“Under, for sure.”
“Yeah, under. No one’s taking the over, you need a new number.”
The conversation as we reboarded the hay trailer was light-hearted but serious. We had spent the day in San Antonio de Areco and then on an estancia near there. Around 3, we were served an incredible asado with numerous excellent side dishes and cold drinks. The weather had turned cooler and we had enjoyed a pleasant breeze for most of the day. With the group in a bit of a sentimental mood, there was talk around the table that this was the best day yet in Argentina.
It started early. We met at Di Tella at 8:20am for a 90 minute bus ride to San Antonio de Areco, a town designated as historically important by the Argentine government and a popular tourist spot. We located coffee and wifi. And banos, not necessarily in that order, after the relatively long ride. We walked the town with a lovely guide named Laura who is of Irish descent, her people having moved to the area in the early 19th century. Many of the names in the church were Irish. As well there was a lot of Italian, English, Welsh and German settlers. We visited a leather shop where I learned that the odd gear I earlier attributed to polo is, in fact, simply how Argentines saddle their horses. We visited a mate shop where a student bought a gourd made from a cow’s hoof. And we finished with a chocolate shop.
We then went to a museum for the writer Ricardo Güiraldes who was descended from the founder of San Antonio de Areco and split his youth between the family ranch, La Portena, there and Buenos Aires and Paris. Not a bad gig, if you can get it. The tour was excellent and the museum interesting. I was tempted to buy a book but thought maybe I should get through the children’s books I’m working on first.
A few photos from the first half of the day:
From the bus. It doesn’t look exactly like where I grew up but, after living in Buenos Aires for a month, it’s close enough. Flat, with lush crops extending to the horizon, dotted by working buildings and homes built more for function than to fit a neighborhood plan. It’s late summer here, roughly equivalent to late August in the northern hemisphere, and a lot of crops have either just been harvested or are coming close. When I took this literally everyone on the bus but me and the driver were asleep. I had just woken up.
The church in San Antonio de Areco which dates only to the early 20th century.
An Argentine saddle. A few of them, actually.
Tania, having finally found a mate gourd big enough for her taste.
Turns out people like chocolate.
After the museum, we headed to the estancia that was once owned by Güiraldes. We arrived to a table full of amazing cold drinks (that could be amazing cold…drinks or amazing…cold drinks. Works either way). We partook while ladies passed around some of the best empanadas we’ve had yet. We were then toured around the estancia by the owner. This included architecture, literary history, a forest, a climb in an Ombu bush, too many parakeets to count, a dove house, sheep, dogs, cows, pigs, mud, mud with extra special ingredients from the cows and sheep and, finally, the corral. A few of the students hit the pool while another group took a horse ride. I’d really been looking forward to this, even more after learning they use a different type of saddle, but they only had 10 horses and our number was 18. Being the good, responsible, leaderish type adult, I let them go, sacrificing my desires for the good of my students. Okay, so it took me a little longer to find my bag than it did Taylor. So she got the last spot. She also got the rowdyest horse and she blamed me.
While some students swam and others rode, I continued with the cold drinks, kicked a soccer ball around with a little boy who was much better than me and generally, in the words of my students, chilled. I was fortunate in that this meant I was first to the asado. Chorizo, lomo, pollo, oveja. In that order. All fantastic. Yee-hah.
About halfway through the meal our bus driver, with a concerned look on his face, approached Tania, our program coordinator, and I caught enough of their conversation, combined with my ability to read at dark gray clouds that build up suddenly, that I was able to determine that rain was near. The driver hustled off and I assumed we’d quickly follow suit. You see, the last 5 or 6 miles of the ride to the estancia was a rutted out dirt road and I’d already been warned in my previous ranch excursion that these roads are nigh unpassable when wet.
But, no, he was simply moving the bus to the highway. We would take a tractor out of the estancia if it rained. I loved this plan. First, I got to keep eating. Second, I would get my horse ride. Third, I’d get to ride a tractor through mud. Pass the wine, dude.
Just as we were finishing the lamb, the first drops fell. Big, heavy drops. Then they felt faster. Well, you’ve been there. We bolted for the guesthouse. A few of the students had the presence of mind to grab the wine bottles. We then spent a few hours watching a traditional song and dance demonstration (planned) served with ice cream, a mate lesson (planned), filling out program surveys (planned), watching Guardians of the Galaxy (unplanned), picking flowers from the wedding decorations still up from the weekend (unplanned), playing soccer (unplanned) and karoke (unplanned). What we didn’t do was ride horses. Too wet, too much rain, too much mud.
After our planned departure time came and went, I decided not to be so completely laid back that we all missed our early flights the next day and made some inquiries. It seemed the tractor plan was still on and everyone thought it would work. However, a number of the other guests had tried to drive their very normal cars out and now five of them were stuck at various points on the road. This meant that on the one hand we couldn’t safely pass through the road and, on the other, our tractor was needed to pull the cars out of the mud. Neither hand offered us a way out.
We ended up leaving the estancia in late dusk, with fireflies dotting the landscape, in the back of a hay trailer pulled by an old range rover, the tractor up ahead of us pulling out cars that kept getting stuck. It was a bumpy ride and we were crammed together pretty well but it was fun. (See postscript below).
And then, about 5 minutes in, we got stuck. It really was unsurprising. The road was complete mud and deep. We were heavy. We got stuck where three other cars had been stuck and a tractor had spent several hours pulling them out. It was a giant mud hole at this point.
We all got out and stood around as ranch hands freed the rover and trailer. We got back in and had the conversation at the top of this piece. We lost traction a number of times but never got stuck again. It was a little over an hour from there to the highway and, in that time, full dark came and the clouds cleared. I pointed out some constellations to anyone interested. There were at least a couple. We had a fantastic view of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds and I was able to just sit and stare at Crux for most of the ride.
After that, it was anti-climatic. We made the highway, dirtied up the bus where our poor driver had been sitting for hours and made our way back to Buenos Aires. Back in the city, we said goodbye to Tania and split up, some getting pre-arranged taxis, some opting to walk. The first flight was less than 8 hours away. We will reconvene as a whole this afternoon at Universidad Diego Portales and start trying to get to know a new city. But it will be hard to top the craziness and tranquility – or the fact that we got so much of both simultaneously – of the estancia visit.
Pictures from the estancia:
The Ombu. A bush that dots the pampas and is, in the words of all, good only for shade, though that is plenty.
Riding out the storm by filling out program surveys. If they only knew what was coming.
The entry to the estancia. Note the road.
While stuck, we were told a good spot to watch the sunset (where I’m standing). The students, for some reason, thought they could get closer.
Postscript: We broke our day old record for oddest place for an organic chemistry discussion. We rode benches and chairs in the hay trailer (I think we’d have all felt better about sitting on the bed of the trailer itself but it was soaked and the estancia would not hear of it). At one point, a jolt toppled a student sitting in a chair. Fortunately, she was in the center of the trailer and so only landed, hard, next to the chair but IN the trailer. This led to a reasonably accurate description of stable and unstable chair conformations. They tried to convince me that, as the largest substituent, I should lean out of the trailer.