By Ashley Carrithers
Ashley Carrithers is the owner of a rare slice of paradise at the foot of the Argentinian Andes – Estancia Ranquilco. This remote family-owned 100,000-acre horse and cattle ranch stretches across high steppes, river valleys, green meadows, and jagged cliffs, into the very heart of the Argentine cordillera. The Estancia is open to guests, offering horseback riding adventures, pack trips into the mountains, some of the world’s best fly fishing, rustic and luxurious accommodation, and the most precious thing of all – respite from the incessant electronic buzz of daily life and a foray into undiluted nature.
To win a one-week stay at Estancia Ranquilco (worth USD7000), head on over to Warp Place, an online community of environmentally aware artist-activists started up by Ashley himself. Enter their inaugural annual writing contest to stand a chance to win a priceless foray into one of the world’s last frontiers.
This is Ashley’s story – one of many – about settling in with the gauchos of Argentina.
When I first arrived in Patagonia and was suddenly the patron – or boss – of vast leagues of land populated with animals that turned the grass into meat, and then into wine and such – I inherited a posse of gauchos as well. I spoke no Spanish and initially had to rely on occasional visits to “neighbors” – most of whom were a day’s horse ride away, to check in on what it all meant, this patron business. I was only 30 years old and had to wonder what I was to do, having purchased these delicious lands for their magic waters, lakes and mountains.
At the county fair, where I was already famous for a) being a Yankee, b) paying in cash overnight for one of the larger estancias in this part of Patagonia and c) being young and a mash-up of Marlboro Man, hippie and prepster, I easily and quickly ascertained which of my neighbors spoke English.
They informed me that I was not to fraternize on any level with the peons, or workers; that it would breed familiarity and I would lose work ethic and effectiveness – performance would drop.
Wanting to be a good neighbor, and not wanting to display inappropriate behavior, and not speaking Spanish any old way, I pretty much did as instructed. This had not been my lifelong standard operating procedure, but when in Rome…
But over time, these guys were my heroes; wildly riding horses in all weathers, working leathers, roping bulls and throwing them to the ground to do strange things with knives to their testicles, dressing in bombachas and scarves, cooking amazing asados on campfires, dancing with handkerchiefs twirling in smoky dens, joking with each other all the day long and throughout all these ceaseless activities whistling little tuneless tunes of happiness and of place, of fast women and lonely horses.
I was jealous of their fun and abilities. Listen to this: they would take an unbroken horse, after tethering him to a strong post all night, put a leather thong in his mouth, tie him around the neck to a tame horse ridden by a buddy, and then hop on to go out into the camp for fun and games, bucking and prancing out of sight in a dust cloud and coming back each riding independently his horse, and… whistling. Goodness.
I could not help but join in, especially as I began to grab hold of communication abilities via a delectable cutie who spoke no English, but we both had good pillow talk skills and some actual Spanish evolved out of it. Soon I found myself sharing mate with them and joking. Everything with them is a joke: the weather, the guy who got bucked off and broke a wrist, the lion that killed 6 sheep in the night, the patron fly fishing in the rivers.
They say that there are no longer any true gauchos – that they all died out a half century ago, and todays cattlemen are but a tame version of the legendary dudes who rode the endless planes of the pampas and of Patagonia – homeless always, but never horseless. We honor our peons by referring to them as gauchos and they are way more hands on then the American cowboys who now mostly ride four wheelers and sport beer bellies punching closely watched time clocks. Woefully warped as the Wild West has become.
Still, today, down this way, when you ask for a favor from someone, it is termed a “gauchada”.