24th December 2012
Having taken the group (all 14 of them) on a whistle-stop tour of Buenos Aires – visiting the famous Recoletta cemetery, the Eva Peron balcony in Plaza de Mayo, the colourful streets of La Boco and the flea markets of San Telmo – we jumped on a night bus and headed north to Corrientes and Estancia La Rosita.
Years ago, literally back in the late 80s, I promised myself no matter how horrendous the other travelling options were I would never spend another night on a bus. Being cramped into a high speed sardine can, seats flipped back leaving your knees crushed, your neck crooked and the head of a stranger bobbing up and down criminally close to your groin, was an experience I felt best left to the teen backpackers.
However, when putting this trip together, Fernando – our host at La Rosita – convinced me a luxury bus was a much more convenient, and less expensive, option. But despite his enthusiastic protestations of full flat beds and champagne served by a friendly young hostess, and countless tales from others I’d heard that buses in Argentina really did represent an acceptable option for the modern day, upper-end traveller, it was still with some trepidation that I led my group into the city’s chaotic bus stand. But I needn’t have worried; with the help of our guide we enjoyed 30 minutes in the VIP lounge before being whisked through the station like visiting dignitaries to our bus, where upon a very relaxing and enjoyable 8 hour, sleep-filled journey to Esquina ensued.
Fernando was there to meet us, with his brother Willie, and soon we were loaded up into 4x4s trundling along the dirt roads, east towards the rising sun. As we swung into the estancia’s main gate and followed an avenue of towering eucalyptus, a magical golden light flitted through the trees. We were all buzzing to finally be here.
La Rosita is no luxury estancia. On the contrary, it is a collection of three single-story dwellings, with simple whitewashed walls and okra-coloured corrugated iron roofs. There are two two large verandas in front looking onto a pretty garden boasting a copse of majestic trees, a couple of hammocks and a small raised swimming pool. The rooms are simple, and perfunctory, packed with old prints, and assorted bric-a-brac, and the bathrooms likewise. But what it does have is a charming family, which gives the place one of the most magical atmosphere I have almost ever come across.
I have only been here once before, for three days two years back, and I thought then if I could raise the right group it would make a wonderful Christmas trip. But until you come back, with that group – all paying good, hard-earned money for the privilege – you’re never quite sure if your idea is right. But within two minutes of arriving, I knew I had little to fear… their happy faces said it all.
After a short rest, we got everyone saddled up and headed off across the pampas. Riding across these endless grasslands, weaving our way passed indolent cattle and their elegant egret companions, it was like travelling across the canvas of a vast pre-Raphaelite painting. We splashed through the water meadows, disturbing the cormorants, spoon-billed flamingos, storks and ibis, and cantered through an avenue of acacia. By one, we were back at the ranch, enjoying a swim and a beer.
What a way, and what a place, to be spending Christmas Eve!