This was, in all of 22 days, the best meal day. The food was incredible. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start the day with cultural genocide. Again. I know, the US is guilty of the same thing, but it just doesn’t sound as bad as what happened to the Mapuches.
We met Cristina, the leader of her tribe. Her matrilineal tribe. Divisions of labor exist, and while men are hunters and warriors, women are teachers, healers, and Deciders. A female head of the tribe makes all social decisions, and a male war chief handles all the fighting, if the female head of the tribe says they should fight. But that’s old-school now. Cristina gave a knowing smile and sigh of acknowledgement when asked if there were issues with being a female leader dealing with the macho culture and male leaders in Buenos Aires.
Cristina was very kind about sharing her culture with us, and sharing the plight her people are still facing. There are still land disputes, where the Mapuche live, and the government sells it out from underneath them to foreign corporations (Fisher-Price in this instance). If you decide to Google to look further into this conflict (which I would completely encourage you to do), most of the articles will discuss the far more radical events in Chile. Chile did not have the sanctioned campaign of “extinguishing” the Mapuche, as Argentina did. So in 1878, he made good on his belief:
Our self-respect as a virile people obliges us to put down as soon as possible, by reason or by force, this handful of savages who destroy our wealth and prevent us from definitely occupying, in the name of law, progress and our own security, the richest and most fertile lands of the Republic. – Julio Roca
One of the things the Mapuches are still known for is their silver-working. Cristina had silver jewelry there, beautiful and intricate, stamped and etched with symbols of her people. Silver, of course, being how Argentina got its name. Connect it now? Silver, on the periodic table is Ag, for the Latin name Argentum. So…Argentina.
After this, most of us took a float trip down the Limay river. It was the calmest river I’ve ever been on. I think I have had more contact with water during Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at DisneyWorld than on this river float. But the water wasn’t the point. The geology was the point.
Mary Joy stayed back at the hotel with a handful of other travelers and rested up. All of this “learning and discovering” takes its toll.
I want you to get excited about the geology, but its hard to show pictures of the rock and have you get as excited and interested about its formation. The interesting aspect was the fact that the basalt was from a volcanic eruption, but, since glaciers were everywhere, it was cooled in a glacial formation, which creates an unusual match-stick appearance of the rock. It’s really cool looking. We also saw a few birds, and lots of sheep. On one side of the river was National Park, and on the other, private property, so we would see herds, hanging out.
We finished up and they served us a delicious lunch of empanadas and sopapillas and chimichurri, and hot tea. The lawn at the take-out was perfectly manicured and reminded me of the MidWest in the summer. Tidy, a little humid, perfectly square.
We met up with the rest of the crew to head out an Estancion, which was BY FAR the best food. Because, lamb barbecue. We drive and drive out into the middle of dusty nowhere, hills dotted with Douglas fir trees (seriously–they planted them here on purpose), and dust, dust, and more dust.
We arrive, and get pulled into hearty handshakes, and led to a seriously adorable building with two long tables set for dinner and sitting area with rough-hewn wood and sheepskin seat covers. We get seated, Ezequiel pulls out his maté cup, and he gives us the low-down on the tea drinking in Patagonia. Of course, being the tea drinker I am, I’m holding my breath because I’m listening so hard. He shows us how to pack the dried maté leaves into the bowl, how to add just the right amount of water, and how to appreciatively slurp to indicate enjoyment.
We pass it around, attempting to slurp appropriately, Ezequiel refilling the hot water. Most people don’t seem to care for it. I finally get my turn to hold the wooden gourd, and sip from the metal straw. The liquid is hot, and it tastes like a very earthy darjeeling. I could sit and drink refill after refill of this stuff. It had been 11 days since my last proper cup, and I *needed* the tea.
True, maté is not actual tea, since it does not come from the proper tea plant. But the liquid temperature was correct, the steam in the face was proper, and the taste was not far off from what I craved. I wanted more (I am drinking a black tea blend called Emperor’s Bride as I type this. A Finnish blend, exclusive to the Savannah Tea Room ladies). And more. I was ready to forget the whole lamb barbecue thing, but then–fresh sopapillas arrived. Fresh and hot and delicious. I tore into the savory pillow of doughnut-like consistency, and it was perfect.
I was ready to sink into the sheepskin and never move again, armed with maté and sopapillas. But no–horseback riding first.
We divided into two groups, as there were so many of us. Mary Joy was not interested in the interpretive walk group or the horseback riding group, and so settled into a brightly colored hammock with a history book she found in the sitting area. It was such a brilliant idea, that Jan took the other hammock.
We walked through the scrub, and learned about the environment and the history of the particular family whose land we were on. Then, it was our turn to get on the horses. Despite my unusually friendly encounter on Easter Island with a horse, normally I have an uneasy détente with them. They aren’t too keen with my insistence of being in charge, and I’m not too keen on them going where I don’t want to go. But I donned my riding helmet, and stood in the paddock, waiting for the next horse to get readied.
So I’m standing there, minding my own business, and this horse comes strolling right in front of me. Not like, just-crossing-the-corral sort of amble. No, the cocktail party, I’m-not-actually-talking-to-you-ever sort of stroll. And I’m all like, what did I do? So the horse goes straight for Nicole, who rubs his nose and kisses him and talks in babytalk about what a good horse he is. I mean, sure, he probably is a good horse, but all this happens, and the horse looks back at me like, See? I don’t need you, go find some other horse, loser. And I’m like, you have got to be kidding me with that attitude, horse. I didn’t do anything to you.
So others get paired up, and then they’ve got this horse all ready to go, and Nicole gestures for me to get on him, and I’m like, no way, this horse does not want to be on my team. This is some serious kickball, schoolyard rules business happening here, and this horse is not having any part of me. But fine, I’m a trooper, we’re just walking in a straight line for twenty minutes. So I get on, and this horse is pissed.
The horses begin the slow stroll out into the fields, in a single file line.
My horse falls behind, and the Gaucho who owns this place turns around and shouts over his shoulder for us to keep up. So I kick the horse, who is decidedly unhappy for my efforts, but picks up the pace a little. There is a shepherd dog who is running along side us, happy as any dog ever was in any universe.
We get to a plateau, and Nicole peels off from the end of the line and takes our picture, cantering sideways on her horse, one-handed. Of course.
Then my horse, gets all mad, I think because Nicole is all one-handed cantering on this other horse, and so he cuts in line. Like I said, some truly basic, schoolyard rules sort of business at play. So I get yelled at to stay in the order we were placed, so I pull back on the reins to slow my horse, and allow Jim’s horse to go in front of me. But Jim’s horse can probably tell how pissy my horse is, and is like, nope. No way. So when I stop my horse, Jim’s horse stops. I wait, so my horse is like, sweet, I’ll just eat then, thank-you-very-much, which is a whole other thing that we are not supposed to let the horses do.
We get back near the pen, and I’m positive my horse is going to pick up the pace, because he’ll get to eat, and his snacking habits being abundantly clear, this seems like a good idea. But no, he slows down even more. Then the shepherd dog flushes a hare out of nowhere. I am terrified my horse is going to rear, since the hare came bolting out right at his hind legs.
The shepherd dog gives chase, nearly at the hare’s speed, but the hare corners so much faster. The hare finally escapes, and our horses continue back to the pen.
I was relieved to get off that horse. I petted his nose, and thanked him, but all I got was an adolescent eyeroll for my trouble. Fine. I was going to ask if I could help brush my horse and take off the tack, but forget it. He’d probably just kick me in the nose.
We collected our hammock people and came back into the house, washing our hands and faces of all the dust, and sat down to the two long tables. They served a few salads, including a fantastic potato salad, and then barbecue. All kinds of barbecue that Pancho, the son, had been roasting up for us all afternoon. Beef, and chorizo, and then lamb, which we smothered with three different types of chimichurri sauce.
Malbec was served in white, penguin-shaped ewers, which gave rise to multiple jokes of “Pass the penguin,” and ultimately, we killed the penguin. “No problem!” Ezequiel said when he came to check on us. “I know penguin CPR.” And we were back in business.
I hope the family understood how profoundly grateful we were that night, for the horses (well, some of us were), the food, the wine, and the good stories they shared with us. It was another night of being so stuffed, Mary Joy and I couldn’t even talk about Cristina and the Mapuches, and the matrilineal ideas that had come to mind from her descriptions of her culture. They would wait. Those ideas weren’t going anywhere.