El Rancho

(That’s actually how you say “The Ranch” in Spanish.)

When Léa and I woke up on Sunday morning, we once again didn’t know what to expect, since it had been dark when we arrived. The ranch, we found to our delight, was absolutely magnificent.

After sleeping in and snagging a leisurely breakfast of coffee and toast, we joined our new friends in saddling up the horses for a ride around the property.

The family owns a dozen or so horses who live in a corral near the house, as well as a shed full of beautiful gaucho-style saddles. The group that went out included Léa, two guys around our age, the adorable little sister of one of those guys, and me. It was the most refreshing and scenic few hours I’ve had since I got to Argentina.

One thing that I haven’t gotten used to in Buenos Aires is the dirty urban feel of it. I’ve never lived in a big city before (I’m now realizing that New Orleans isn’t actually big). The tall buildings lining narrow streets choke the sky, exhaust fumes from vehicles choke the air, throngs of people choke the sidewalks… It’s a sort of suffocating feeling for me, to be honest.

One reason why I loved Mendoza so much was the prevalence of wide, tree-lined avenues. Another thing I loved was that the streets felt clean. Buenos Aires is virtually covered in graffiti, which is celebrated as “street art,” but still gives the city a look of restlessness and discontent. It makes you wonder, why exactly do these people feel pushed to express themselves by spraying paint on every available facade?

I didn’t see graffiti in Mendoza, nor did I see poop on the sidewalks. It seems that a requirement of living in Buenos Aires is owning a dog, and there are clearly no laws about cleaning up after that dog.

Now that I think of it, when I walk in the streets, I walk with my head down for three reasons:
1. To avoid stepping in poop.
2. To avoid tripping on the broken sidewalks (equally common).
3. To avoid making eye contact with anyone. It’s standard for men to catcall at women on the street, making my jeans and boots feel like stripper-wear. The worst is when someone is walking by you in the opposite direction, and just as you’re passing each other, he turns his head towards you muttering anything from “Que hermosa” to words I’m glad I don’t understand. The best form of defense I’ve come up with is just keeping my head down, trying to ignore it all. But it’s something that got really old really fast, and hasn’t decreased at all.

So part of why I loved Mendoza was that it seemed to be free of all those things. And the ranch, that beautiful day on the ranch, was the most free of all. For the first time in a long time, I felt 100% safe and comfortable. Every breath was refreshing. And everywhere I looked! The horizon was mind-blowingly huge. The ranch was actually a farm, growing a handful of crops such as grapes, onion and garlic. Since it’s winter, the fields were empty and brown, but still the entire picture was gorgeous. With the Andes in the background, the river running beside us, the horses comfortably under us, and all that fresh air and space around us… it couldn’t have been more perfect.

 I spent an equally lovely afternoon sitting in the sun in the backyard. One of the guys cooked up an asado (barbecue), and about eight of us sat around a table in the backyard to share a late lunch. I love how leisurely meals are here. It puts the emphasis on the food, and on enjoying each other’s company: no rush. Even at restaurants, waiters don’t bring the check until you flag them down and ask for it.

Later in the afternoon we piled into the back of a pickup truck and drove around the property. We were in awe at the dark purple cloud hanging over the middle of the sky, setting off the strip of bright blue edge still visible over the horizon. The dogs ran beside the truck, the weather was perfect, and Léa and I could not have been more content.

They drove us to the bus station in Mendoza, where we sadly departed for the long ride back to Buenos Aires.

I wish there was a way I could thank all those incredibly welcoming, generous, friendly Argentinians we met on that ranch. Being the only Argentinian people I actually know personally, they’ve certainly created a high expectation in my head of the people of this beautiful country.