses are exceptionally trained and even us green-horns were able to manage the trails that crossed fields, rivers, and roads without any problems. The gauchos were excellent with us, doing their best to match riders with the right horse, make the ride entertaining, and keep everyone safe. The kids were naturals. Alex has had some riding experience having taken lessons last year. The gauchos were impressed with how comfortable she was and kept calling her a “gauchita”.

Lunch is a festive event every day at Enrique's enstacion

Lunch is a festive event every day at Enrique’s enstacion

They suggested that she should come back and volunteer at the estacion when she turns 16. Mom and Dad aren’t so sure about that. After a few hours working up a hunger on the trail, we returned to the house for a huge lunch of (melt in your mouth) BBQ asada filet, sausage, fresh bread, a wide selection of salads and vegetables, and a bottomless glass of red wine. Oh yes, and a small bowl of chilies  Patrick picked a dangerous looking small green chili and put it on his plate. The long table was crowded with people from all over the world, who were here for a taste of gaucho culture and a young man from Holland and a young woman from England were sitting across the table. When they saw Patrick take a bite of his chili they said “Hey, I thought you said those chilies are hot? If the kids can eat them, I want to give it a try!” Next thing you know the guy from Holland took a nibble, his face turned red, and tears started flowing down his face. I warned him not to rub his eyes – or he would be in real trouble. The English girl, learning nothing from her Dutch compatriot, took a nibble of her chili. She started crying and sputtered “Why anyone would do this to themselves?” Patrick shrugged and coolly took another bite of his chili, chewed it, swallowed and smiled at everyone. Enrique himself came over and shook Patrick’s hand and said “Well done sir”.

IMG_2150-001By the end of lunch the adults sitting around the table were full of great food, slightly buzzed, and ready to jump on a horse and ride for another three hours – so off we went. During the afternoon ride we all got the opportunity to gallop, this was very exciting, for the kids, and quite painful for Suzanne and myself. By the end of the afternoon ride the buzz was gone – replaced with saddle soreness.  We were back at the house to hang-out and chat, drink more wine, take a nap, and be up for a solid dinner at 10 PM. More wine and conversation with a newly-wed Irish couple (Andrew & Judith) a really nice German couple Lutz & Celia who had been to a music festival in town in spite of the rain. Enrique, the owner, and his daughter, Laura, who runs things there and the host volunteer Logan (a Mauri New Zealand police officer on sabbatical) were there for dinner as well. It was amazing what a nice conversation we were able to have with everyone speaking 3 different languages. The kids finished dinner and were off to bed at the early hour of 11 PM. The rest of us traded stories until about 2 AM, when Suzanne and I made our way to bed. We were staying in the master bedroom, which Enrique had vacated for a few days so we would be more comfortable. We really felt like house-guests, because we literally were house-guests – staying in Enrique’s room.

IMG_2166-001Breakfast was at 10 AM – and we were ready to do it all over again. Holly cow! I have no idea how these guys keep this schedule all season. By the afternoon of day-two, Suzanne and I needed to take an afternoon off and just rest for a few hours. So, we stayed at the ranch and drank wine and visited with Judith and Andrew. Alex and Patrick went out on the afternoon ride without us. When they got back they had a great time telling us about riding and learning to use a lasso – they even practiced lassoing each other! We have spent so much time together this year, that it is a nice treat for one of us to have a new story to tell the others. We had another late night after a dinner of local cuisine, humitas and tamales. No one lost any weight during our stay – that is for sure.

A gaucho picnik

A gaucho picnik

On our final day on the estacion the weather cooperated and we took off for an all-day ride and gaucho lunch in the mountains. We tested our balance when riding up and down a steep mountain trail and ducking under the tree branches to keep our seat in the saddle. It was a beautiful ride of rolling green hills without so much “up and down” trotting required. Pata took us on a short hike into a canyon where a statue of Mary is mounted into the natural stone.

A local sacred place where a river passes through a short canyon

A local sacred place where a river passes through a short canyon

There is a legend that the statue was built in the town center and the next day it was mounted in the canyon. The people there believe it was a miracle and visit the statue, light candles and bring flowers. Pata explained that he observes both Catholic and indigenous religious traditions. The indigenous traditions honor the natural elements of Water, Air, and Earth.

We arrived back at the ranch in time for afternoon tea and were able to enjoy a visit with a young couple from France who were out for the day. That night we enjoyed our last dinner with everyone; Logan taught the kids a new card game called Stop the Bus, and I pulled out my old standard wine cork trick. We enjoyed more great conversation with our hosts, but we’re pretty tired from our long day of riding.

Gouchita skills

Gouchita skills

The next morning was our time to leave, the kids wanted to stay longer, Alex loves being around horses. We enjoyed our final breakfast there and had an interesting conversation with some friends of Enrique’s from Buenos Aires who were visiting for a few days. Between our little Spanish and their little English I’m completely amazed that we had conversations about politics, economics, etc. I guess everyone understands complaining about the government, taxes, and the poor economy in any language. They were very friendly and it was fun to practice our limited Spanish.

IMG_2248-001With our time at an end, the folks at Enrique’s helped us arrange a rental car to be dropped off at the house and we headed out into the desert to view the famous scenery. Our plan was to take a few days to do a loop South of Salta city, spend a night in town to take care of any necessary business or provisioning, then take a couple of more days and drive a loop North of Salta.

Queue the hopeful music, as the intrepid family naively drives off into the desert….

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