I’ve been here two years and had some awesome experiences, but I think last weekend was one of my best weekends in Mendoza. Two days of horse riding in the Andes, sleeping under the stars and learning the tricks of the trade with a hoard of rowdy gauchos…
Very near The Vines’ own vineyard in the Uco Valley lies the Manzano Historico – a mountain crossing to Chile made famous because it was here where General San Martin rallied up his troops to liberate Argentina. Tunuyan’s council recently decided to increase the area of the nature reserve and to celebrate they invited a few hardy journalists out to explore the area on the back of a horse with a few people from the council and around 30 gauchos to lead the pack.
I have to admit from the beginning that I am terrible on horseback- a complete novice- so two days horse trekking, tripping over large rocks and jumping across rivers was quite a baptism by fire (and my butt has been reminding me ever since). But the rump ache is totally worth every last twitch as the experience of riding through the Andes is once in a lifetime.
The Andes are just so rugged. The myriad of colors on these bare rocks are fascinating – they change with every passing hour, km and change in cloud pattern. All along the Ruta San Martin (San Martin route) you are accompanied by a gushing snowmelt river which adds to the gorgeous scenery.
In Mendoza, the other great thing is the endless sky and usually very sunny weather. Our trek started out that way, but as we approached the border with Chile, clouds began to cover the horizon and before long we were in the middle of a storm.
Arriving at base camp (around 3800m in altitude) we were all a bit soggy and fortunately the local army (who were used to this quick change in weather) had set up a couple large tents for us to huddle under and pull out our waterproof gear. So with just rain and big hailstone storms outside at 5pm, we were left with very little else to do than to start drinking…. And that is when the real fun began.
Gauchos don’t only look cool on horses, but they are masters of a good knees up: guitar playing, lung bursting singing, wine drinking from the damajuana (5 litre bottle), ridiculous amounts of BBQ-ed meat and lots of dancing.
The morning after was surprisingly fine: a quick splash of water in the face from the glacier-melt river, a slug of mate and a stunning sky – with the moon on one side, the sun on the other and mountains inbetween – were enough to clear away any hangover blues.
Clambering up with the horses to the new boundary of the nature reserve, we all arrived at well over 4000m to El Portillo (the gate). This is the gateway to Chile and the orange lunar landscape certainly looks like you are stepping into a different world. Scattered along the route are faded cow carcusses. This used to be a cattle trading route to Chile, and one of the handsome gauchos shared an old game they used to play with me: cow running. To pass away some of the long journey crossing the Andes with hundreds of cows, the gauchos would play a game involving teams of two gauchos upon horses and a cow in between with a ball either side of the cow. The aim of the game was to see which team could run the furthest while maintaining the cow and balls in the middle. There was no time for cow running for us though, after raising a flag and revealing a monument on the mountain sides we had to head back down the mountains.
Trundling back down is a much quicker process but the route still leaves plenty of time to work on perfecting that gaucho cry ‘aaaaaiiiii oooo’. Something like that.
**You can hire horses and a gaucho guide from numerous gauchos in the Manzano Historico. A full day horseriding will cost around $250 pesos. Buses to Manzano Historico can be taken from the main bus station in Mendoza and take an hour and a half.
Amanda Barnes is a British journalist living in Mendoza and felt a little bit disgusted but rather proud of the color of the water in her bathtub after two days on the road with a bunch of gauchos. Aaaaaiiiiii ooooo!
Taken from The Vines Blog: http://www.vinesofmendoza.com/blog/