Pleasantly pickled in red wine, I listened to the Gaucho’s guitar and took in my bucolic surroundings. Dogs played in a dusty courtyard. Behind them, weary horses gathered in the shade. Within arm’s reach, the remnants of a delicious barbeque were scattered across a colossal table.
An extremely large swimming pool
Travel takes many different forms. Sometimes we plough through countries like skiers carving powder, often we seek out backwaters to relax a while and get to know the locals. My South America journey was ultimately dictated by funds and by the time I reached Argentina, I was already dreading what I felt, would be a premature end to my time on the continent.
Despite that creeping fear, my limited days in Argentina provided some of my most memorable moments. Within a few days, I’d eaten the most succulent steak of my life, rafted down white waters and ridden cowboy-style through the arid farmland of the north. A campsite on the outskirts of the city of Salta was my base for this flurry of activity and incidentally, was also home to the largest swimming pool in the southern hemisphere.
Following the previous week’s passport debacle, the sheer relief of being able to cross the border was met with happiness at the presence of well-tarmacked roads and well-stocked supermarkets. Although, that evening I had to pitch my tent next to an expanse of grubby white plastic, slightly disappointed that the largest swimming pool in the southern hemisphere was in fact, devoid of water.
Into the great outdoors
My disappointment wouldn’t last long. Early the next day I drove out to a Gaucho ranch. I’ve always ridden horses and stupidly thought that I might make a promising student. I quickly learned that being an Argentinian cowboy required a far more laid-back approach. Straightening my legs, leaning back and throwing a hand carelessly in the air were the perfect recipe for looking cool!
I worked hard at relaxing in the saddle and was rewarded with copious amounts of red wine and a traditional asado (barbeque). All manner of delicious meat, accompanied by a mandatory spot of salad, was thrown in front of me, while the ranch hands entertained everyone with their guitars. I felt privileged to get a glimpse into their traditional way of life and was sure that my Argentinian experience might have peaked.
Nevertheless, the next morning after allaying a looming hangover with breakfast steak, I was finally able to submerge myself in water. Not a large pool, but better still, the rapids of Salta’s Rio Juramento. The inflatable raft possessed twice as much mischievous spirit as my horse, and by the time my foray into Argentina’s wilderness was over, my muscles ached. There was only one cure: more red wine and steak.
My final day in Salta was actually spent in Salta. I walked through the whitewashed buildings and celebrated a friend’s birthday by eating my bodyweight in meat: a common theme of my time in the country. I felt the sudden urge to travel further south, to dance in the tango bars of Buenos Aires, hike the beautiful glaciers of Patagonia and visit the villages that still speak Welsh.
A premature departure?
Alas, it wasn’t to be. As my truck hit the smooth motorway heading west towards Paraguay, my penultimate country, I resigned myself to the fact that one week in Argentina had been enough time. Enough time to taste the country through its delightful steak, red wine and friendly people. Still, is one week really enough? No, absolutely not.