It´s Monday 3rd October and I´ve landed in paradise!!
Imagine.... tranquillity with only the sounds of the wind and the birds in the trees; impeccably kept grounds but not in a manicured way; just a little wild, in keeping with the surrounding area; a small hacienda within this -individualized rooms set up in existing buildings on the grounds, some adjoining, some detached from the main house; all with original, old style furniture, luxurious white linen, a fire in every room, a bath (yee ha), toiletries and unlimited hot water. A cooked breakfast if you want but always fresh bread of varying flavours, fruit, cereal and jam; a varied lunch... today it is Empaladas (cornish pasties to you)but with the lightest pastry you can imagine, scrumptious fillings washed down with locally produced wine and followed by crepes and mint tea (my choice)…..
…….Getting the picture???
…….I´m in the most idealistic setting you can think of....Ooooohhhh and it feels bliss.
After breakfast (needless to say I have everything ) I went on my morning trek. This lasts about 4 hours and boy did it feel good. For someone who has only had about 6 lessons it didn´t feel strange or out of place for me to be sitting on this beautiful tranquil horse called Linda..riding Western style. It just felt natural...Note to self....keep this up when I get home.
I wasn’t well equipped for this type of holiday...as I said it was just a whim but nothing was a problem to Louisa and Kevin…a nicer couple you couldn´t meet. I’ll even have a hot water bag in my already very sumptuous bed, tonight. Yep lots of smiley faces because that is what I have got..a constantly smiling face.
WOW!!! This is what my soul has been craving!...Just for a little while, anyway.
OK now I will fill you in on my journey here from Peru…not as straight forward as I would have liked…not really so bad for me mind you …but for poor Carol and Lara...a bit traumatic!! So after a hectic day on Saturday preparing all the work I wanted to leave the NGO before I left for a week I finally made it to Cusco at about 8pm!! Now, not really in the mood or having the energy for a late night, knowing we were flying through the night the next night, I text Carol and said I would just stay in. When I arrived both Carol and Paul were already out. I had a small snack, a cup of tea and was in bed for 9pm..I was ready for it…call me sad!!
The next morning I got up and organized and actually didn´t have a huge amount of free time as I had to be at the airport for 11am. I was on an earlier flight than Carol and Lara, flying on a cheaper airline for us non- residents! When I left Carol was starting to recover having got in at 4.30am and Paul only got back at 10.30am that morning. As he walked past me, I said hello... I don’t think he heard me..still drunk I think and must have been5 knackered!! Boy was I glad I had stayed in…again.. sad I know.
I got to Lima at around 2pm and after being able to check in my luggage to Cordoba and receive my ticket 10 hours early I had a leisurely lunch, read a few pharmaceutical journals (this is my promise to me…to read and absorb the 3 months I have received in one bundle…the individual weekly ones never arrived) or as many as I could during the week or at least while travelling and sitting around in airports. Anyway Carol and Lara weren’t due to arrive in Lima until after 6pm and our flight to Cordoba wasn´t until midnight. After lunch I had a long promised-to-myself massage in Lima airport. This is one of the upright ones where you are leaning forward in one of the funny chairs. My shoulders were sore so I asked for a firm massage and boy I got it! I can feel where her elbows and karate chops have been…but it feels a lot better. It is amazing how good those massages are in a semi- upright position.
Carol and Lara hadn´t had as much success with relaxing, expecting to do a few things including a massage at Cusco airport, only to find on Sunday afternoon they were all closed! They were also delayed sitting on the runway at Lima for about 45 mins after landing. This was not the end of the fun for them..so read on..but first a little about taking care in Lima.
Firstly when you arrive at Lima you need to be very careful about which taxis you take from the airport. You really MUST take them from a recognized group of drivers usually wearing green tags around their neck just outside arrivals in the main building..not outside..there have been so many robberies and muggings by trying to skimp and take different taxis it is not worth the possibility of saving a few soles or dollars!!
When they finally arrived in Lima airport we all went into Lima to kill some time before our flight. After deciding the cinema was not going to work out for us, we went shopping for trainers for Lara and had a wander around the department store..I can tell you, department stores and malls are the same the world over!! I could have been in any upmarket mall, in any city in the world!! I could see why the type of women I was seeing at the airport and around Lima were drawn there…with their heels they could only totter in..clothes so tight there was no room to breathe and impeccable make up, DKNY sunglasses…I’m sure you have the picture... Everything I am not...and don´t want to be, actually. Every store was an upmarket brand name..from clothes to technology..you name it is in Lima!! Carol and I discussed this for a short time. Carol is like me in this respect...not big on names and very happy in casuals. In fact Carol is probably more so than me as she wears her walking boots most of the time, walking style trousers and fleecies.
While we were wandering along, Lara began to get very upset as her earache had worsened. I hadn´t realized but with a cold which she had she often got earache exacerbated by flying. We had to head back to the airport as quickly as possible to get her meds which were in left luggage. This is something else you need to be very careful for..pickpockets are rife in Lima and even those people in the know(i.e. gringo locals) still get done over! Carol strongly recommended I stick my wallet, carrying my paperwork and passport, down the front of my trousers…so I did..next to my money belt with the money I needed to pay Louisa when I arrived at Los Potreros. I looked like I was pregnant! I could only get $20 bills so it was kinda bulky!
Back at the airport we went to a nice restaurant, got Lara doped up and I visited the pharmacy to get a few extra things to help. While I was away Carol received a visit from the security police checking everything was OK!! With Lara crying so much it had alerted the police...they are very strict in Peru (and Latin America I understand)..no parent can leave with a child without an official notarized document, for that particular travel date, from the other parent to say they give them permission to leave the country! This applies to all women married to Peruvian men…or so we thought!! When we arrived at the immigration desk a couple of hours later Carol was passed to a couple of different immigration men and eventually was turned away because she didn´t have a letter of permission from Paul!!!!!! Yep you read correctly..even though they are both British they are citizens of Peru (because of their business and the kids have Peruvian citizenship) so the same rules apply….I was shell shocked!! I had been sent on through and browsed while Carol and Lara talked to the immigration team, eventually phoning me to say they had been turned away and would maybe make it the next day…or not!! At this point (4.30pm on Monday) I don´t have all the detail and still haven´t heard if they will make it here!! It was supposed to be me accompanying them, not me here and them not!!!!!!!
In departures I watched the departures board to see if my LAN flight would leave on time. It was interesting to note that as usual the Madrid LAN flights, two of them, were delayed....I wondered if they EVER left on time!! (I had been delayed on this flight twice over the last 2 years!) Anyway my flight to Cordoba left on time, at midnight. It had dawned on me as we sat in the plane, waiting to take off, I didn´t actually know how long this flight was because I didn´t know the time difference between Peru and Argentina. I had thought I was getting 5 hours sleep on this flight so wouldn´t be too bad on the Monday…WRONG!! It was a 3 hour flight and paperwork was required for entering a new country. I realized I still had apples and a banana in my bag so quickly ate them as I ticked "no" to bringing fresh fruit into the country! Interestingly the only electrical equipment they wanted to know about was mobile phones and how many you had!! All of this eating and writing up documents resulted in only about 2 hours shut-eye! At immigration and customs in Cordoba airport there seemed to be a priority area where some people seemed to slip through in front of the rest of us. I’m not quite sure how that worked..it seemed to be if you knew this lady with the glasses..or were carrying a sleeping child! Anyway, no problems at immigration and then onto customs. Everyone seemed to have to go through the scanners and there were only 3. I wouldn´t be too long you´d think, but no. There were a lot of cases being opened, documents taken, conversations with various other customs men and women and the office, before certain articles were taken.. I didn´t see what ..some in boxes, some inside papers…possibly seeds… who knows but I was close to the front and I was still an hour!! Goodness knows when the rest got through! Out in the main building I looked for my taxi driver but I couldn´t see anyone so I waited for a short time..still no-one.... so decided to try the phone numbers I had. I turned on my Claro phone only to discover it doesn´t work outside Peru..It had never crossed my mind! It was a cheap one so I suppose I couldn’t expect anything else. I tried to use the public phone but I didn´t have any pesos as my trip was all inclusive so then headed for the exchange booth. It was now very busy so I half stood nearby the exchange booth as well as looking to see if anyone had a sign for Los Potreros. Then a nice man came across and asked if he could help. He spoke English which was great. He called the taxi company from his cellphone and then we had to wait on them calling us back. I discovered he owned a hunting lodge an hour from Los Potreros. He left once his guests arrived and a nice policeman looked after me. We then discovered an older man who was standing well back was the driver I was waiting on. He had a notice which he wasn´t displaying. He was looking for 3 people, one a child! He had seemingly followed a family outside thinking it was them and then when he spoke to them discovered it wasn´t the right group so came back to the terminal and waited. Because I was on my own he ignored me....All was well that ended well though. We headed off and were at Los Potreros in about 40 mins. I tried to nap...2 hours sleep really wasn´t long enough!! I didn´t get much of a nap though as the sun came out and I was curious to see the surroundings. We soon turned into a gate and headed up a track. Not far along I noticed everything, as far as the eye could see, was blackened with new green shoots starting to sprout in a few places. I discovered after I arrived there had been a huge bushfire that had devastated the whole area. It took only 4 hours to cause all this damage, destroying huge areas, burning all the fences in this 6000 acre ranch and beyond. For Louisa and Kevin it was not so catastrophic, although a real hardship having to replace all the fences, no grass to feed the animals and no set up for feeding them etc., they had a business that was about to take off for their busy season and summer. They had contacted all their guests to explain but no-one had cancelled. For their neighbours it was a different story! They lived off the land. They had no money coming in to feed their animals and repair their fences!! The government are seemingly going to offer interest free loans to help local people. I’m pleased to hear that.
Kevin´s family have owned this property and bought up other properties around the area for a number of years. Kevin and his brother were running the business then Lou arrived 6 years ago, on holiday and her and Kevin fell in love...It was a lovely story of how it all happened. Lou helped Kevin build the business not realising how well it would take off. Now they are busy from October to April so have guides to help....English girls..keen riders..wanting to spend 6 months here...a very nice life if you ask me.
OK, so back to my arrival... I was not wasting time sleeping!!....I’ll go to bed early tonight...I wasn´t going to miss an opportunity like this!! I had a nap for about an hour and then had cereal and yoghurt, bacon and eggs and coffee for breakfast... Coffee was DEFINITELY required!!
At 10.30am I was introduced to Linda, my horse for the morning. I discovered we get different horses and breeds for the morning trek and the afternoon trek. The horses in the morning we rode the Criolla horses which were working horses used to round up the cattle etc and the Paso Peruanas in the afternoon...a very comfortable horse. As well as a different horse twice a day you had a different horse every day. You can understand why they have 120 horses..some out to pasture ..some working and then rotated as required.
Lou came with us on my first day and after a demonstration of how to ride these horses...(very laid back I might add) ...one handed like the gauchos and the slightest touch lets them know what you want them to do... we headed off around the extensive proprerty. It was a very leisurely trek around their amazing farm land, rolling hills, lots of wildlife, nothing but you and nature…very tranquil, very relaxed, and very chilled. The ground was quite rough and normally much greener, obviously. It had a number of rocky outcrops and paths around the farm for us to trek along as well as green pastures for the cows. Eventually we came to a cattle station where some of the gauchos lived and based themselves from. We had passed them out repairing fences...not surprising! Here there were their dogs, lambs...it is their spring after all, and horses at varying stages of being broken in. We stopped for coffee and a biscuit. Back on the horses we took another track and after another couple of hours were back at the main ranch and our accommodation. Lou and Kevin actually stay a mile from here. I was to see their place later that afternoon when we took another trail on our afternoon trek taking some of the horses out to pasture...well I wasn´t but Julio and Robyn were...they had 2 horses each as we rode along. I should explain on every trek there is a gaucho and one of the girls. Up at Lou and Kevin´s farm were the new foals and a pregnant mare who was very close to giving birth..by the way I love the Spanish word for giving birth..."dar a luz" ..to give light"...Isn´t that lovely!
So the itinerary for the day was 8.30am to 10am, breakfast.... (it isn´t light until 7am). At 10am the first trek of the day with coffee or lemonade and biscuits along the way; back for about 1.30pm for lunch..if you want there is always lemonade on the veranda of the tacking room when you return from your treks.. At lunch you can have any drink you like with your meal..I was very indulgent and had white wine with my lunch and the odd beer! After a leisurely lunch you have a little siesta or whatever...I write my blogs..and we are back at 4.30pm for afternoon tea, which consists of cake and then the afternoon trek. This tends to be a working trek, as I mentioned above and we took horses to pasture but have also checked out the cows on the high pastures, as there is no grass, so it is a costly affair feeding them. All their Aberdeen Angus cows (the main breed in Argentina) are looking a little thin just now. This trek tends to be from about 5pm to 7pm then time for a shower and drinks which start at 8pm and dinner at 8.30pm. After our meals everyone sits around and talks. Lou and / or Kevin are at the meals and are great conversationalists. The meals were wonderfully delicious with dishes such as Empaladas or various meat dishes, (we are in Argentina after all), for lunch.... to pasta, silverside or the like for dinner. These were always followed by a light dessert, teas and coffees. In our luxurious rooms at night they even put a toffee on the pillow case. It really was a lovely and indulgent vacation.
As a novice rider I felt I got along reasonably well. Carol and Lara arrived on Tuesday which was great. They had had fun and games on the Monday. Paul had to fly to Lima and then they had to go back and forth to the Notario and immigration. Luckily when they had it all sorted and arrived at the airport and the LAN desk, the nice supervisor took pity on them and they had no extra charges to fly to Cordoba. As there was only one flight a day they came on the same flight, a day later.
On their second day at the ranch Carol, who as ridden horses for ever, wanted to push on and do more trotting and cantering. I must admit on these bigger horses I was finding the trot difficult to sit in the saddle for, especially with the Criolla horses...The Paso Peruanas in the afternoon were slightly easier, but only slightly. I was therefore experimenting with various positions from what I remembered from my lessons the year before and was asking Carol and the girls what was best. The full canters were much easier to sit into them but I never did master the trot..it was too bouncy. I was pleased to see the others were the same! We had a really long canter early in the week and I was struggling with that one but by the end of the week I was urging my horse on...I loved it. . Carol was delighted with these long canters as at home in Wales the fields were much smaller so didn’t last long. Two new ladies from Britain arrived on Wednesday and they were experienced riders, one being an instructor! I was thinking we would need to split into 2 groups but I didn´t think Carol would want to leave Lara. As it turned out that is exactly what happened. On their afternoon ride they went to round up cattle. We just had a leisurely ride. Carol stuck with Lara and I.
Despite Lou and Kevin wanting rain, to help the grass along, the weather was lovely for most of the week. The temperature really began to soar so suntan cream was essential. There was part of the first 2 days when I was well wrapped up but after that I had to shed layers each day. The beauty of the saddle bags meant you could add or take off at will..and my camera was always there. I had been considering how sore my bottom would be so brought my cycling shorts to pad and protect a little. It did help but I was sore for about a week afterwards...well so would you be after 5-6 hours in the saddle every day!! It was really good fun though. Lou let me borrow half chaps and hat to keep me right. I looked a ticket but it didn’t matter. The two guides currently at the ranch were Robyn (who had 2 months left of her 6 month stint) and Ellie who had just started. Two more British girls would join them in 2 weeks as the season picked up. Basically it was their job to ensure we were safe and we had everything we wanted. This was done under the close supervision of Lou and Kevin. They did their job well and we felt very pampered.
Highlights of the week:
• Bucks Fizz at Lou’s one evening as the sun set.
• Riding into the rocky mountains and the incredible views.
• Cantering for what seemed an age on the amazing Paso Peruanas.
• Walking up into the mountains in the early morning and seeing the sun rise with no sound around.
• The amazing chatter of the parakeets in the trees at the ranch
• The leisurely meals with beautiful food and wine.
• Incredibly comfortable, sumptuous beds
• The wood burning stoves keeping the rooms toasty all night
• The young horses chasing one of the dogs across the field
• An interesting and fun game of polo..when I couldn’t get my horse to canter, Lou gave it a little tap and he took off but I had lost my footing so just hung on..quite funny actually.
ALL IN ALL I WOULD STONGLY RECOMMEND THIS HOLIDAY...I WOULD LOVE TO COME BACK I CAN TELL YOU.