I’m in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Argentina – on a horse – gripping the reins with an intensity only a novice rider could know, while being jostled up the last few feet of uneven, gravelly terrain. At the top of the ridge, I willed myself to open my eyes and take in the stunning expanse of the wine-making Valle de Uco below. I had joined J, already at this precipice, and our guide, Dino – part-time trail rider, part-time goat farmer. Vineyards lay below us, barely visible in a pastel quilt. While over my shoulder were the Andes mountains, rising up behind shrub dotted hills.
An hour later I was lounging, legs stretched out, in a chair beside a shaded table on the clipped front lawn of the main house at the guest ranch, Estancia El Puesto. I was sipping chardonnay under a sharp blue sky, the late fall air warmed by the intense mountain sun. And so it began, three days of exhilarating riding across the hills of the Alto Valle de Uco matched only by superb local dishes and unexpected attention to detail back at the Estancia. We were greeted our first day with Argentine barbeque on the large outdoor grill. One night featured pollo al disco (a rich chicken, sauce, and vegetables cooked in a deep round pan, the “disco”). On another, a hearty stew – Locro – typically served on Revolucion de Mayo (Argentina’s Independence Day). Breakfast was always out by the time we got up and included a small pot of dulce de leche (yes, it does go with everything), and the necessary hot pot of café con leche.
Evenings were without the glowing distraction of devices, digital clocks, or TVs. With no ambient light – at all – the nights collapsed quickly into black. We ate dinner by candlelight and warmed ourselves by fireplaces against plummeting nighttime temperatures. Once we braved the cold outside to gaze at the blanket of stars sparkling overhead and were able to trace the Southern Cross.
J and I felt a peacefulness only achieved in a place where you are surrounded by sky and mountains, and where cattle, horses, and goats (and several friendly dogs) outnumber the humans. Where the only other person I saw outside the ranch was a lone gaucho riding slowly along the dusty path that ran in front. We were only two hours from Mendoza City and a half hour from the vineyard filled Valle de Uco. We were not roughing it. We were embraced by good food, good wine, crisp white sheets and whitewashed walls, and gentle horses (mui tranquillo, I was assured) at an unassuming ranch at the base of the Andes.