Into the Argentine Pampas
A December chill crept into Ohio and I daydreamed of dancing the tango in Buenos Aires. When those photographs of mere moments of adventure flash in me, it’s only a question of when. Three months later, standby butterflies consuming my soul, my mom, friend and fellow adventurer, Heather, and I paced at the gate in Washington. My tango dream very well could have shattered that evening in March had the flight been full, but butterflies morphed in pure joy as the agent called our names. And a 14-hour flight just wasn’t long enough in First Class.
There is a feeling every traveler can relate to, when the next move feels like a gamble. The hand of doubt leaving one dumbfounded. Am I going the right way? Is this the right bus? And the panic of not knowing where to get off, let alone where to go once you do. Our arrival in the town of San Antonio de Areco, about an hour outside Buenos Aires was no different. Fellow passengers quickly scattered, but a rickety cab soon teetered toward our American trio, easing the sting of our confusion. Crammed into the back of the dilapidated vehicle, the wrinkled taxi driver set off on the short drive to our destination, El Ombú de Areco.
I bore the weight of that frigid Ohio winter dreaming of tango, but also of dining on the region’s gastronomy in proper fashion alongside real cowboys, the Argentine gauchos. We were at long last on our way to an Argentine estancia, or ranch, to experience the art of the asado and lose ourselves in the countryside. The deep rivets of the dusty road of this region of Argentina known as the Pampas, rocked the taxi awkwardly. It was the beginning of fall in the southern hemisphere, but still the dust of the road mixed with sweat on our faces as we jolted along.
After a while the surface smoothed and although still on a very much unpaved road, we were gliding down a tree-lined drive as if approaching a southern plantation. We aided our elderly driver with the bags as a kindly looking German Shepherd sniffed his new visitors. A woman emerged from the side of the vine-covered home built in 1880, and introduced herself as Eva, the owner. Blond and beautiful, it was as if Eva Perón, the most iconic figure in Argentine history had returned and was welcoming us, empanadas in hand to her ranch. I grinned at the coincidence, fascinated by the woman both referred to as a saint by some and passionately hated by others, the inspiration of a musical, and the leading lady of legends that followed her long after a tragic death.
We settled into our rustic room, sun spilling through the oversized wrought iron windows. A self-guided tour of the expansive grounds led us to the centerpiece of El Ombú de Areco, the omnipotent Ombú tree, from which the estancia gets its name. It was here I met Malbec, and would forever second-guess my go-to glass of Pinot Grigio. The other visitors had already found their seats below the boughs for the culinary cultural event known as the asado, where grilling beef to perfection is an Argentine art form. My kind of taste exactly.
The gauchos served us cut after cut, each round better than the last, of the most savory meat I have ever tasted, prepared over the parilla, a grill structure made of brick. Even the blood sausage didn’t scare me too much when served with a smile by the young, heartthrob of a gaucho. Alongside the other guests and the friendly ranch dogs, we laughed our way through two bottles of Malbec as the shade of the Ombú tree reached further across the lawn.
Late that afternoon, somewhat sobered up, we gathered with the other guests at the stables to meet our new companions. During my last experience horseback riding I still believed in Santa and adamantly begged to ride a pony, an uneasy and unnatural rider. As a young woman, I had now grown into my confidence and could stare that horse square in the face. When Ramón, the gaucho leading the excursion, placed Reina Mora’s reins in my hand, I was ready to ride. Spanish for “Moorish Queen,” my steed’s name was inspired by the Moors who in their 700-year rule of Spain led a golden age of learning. Reina Mora and I quickly grew comfortable with one another, trotting to the front of the group to keep up with Ramón, as my mom’s dud of a horse paused for a release every few minutes.
We fixated on the ease with which the cowboys rounded up the cattle underneath paintbrush stroked skies. After not too long, I allowed Reina Mora to speed up and I rode fearless past Ramón and the other gauchos. As uncertain as life can be at times, it always leads you right where you are supposed to be. And in that moment, galloping at my own free will in South America, I was the Queen of the Pampas.
Have you ever been to Argentine estancia? Have you added Ombú de Areco to your travel bucket list?