|Rolling through the Pampas of Argentina|
Unbeknownst to us, there were plans made for our 42-hour visit. My friend Yvonne swept us off to lunch with the Department of Tourism of San Martin de los Andes and El Gordo, business owner of el Bodegón, both curious about my work as travel ambassador with Much Better Travel, Inc, and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). From there, we drove up to Yvonne's business partner Raol's camp at Lago Lolog for a late afternoon ride on their newly acquired horses. Muscular, healthy, strong and surefooted, they carried us up the mountainside to pause on a rocky clearing, overlooking Lago Lolog. Upon our return, Carmelo, the 68-year old caretaker greeted us with a warm smile, his face carved by years of wind and weather, his expression leaving no doubt of his delight in the moment. He gently unbridled the horses, hosed them off and set them free to graze on the thousands of available hectares. His loving gaze followed them as they trotted off down the dusty path. A smile across his face. His dog at his side.
The morning brought sunshine and a couple visiting for a half day of horseback riding: dressed to the nines, complete with cameras, sunglasses and backpacks. Dissuaded to bring the backpack, we mounted and waved goodbye to Carmelo. (For those of you who don't know, during a ride a backpack hits you square in the back with every step of the horse, and catches branches overhead. The story typically ends with the rider on the ground, the backpack in the tree, and the horse nowhere to be found.) Yvonne guided us through lush lenga- and enchanted pine tree forests; growths of Chusquea macrostachya, also knows as Chilean Mountain Bamboo; yellow seas of blossoming Alstroemerias, pausing for breathtaking views of the Andes and Lago Lolog. The couple, hesitant to begin, were beaming. The Andes are magical, no doubt.