The girl, the gaucho and the Andes
I came to South America with no expectations and only enough Spanish to order wine. Driving up the Andes Mountains, nerves and excitement dance in the pit of my stomach.
I keep my eyes fixated on misty mountain tops, children running dressed in alpaca sweaters, and the occasional cow challenging us for space on the road. After an hour and a half in the car with Rolo, the quiet and rugged mountain man who is to be my guide, I arrive at La Quebrada del Condor, a family-owned ranch in the mountains of Argentina.
We're greeted by Eduardo, the gaucho who will take me high into the Andes on horseback. Eduardo is interesting – rugged and jolly, with eyes that glisten with many past memories.
His smile is bright against his weathered pink cheeks and his greeting feels familiar, as if I'm part of the family. After handing me the coat off his back for the ride, Eduardo, Rolo and I head down to the barn where my horse, Mandingo, awaits my arrival.
I'm told to saddle up, which I attempt with as much grace as I can muster, hoping to hide the fact that I haven't ridden in a few years. I must have fooled them because they give me a quick breath of Spanish directions and before I know it we're off, the dust of the Andes Mountains creating clouds beneath Mandingo's hooves.
We turn the corner and Mandingo takes me to a cliff. We freeze at the edge as Eduardo raises his worn hands to his mouth and bellows something in Spanish.
We ride down the steep trails, and I give my trust to my gaucho and my horse. Smoke from the distance signals that the asado back at the ranch is under way, waiting to welcome us home. My legs are stiff and my heart is heavy as I dismount – I don't want those views to vanish.
The ranch is busy. Extended family arrive for an Argentinian barbecue. They give greetings and kisses and pour glasses of malbec. Two flat-top grills are covered with carne, sausages, empanadas and cheeses.
The barn cat chases my boots as I set the table. I'm humbled by the unpretentiousness of the affair. After multiple ¡saluds!, the family passes around plates of delicious food and passionately tells stories.
I scrape my plate clean of malbec-poached pears and creme made by Eduardo. After espressos, Eduardo gives us an impromptu lasso lesson (and gives me false hope that maybe I can return to live among the gauchos and pumas). I am grateful.
The owner senses my unspoken joy, hands me a horseshoe from the ring and smiles: Buena suerte. I never want to leave this place. Rolo and I hug the family goodbye and crawl into his car to head back down the mountains.
I'm so full and so heartbroken at the same time that tears flood my eyes. I hold the horseshoe and a handful of lemon thyme from the fields and gaze out the window as the Andes become more distant by the minute.
I feel as if I've been given the gift of unexpected inspiration and peace with a healthy dose of adventure and family. My day at La Quebrada del Condor will forever be one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
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Author: Gretchen Finn
This article originally appeared on Fathom.
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