I haven't been blogging recently. I try to live by the rule - don't blog cranky. When I look around me, I want to see goodness. I know that many people blog to uncover darkness, but personally I blog to lift my spirits. I haven't been feeling it lately. At the moment I see a lot of anger and frustration. The thing is I don't want to look back years from now and listen to myself complaining, so I've said nothing. It's no secret through the international news that Argentina is going through a bad patch. But I want to leave that all aside. I'm officially turning this frown upside down.
Last weekend we were invited to an estancia. Our family hasn't done a lot of the estancia thing. When we first arrived we paid premium prices for a couple of mediocre experiences, so we never really developed a rhythm of visiting estancias. We saved our travel money for the big guns - Iguazu, Calafate, the Peninsula Valdes, Mendoza, Salta, our many jaunts across the river to Uruguay and ultimately our trips to Easter Island and the Atacama desert in Chile.
But I was intrigued by this estancia. First off it's a smaller place. We were four families and we took over the whole place. That sounded like fun. And secondly it was much farther north than a lot of places close to Buenos Aires. We drove all the way to Corrientes province, nearly seven hundred kilometers away. It felt good to leave the province of Buenos Aires behind.
The rest of the families took the overnight bus but we waited for morning and drove in our trusty family car, long known to the kids as Bruce from Finding Nemo. With The Earnest Boy on Gravol - we've finally learned our lesson after serious barf sessions in the Peninsula Valdes, Salta and the Atacama - we were going on a road trip.
The farther north we drove the more the scenery changed. We spent hours travelling through farm country. Once you get outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina is still a farming nation at heart. There's a lot of land out there. As we came into Corrientes province we noticed a change of topography. The lands were wetter, marsh like. Horses and cows routinely stood in shallow ponds, hanging out. Enormous birds were everywhere from herons to hawks. And more than once guinea pigs darted across the road. We were not in Kansas any more Toto . . .
By the time we arrived to the estancia we were ready to stretch our legs. The others were out on a ride and we were greeted by the staff of the estancia to sit down for merienda. In Argentina people eat four meals a day - breakfast, lunch, merienda and dinner. With dinner starting at nine o'clock or later people need a five o'clock tea to bridge the gap. The Force and I both took a cuppa and toast smeared with dulce de leche while overlooking the serene view of the river and the palm trees as the sun set. The skies were brilliant blue and orange. What a view.
We couldn't hold the kids down long. As they spend their summers running about the country in Canada . . . they know what to do. They ran off in search of dogs and cats, to check out the barn and to hunt for butterflies and toads. They were in their element.
The rest of our group arrived and we went on to have a wonderful weekend. There were nine kids, aged eight to fifteen. And they all got along wonderfully. I didn't hear one iota of bickering amongst them. I love that. In the mornings we'd head out on a ride. I'm not really a horse rider. In fact I have a very healthy fear of horses. My last experience was some years ago in Uruguay and I had to be rescued by a gaucho from a twitchy irritable horse. But I put my game face on as we head out. The head gaucho assured me that he gave me a calm, older mare. It helped to calm my nerves. I called her Red Velvet and we got on swimmingly.
The kids were amazing. They had no fear and I was glad we invested in one year of ring riding lessons in Buenos Aires. The Glamourous Girl looked divine. She rides tall in the saddle and looks only as she can, elegant and poised. Within minutes she was off cantering across open fields with the wind in her hair. Beautiful.
Back at the estancia life was gentle. We showered and cleaned up and then lounged on comfortable old sofas reading a book or chatting while sipping on cool white wine. We'd have a long, leisurely lunch and there was a lot of laughter. The afternoons brought more horse riding or fishing or going by truck on safari deep into the ranch lands. I did this and had the pleasure to see caimans, antelopes, fox, flamingos and wild turkeys. The best animals were the capybaras, which we saw in droves. They are the world's largest rodent but not at all unpleasant. It was like a bigger, kinder version of a beaver.
We ate a lot. There was too much wine, gobs of dulce de leche and plenty of fried things. They served fried meat empanadas as snacks and even fried bread at breakfast. How can you say no? We ate tons of grilled meat and joyfully, homemade pasta and gnocchi. What's not to like?
My favourite riding moment was on Sunday morning out in the fields, full of Hereford cattle. They ran around us, the horses unfazed by their skittishness. The gauchos corralled semi wild horses and at one point we crossed a river on horseback as the world endless stretched out before us. I even learned to canter across the plains. It was a wonderfully scary moment. The lands of Corrientes are a timeless place. One that transcends politics and economics. A special place that always has been, and always will be. In an increasingly scary world, it's a comfort.