The Palm Jumeirah, take two

I went to Dubai six years ago, which made the UAE my 100th country at the time. Since then, I also visited Abu Dhabi, which was nearly as impressive as Dubai, but what Abu Dhabi has in malls and mosques, Dubai has in buildings and beaches.

the Burj Khalifa doesn´t even fit in the frame

I stayed on the very tip of the Palm Jumeirah, and getting there in a taxi is a bit indirect. First you head northwest onto the manmade, palm-shaped island all the way to Atlantis, before swinging around east and curving down south to the Aloft hotel. The coast on one side had windy, rough seas, with a perfect boulevard for marathon training, and inside the palm, we had a perfect, sandy beach with calm, blue water perfect for stand up paddle boarding.

catwalk at the Atlantis

I was there for a joint 60th birthday party, and we dined our way through some exotic meals. The food itself wasn’t the exotic part, but the locations – once we dined at Atlantis, strolling past an underwater world of sharks and Manta Rays, and another night at the base of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. It sparkled in the night sky, and every 30 minutes, the lit up fountains danced to music to make everything even a bit more fantastic.

champagne and sunset cruise

The other parts of Dubai were extravagant in different ways. Traveling around the palm and into the Dubai Marina by yacht with champagne in plastic wine glasses made me feel like a rockstar. The Waterpark on the Palm was endless fun, especially for adults, where we could finally run and play and splash around like children and feel normal. There were enough slides and tube rides to fill a whole day without ever riding the same ride twice, and going on an overcast day meant there were no lines and no chance of sunburn.

the waterpark, under Atlantis, and me and my Freewaters

It rained twice in the short time I was there, which was also fascinating. For a desert city in the Middle East, it was hard to imagine where all the water for the waterpark could possibly come from, plus the showers and pools of every hotel. But perhaps that’s the charm of Dubai, a mysterious mega city where nothing adds up, but it doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t feel like a real place; how can a real-life Disneyland for grown ups really exist?

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Riding in Alto Ongamira Valley

One of the most common bucket-list trips for horse riders to want to take is Argentina. Whether its Patagonia or Mendoza, its not hard to sell your rider friends to make the trip to South America, as long as its for the love of horses.

cowboys and cowgirls

I had 4 such friends, and we went from gushing about all the places and ideas we had for an Argentina trip 2 or 3 years ago, to finally making it a reality and all meeting in Buenos Aires.

riders all aboard!

From there, we flew to Cordoba, and drove another 120kms to Alto Ongamira Valley, where our gauchos and caballos were waiting. We stayed in an estancia built over 100 years ago, by Eastern European immigrants, where rooms were still heated by wooden fire places and the buffet breakfasts and coffee hour every afternoon would have been enough food for the whole day, but 3 course meals, with Argentinian wine, at lunch and dinner were also swindled into every corner of our full tummies.

asado picnic

Somedays we had barbecues outside, roasted over open fires, and the food quality was impeccable. Red meats and red wines flowed equally generously, and one day we had a sommelier come in to teach us about wines from the region, with more than half a dozen wines to sample – sparkling, white and red, and 2 bottles of each. We were meant to take home a third bottle, but none of us had space in our suitcases after buying so many gaucho hats and gaucho shoes. Instead, we left it for the cook and hospitality staff, who never ceased to be amazed at how much 5 adults could drink.

sunset dips were the best

There was a pool to swim in at the Estancia, but the weather was quite cool, perfect riding temperature which had a freshness to the mountain plains I would never have traded out for more heat. We went down to Ascochinga one day for a polo lesson, and we had plenty of sunshine there, sweating under our colourful polo hats as we tried our best to swing those heavy polo sticks to actually hit a polo ball from the back of a cantering horse.

polo coaching at Pompeya

We spent most of our days on horseback, with a gaucho or two, and atleast 5 dogs. One dog was slightly smaller than the rest, and he would barely see over the tall grass or worn trails at time, but always insisted on coming with us, climbing even to the highest point at Condor Mountain.

Monty, the little-big dog

I felt pity for him, especially when he’d get a burr in his paw or pant up hills trying to keep up with galloping horses, so I made the excuse my legs were cold and held him on my lap for parts of the ride.

riding to the mountain

The riding was never the same, the scenery or the weather, but the horses were consistent – always excellent. Everytime I rode a new horse, I swore he or she was the fastest, and they always were. We raced moth days, and my horse always won, but maybe it was the foxtail on my cowboy hat that made us run faster – noone wants to lose their role as the fox.

this one was, really, the fastest

Buenos Aires, take three

I had been to BA twice before, the first time more than ten years ago at the end of a two and a half month South American backpacking trip, and the second time in 2011 before flying to Patgonia and boarding a ship to Antarctica. I remember loving BA and Argentina as a place I’d happily call home – the mix of horses, music, dance, meat, wine, European and Latin American culture too good to be true. I wanted to become a tango dancer and speak Spanish after my last visit, and both are more or less functioning today, so I felt warmly welcomed, especially in the late summer season when Carnival would also hit our neighbourhood of San Telmo.

Carnival street performer

We were 5 gauchos and gauchas, meeting in an Airbnb affectionately called ‘Bohemian Apartment’, only a few blocks from the San Telmo market. We ate steak and wine, chorizo and more wine, except for little Jana, our token vegetarian. We walked the entire neighbourhoods of San Telmo, La Boca, and the fabled cemetery de la Recoleta, and I ran a few kilometres every morning in a different direction to keep up with my marathon training. We saw a tango show, and I tango danced in the milonga that followed with men I never had to open my eyes for.

La Boca

We learned that Carnival in San Telmo meant buying pressurised soap foam and attacking kids in the street before they showered us first, and failed to get close enough in the crowd to really watch the main event – hordes of marching bands and beautiful, feathered and sparkling dancers paraded down Av. de Mayo street while we kept the eyes on the backs of our heads open.

the cobblestoned streets of San Telmo, and us, in our hats and shoes

Nearly all of us bought a cowboy hat, some cowboy boots, and two of us, a boina hat and alpargatas slippers in true gaucho fashion. The smell of leather in some shops felt like we had already walked into the stable, but we were headed northwest to Cordoba province for our 6 day riding trip, 120km away from the Cordoba airport to a slice of heaven called Ongamira valley.

dinner at Orilla with Mr. Trocca himself

After eating our way through the San Telmo Market and the wonderful kitchen of Fernando Trocca at Orilla, we also stayed a night in Palermo near the large, green parks and modern highrises that felt no different to upper eastside New York. The weather was perfect in March, and the constantly fluctuating peso was always cheap, so leaving was hard, but a polo and horse festival trip for Januaray 2020 (Festival de la doma y el folclore) is already in the works – you want to join?