After being exhausted from our 21 hour bus journey, we had the most amazing sleep in our hostel: “Salta Por Siempre” which literally translates as Salta for always. We woke up this morning, an hour after our alarms were set (we clearly needed the sleep) with half an hour before our tour. Obviously this wasn’t ideal so we shot out of bed, quickly got ready, basically inhaled instead of ate our breakfast and waited for our 10am pick up… Which ofcourse came at 10.30 (it is South America after all). On our way up to the mountain ranch our driver got a phone call saying that the other car had broken down, so we picked up the other four guests and had 7 of us squeezed into a 5 seat car for half of the journey until eventually we could break into a more safer, two cars. On arriving at the ranch, after travelling through the winding hilly roads that weren’t really roads, we were met by happy smiling Argentinians, dressed exactly how you’d imagine South American ranch people to look, big boots, cowboy hats, the lot. We filled in some safety forms with instructions on how to ride a horse, and then a questionnaire on how good the institutions had been, and then got fitted with our riding hats.
After explaining to them that I actually am quite afraid of horses (the horse riding was Juliet’s choice – a deal we made before we came was that if she came scuba diving with me… I’d go horse riding with her – a deal I was beginning to regret after seeing the huge horses we were going to ride) I made them promise that they’d chose me a nice friendly horse. They didn’t really seem to think about their choice but picked one of the horses from the back, a brown and white one and got me to climb up (using it’s mane to pull myself up.. How horrible!) and wait for the others. I did soon discover why I was chosen that horse though…
As we started our journey, Juliet was an absolute natural clicking her teeth, giving the horse a little kick and they were off. I tried to copy this but my horse wasn’t interested at all and actually wandered over to a tree and stood behind it – great start. Once every single person in our tour had gone, my horse finally got a move on but obviously didn’t want to follow the same path as everyone else and I nearly ended up in a ditch. It wasn’t the best beginning ever but my horse and I soon got to know each other and he realised I was probably the worst horse rider ever so he could shuffle along at snail pace and I wouldn’t mind, and I realised that this was probably the slowest horse in the history of horse… I could crawl faster – so we were both happy. At one point everyone had the option of cantering off, so my horse did actually go along for it, for all of about ten seconds before realising (I was beginning to really like the way my horse thinks) that actually it’s a waste of energy and not worth it cause they’d all have to wait for us, so we stopped cantering and went back to shuffling, allowing me to take in our absolutely beautiful surrounding (and also to take hundreds of photos.)
There was only one point on the whole tour where I wasn’t at the back and that is when Juliet waited for me so that we could have a horsey photo shoot and a chat. We even got a photo of the momentous moment…
However I then took it upon myself to tell our guide that Juliet has actually had a lot of experience riding horses and owning them (this was after he told me that he could tell the horse riding wasn’t my choice.. And that it was fine my horse could tell when he had an inexperience bad rider… Thanks) and that actually Juliet is a very good horse rider. He immediately got off his horse and told Juliet to get off hers. Then simply said, you have my horse, I want to see what you can do. So Juliet climbed onto his horse, a much wilder and faster horse and immediately she was at home and with a teeth click and a kick she was galloping away so fast across the Argentinian hills. And once again I was holding up the rear… Last once more.
Our tour guide, whose name I actually can’t actually remember but something along the lines of Guillian (Juliet thinks William), was so friendly and took care to make sure everyone and their horses were okay.
He was also an extremely interesting man, and as he spent a lot of the tour riding next to me at the back, trying to make my horse move even a fraction faster (I was secretly pleased it wouldn’t) we had a lot of time to chat. He started working on the ranch to look after the cows but had an immediate connection with the horses and so became their trainer. Soon the owner realised that he would be the best tour guide as basically the horses only responded to him, so asked him to guide. Guillian (if that’s his name) said he couldn’t possibly guide as he couldn’t speak English and so the owner paid for English lessons for him and now he is the too ranch tour guide in Salta. Another funny thing is that his English teacher was in love with the backstreet boys, and so he learnt the majority of his English from translating their songs as homework! He told me that next year he’s going to Germany to train Polo horses and when I asked him if he played, he responded saying of course not – polo is for girls. In Argentina (and maybe all of South America) they play a sport called “Pato” which is Spanish for duck. This game is effectively rugby on horse back and he described it as very manly! Basically, from what I learnt today, there is a rugby ball with handles on the floor in the middle of the pitch. On the whistler all the players gallop on horse back to it and have to basically get so low off their horse (but obviously still on) and reach down and grab it by a handle, they then gallop holding it out. Another player will come along and grab the other handle and then they wrestle for it, still both moving forward. The stronger player will obviously win the ball but it will result in the weaker player falling off his horse. There are twenty or so horses galloping around the pitch so you can imagine that falling off a horse isn’t nice, and when I asked if you get trampled on, I was in horror that he thought it a stupid question – obviously yes – that’s why it’s a manly sport!
Thankfully we didn’t try Pato once we were back at the ranch, however we were met by a delicious BBQ of meat and chorizo sausage (more meat than you can ever imagine – the dogs were fed well that evening) and a huge salad, corn on the cob, potatoes and swede. Juliet and I are actually still full from it now and it’s 10pm! Although I don’t want to admit it to Juliet, I actually did enjoy plodding along on my slow horse (even though I am a truly dreadful horse rider) and just like the guide book says, the hills of Salta really are beautiful.