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My Cow Boy Fantasy and the Last Vestiges of Frontier Life


Horseback Riding on an Estancia

I reveled in a fast-paced ride through the fertile delta of the northeastern region of Argentina on horseback, in the company of the local gauchos. Traveling between working estancias seeped in tradition and filled with natural beauty, I listened as the gauchos recounted stories about local myths and legends, giving me insight to some of Argentina’s history. The stories brought the colonial past to life with a five-day, four estancias ride over 140 kilometers through the grassy flat-lands of Corrientes.


Corrientes is a province of swamps, pastures, and impenetrable thickets, trapped between the Paraná and Uruguay rivers, where the earth exudes a rust color dust and where gauchos still drive cattle from one place to another on horseback, calculating distances in terms of hours that they think, they’ll need to ride to get there.


Arriving before the crack of dawn on the overnight bus from Buenos Aires, I am met by Fernando Landgraf my host. With acquaintances made and the luggage loaded into the back of the four by four, we set out under the cover of darkness for the first estancia, La Rosita. Turning off the highway onto a barely passable dirt road that goes on and on, my excitement builds. Finally we enter the long, tree-lined drive of the estancia, taking care not to collide with any of the cows grazing and openly staring at us as we disturb their morning peace. After many twists and turns, La Rosita is in sight. The red metal roofs and wide verandas are a welcome sight, as the dogs bark at us in greeting.


Alicia Cometta de Landgraf, the owner and chief cook, is there to meet us, as Fernando, her son, makes the introductions. It is still early morning and the air is cold, the sun has not yet even peeked over the horizon and there is a fire blazing in the hearth. I am shown to my very comfortable room, complete with private bath. I can rest for a few hours before breakfast is served but for now, the antique canopy bed is a welcome relief.


After breakfast, I am anxious to saddle up and test my riding skills. I am given a well-mannered Argentine criollo horse. At one time brought over from Spain, and ideally suited for the demanding work in the hot, humid climate of Corrientes. The saddle is a surprising blend of western and English styles, large and roomy with a padding of soft sheepskin and secured with a wide leather belt. It is kind of like sitting in a comfortable barco-lounger chair, but hold on tight, the ride is anything but smooth.


This morning’s job was to round-up 200 plus cows that needed to be moved to a new pasture several kilometers away. After lunch we would sort them out, taking about a hundred of the younger ones to a corral so we could vaccinate them by hand.


The air is hot and filled with red dust from the agitated cows. The only signs of civilization are the endless fences on the horizon. Mayhem ensues when a group of gauchos, crossing in the opposite direction with their own herd, manage to mix in with ours. To me all the cows look alike, but the gauchos seem to sorting everything out as we continue on our way over a patchwork of dry, grassy fields and swampy wet lands, some times stopping to track down a key to open a neighbor’s locked gate or to hunt down a stray calf.


Estancias are ranches unique to Argentina and Uruguay. Some estancias offer paying guests the opportunity to actively participate in the traditional workings of daily ranch life. It’s a glimpse of life that has changed little over the pass 100 years, where wars were lost, barbed wire fences erected and modern farming techniques don’t exist. It is the last vestige of frontier life and where my cowboy fantasies were filled.

Further Information

Travel tips: Bring a hat for the sun and sun block, riding boots and gloves are helpful but not essential. You will need lightweight clothes that can be layered, as some evenings are cool. Insect repellant and a waterproof pancho. Asprin for aches and pains.
Must see/do at this place: The four enstancias are fabulous, and each one is different, with amazing food and land scape. Try to spend an extra day on the river, fishing--Corrientes is famous for that.
You should avoid here: Do not go here if you're expecting to dance the night away. This is a quiet place, although usually at LA Rosita we have had one night of music and danced the chamume.
Other helpful information: On a scale of difficulty the riding is intermediate. I have done the ride with beginners, and they frequently have to take a day off and travel by car to the next estancia. On day two of the ride, we are met by a masseuse as a special treat, and this is included in the price. The four day package is all inclusive--food, lodging, and horse. Rides are from March to November.

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By Antoinette Ford
I am a bold, fearless traveler with 33 countries under my belt. Not one to plow through the landscape, I prefer to take in the sights on horseback,...
27 Feb 2009

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