There is something delicious about a tourist trip. The kind of tranquil trip where a small van picks you up and you can watch the world rush by as someone else drives. Everything is arranged.
Last week, my German classmate suggested that I accompany her to a large working farm, what Argentines call an estancia. This visit would include horseback riding, a large grilled meat lunch, a folkloric dance show, and a gaucho (cowboy) horse arts presentation.
Upon making arrangements, I asked the tourist office if the estancia could provide me a vegetarian option lunch. “It doesn’t have to be anything special,” I emphasized, “A cheese empanada would be great.”
“You do know that the highlight of the estancia day trip is the asado (barbeque)?” The attendant questioned.
“Yeah, I know. I just want to experience the essence of the estancia. I don’t have to experience the asado.” I replied. His eyes bugged out at me.
Aside from the ruby malbecs of Mendoza, the steaks and grilled meats of the country are a major tourist attraction. They are often called the most succulent and well prepared steaks in the world. I might as well have been buying a ticket to Disneyworld and suggesting, “All this sounds wonderful, but please, I’d rather not see Mickey Mouse. Or Goofy for that matter.”
The female kiosk attendant hung up the phone. “They can provide you pasta.” I smiled. Wonderful. As long as there is wine, the day is complete.
The van picked up me my friends, two Germans and a Brazilian, and drove us about an hour and a half away to Estancia Don Silvano. I had the initial impression that it was a true working ranch, but after spending the day there, I believe it is a tourist ranch, foremost. I do not say this as a complaint, as we were treated with the best of service and hospitality. However, I was enthusiastic about being on a more gritty and true-to-life ranch.
In the morning, they allowed us to ride horses in a group. I had a furious urge to gallop, but my fear of a fall and dealing with international insurance convinced me to plod along with the rest of the group.
My friends and I wandered the estancia and darted into this lovely room. Light streamed through the windows like a prairie setting. It is unclear if it is used as a kitchen or if it is for show.
For lunch, we enjoyed a neverending flow of red and white wine, rustic white bread, shaved carrot salad with egg crumble, boiled potatoes with cilantro, and iceberg lettuce salad. My comrades were served six or seven courses of meats including blood sausage, pork loins, chicken, steaks, and other choices. (Not surprisingly, I’m not good at identifying cuts of meat.)
At the end of the meal, my German friends were glumly staring at my pasta marinera and licking their lips. “The meat was full of fat,” they admitted. I shared the rest of my pasta.
During lunch, dancers perform dances from Argentine provinces. The lady and man changed costumes between each session. Our host sang provincial songs and a few tango songs of Buenos Aires. By this time, the crowd was red faced and giddy with wine and cervesa. A Chinese woman got up with the band and sang a song in Mandarin. Her table went wild. I blinked in confusion. How did the band know the Chinese song? After the song I realized that the band is used to the different nationalities joining them on stage. They produce a sentiment of world togetherness. A lanky and comical Russian got up to sing a song in Russian, and a ruddy faced Swede got up and forgot the words to his song.
After lunch, we watched the gauchos ride horses and do some rodeo-like tricks. The show was cut short by a cascade of rain that drove the group back into the dining hall. Our waiters served us hot, sweetened maté with sweets.
It had been a lovely day in the country, but I was at the moment where nothing sounded sweeter than opening my apartment door and putting on some herbal tea. More than anything, the trip had been a bonding experience with my classmates, which was meaningful in itself.
Our van driver corralled us back into the van. One of the folkloric dancers took out a thermos of hot water and made some maté to share with the occupants of the van. I hazily peered out as we made the transition from country to city again. The maté was strong but calming. I passed it back across the van and placed my forehead against the window.