The thought of a 60k ride on the penultimate day of our estancia-to-estancia tour didn’t fill everyone with a sense of excitement. Despite all being consummate riders, a few of the group were concerned that riding the equivalent of London to Tunbridge Wells in a single day might be rather challenging; a mood that did not improve when we woke to a cloudy sky and drizzle.
We had arrived in Argentina a week earlier and having had a look around the elegant capital, Buenos Aires, had taken the night bus – a luxury service with flat beds and champagne – up to Esquina on the banks of the Corrinetes River. Here we were picked up by Fernando and Willie Landgraf and taken to their spectacular 4,000 hectare Estancia La Rosita. This was my third visit to what is undoubtedly one of my top six ‘hotels’ in the world; a situation made not by luxury, for there is little of that by any traditional measure, but by the kind family that run it and the huge fun we have while there playing at being gauchos.
For the first two days we became accustomed to our horses while helping out with the farm chores; rounding up cattle and putting them through the dip, injecting calves, moving horses from one field to another. On the third day we started our journey, riding around 30ks a day and staying at hugely atmospheric estancias all of which were quite grand with interesting stories behind them.
But the last morning of the trail ride had some concerned. Fernando had told us it should take around 8 hours of riding. Given 2 hours for lunch, if we left at 8.30 we should arrive back at La Rosita by 18.30. I was not convinced.
Although the rain had stopped, we set out under a brooding sky. Chino, one of the gauchos, had been sent out front with orders to keep up a good pace. We rode across some wet marshland beside a pine forest at a lolloping trot.
But soon the sky cleared and sun came out. Before us now stretched the endless pampas. It’s hard to describe why a landscape as flat as the Fens is so beautiful, but it is. The vast skies and far away horizons help, as does the red and yellow wispy grass swaying under the horse’s hooves. Islands of tall poplars and eucalyptus depicting a distant homestead draw your gaze, as do the many lagoons that lend a temporary home to a vast array of birdlife: pink-tailed spoonbills, yellow-winged jacanas, bow-beaked ibis, ochre-necked caracara, squawking lapwings, and high above vultures riding the thermals. A herd of antelope raced by in front of us. And as we picked up a canter the spare horses we were herding raced majestically at our side.
But ultimately I think it was the natural feeling of riding wild and free on a beautiful horse across an ancient land that filled our hearts with joy; with an almost primal feeling of connection to the land and to mankind. Doing what our ancestors had done for centuries lifted the experience above a simple ride and into something more profound.
Keeping up a good pace we arrived at a small homestead for lunch at 12.30. Half an hour later the ‘asado’ – a whole barbequed lamb – was ready which we wolfed down like the hungry cowboys and cowgirls we were.
After a short siesta in slung-up hammocks we rode on herding the horses before us. Not only was this great fun, and gave the ride a purpose, it also meant we kept up a good pace and arrived back at La Rosita as the sun was setting just as Fernando predicted.
A day that many had been worried about turned out to be the highlight of the holiday. A challenging day but one that all of us will ultimately remember for a very long time.