take me back…

IMG_1534 …to the faded grandeur of the ancients.

The mesmerizing vista of the Paine Massif behind Lake Pehoe in arguably South America’s most magnificent National Park, Torres del Paine.

“Nowhere is there an area of 100,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate, you are safe from the persecutions of fevers, friends, savage tribes, obnoxious animals, telegrams, letters and every other nuisance…”

Lady Florence Dixie hits the nail on the head….in short, come here to get away from it ALL… Lady Florence, weary of her high society London life travelled, with four male companions, to Patagonia in 1878-79 on an awe-inspiring trip riding across the then almost unexplored Patagonian pampas, (her party are heralded as being the first ‘foreign tourists’ to the region). Here she spent her time dodging pampas fires, shooting her supper, chasing down pumas, meeting with the ‘savages’ and generally  being pretty kick ass and oh-so-un-Victorian…she’s an inspiration. IMG_1537

#losgauchosproject

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Gaucho boiling water for maté

The Gaucho story is a sad, romantic and lonely one. In short the original Gauchos were the illegitimate children of the Indigenous Indians living in Argentina and the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the Sixteenth century. They were not recognized by society, had no rights, and were pushed out of the towns and settlements to wander the pampas. They lived a nomadic lonely life.

Maté is their cultural identity, it is so ingrained in Gaucho life you can separate a gaucho from his kettle about as easily as from his horse, or his cigarettes. So far I have learnt that Gauchos ride like pampas gangsters, drink a lot of maté and smoke a lot of cigarettes.

Check out the hashtag #losgauchosproject on instagram for images of maté, these men and their horses…and follow me as the project unfolds http://www.instagram/cinders_p

Bruce Chatwin & the 312

IMG_1590“I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.”  Bruce Chatwin

The beauty of the little punk was that I could stop whenever I wished….I walked and walked…I wanted to lose myself in the mighty and humbling landscape Chatwin and Dixie described so eloquently.*

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*Bruce Chatwin – ‘In Patagonia’ / Lady Florence Dixie – ‘Riding Across Patagonia’

Big Skies and The Little Punk

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My Quasar Expedition Jeep in Argentine Patagonia

The big sky winds nearly blew us off the road, that’s the ‘little punk’ and me.

But I loved it.

Being in control of a massive, super-sexy, pimped up Jeep – aka the ‘little punk’, cruising all alone, deserted roads flanked by heroic vistas, is guaranteed to make a girl smile. When you add into the mix singing along to a sound system preened to blast you away to harmonious heaven that girl will be positively grinning…

I was the first solo female driver to take on this Patagonian Jeep Safari and boy what a trip it was…dramatic skies, fiendish winds, deafening music, tear-inducing vistas, a satellite phone I had no idea how to use and a feeling of freedom I wanted to bottle and keep with me forever.

Trip of a lifetime.

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Flying over Diamonds

IMG_0996 I’m back. With diamonds on the soles of my shoes, and winking in my eyes, so that all I see sparkles through them.

It’s a charmed view.

You could call me obsessed I guess. I have chucked myself headlong into a heartbreak-ahoy love affair with South America. Hence my silence. It’s like when you take a new lover. It’s just you and their sexy smile, the rest of the world disappears, your friends begin to hate you and your work starts to play a decidedly second fiddle. For the last month this has been my story.

I have been embracing the wild Patagonian pampas like there is no tomorrow – driving super pimped jeeps and galloping horses so fast across it I thought, well I thought I’d probably fall off. Once driving my jeep down big-sky roads, I actually stopped and cried at beauty. I have been watching the true cowboys of the pampas at work – learning of gaucho culture and all its seductive secrets. I’ve watched horse whisperers whisper, cowboys storm cows, day-dreamed through long bus trips where the drivers pick up hitch-hikers just because they love to chat, and have been totally wooed by the charm of the taxi drivers of the city. In Buenos Aires dancing the night away to the tribal drums was a highlight, then eating pizza, long gone midnight in a floodlit cobbled street, on a table with a white cloth an even higher one. Oh, and I have stayed in some of the most beautiful properties on the planet.

So am really sorry for my silence. I am. But I have been having the time of my life and experiencing everything I can…now it’s time to make you jealous…am back on the blog.

Here is an album of my great adventures  https://instagram.com/cinders_p/

Mariano

IMG_9782As we rode, in between serenading me with gaucho songs, and racing me (and winning) at every opportunity, Mariano, the son of the head gaucho…taught me to ride like an Argentine cowboy. In return I taught him a little English…

‘I am 15 years old but I have a horse’ was my attempt at explaining the nuances of to have and to be…

‘Ah! I have 23 horses’ was his unblinking quick fire reply.

 

A Gaucho’s best friend

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‘By this time the horses and myself were the best of friends, or amadrinado as the gauchos call it. The bell-mare of a tropilla (troop) is called madrina in the Argentine, from which noun this pretty adjective amadrinado is derived. In order to appreciate fully the friendship of a horse, a man has to live out in the open with him for some time, and as soon as the animal comes to a region that is strange to him he will never go away from his master but will look for his company and in case of danger seek his protection. By this time both my horses were so fond of me that I never had to tie them again, and even if I slept in some lonely hut I simply turned them loose at night, well knowing that they would never go more than a few yards away and that they would be waiting for me at the door in the early morning, when they always greeted me with a friendly nicker.’

from: Southern Cross to Pole Star, Aime Tschiffely

El Campo

IMG_9859We set off at a gallop across gorse as iridescent and as million hued as fairy wings, yet tougher than tiny trees – springing back to Argentina’s every pounding step.

The first time you let a horse free to let their head drop, their nostrils flare and their legs fly all four off the ground, having no thought to pulling on their mouths or holding back their stride, is a feeling not easily described, but easily understood – it is trust. When the horse becomes your best friend, you believe she won’t slip on the all consuming dust you can barely see through as together you slip and slide down the mountains perilous paths and that she will get you up the near-vertical scrag-torn slopes. But the best feeling of all, knowing she will keep strong and steady whilst flying like the wind over an enchanted landscape free of bridge, ditch or fence, which seems to never end. The most addictive feeling in the world?

Cowboy Country Show

IMG_8209To train his mount for the hand-to-hand

Is the Pampa warrior’s pride,

He is off at a pat of the Indians hand,

In the length of a stride he’ll come to stand;

At a twitch of the reign like a top he spins

In the space of a bullocks hide.

José Hernández

The atmosphere was fiesta, the crowd was huge. Strong Criollo horses kicked up the dust amongst candyfloss wielding children, cerveza sipping parents and extended family groups.  The gauchos propped up fences, trees and each other when not peacocking high on their silky steeds.

The gauchos of this Northern Patagonian region take great pride in their appearance even when working alone on the plains. Today was the last day of the 3 day fair, the grand finale, the last hurrah and they were glimmering and shimmering to the max. Jauntily tied neckerchiefs, polished boots, intricately woven thick wide belts over billowing bombachos (trousers), the silver polished knife pushed into the back of the belt and the characteristic boina (beret) perched smartly on their heads. The horses had received the same careful attention and were proudly paraded with the hope of being sold for a spectacular sum, to be paid in 10 monthly installments. With the rate of Argentine inflation am not sure the wisest purchasing model but it seemed popular and steamed up stallions were auctioned off for tremendous prices to excited crowds.

The show ring was centre stage and wooden benches towered up its sides heaving with the local community of the Neuquen province watching the cowboy games. This was the annual country show for the region, but as this is cowboy country, and the community is mostly made up of gaucho families this is a brilliantly boisterous deal.

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