Alto Ongamira, horses & Jesus Maria

A group of 5 friends went to Dos Lunas, a horse riding lodge in Alto Ongamira, Cordoba province of Argentina, in March 2019 and we all fell in love. It only took a few weeks for Michael, a riding friend from Germany, to plan a second trip back, and I couldnt help myself but to tag along.

just another day in the life of a gaucho

This time, we would be hosted by the managers of Dos Lunas, at their own ranch down the road, with horses and cows in the backyard and 3 dogs and one cute cat to call company.

 

Ruben and Malu at polo lessons

Malu and Ruben had just gotten married, so we invited them on a second honeymoon to Pompeya Polo club in Aschochinga for 3 days. There we took polo lessons and practiced our swings at full speed, all the time trying to look the part but failing miserably in being liable polo player candidates. So, instead we watched the owners and his family play a real game whiles cuddling Australian shepherd puppies.

Pompeya Polo club meet

We rode all around Alto Ongamira, to Dos Lunas for rides with guests, to the local bar for empanadas, to waterfalls and to round up cattle. We saved a horse and a cow from some flesh-eating bugs and tried to break in an orphaned foal, and felt special to be able to help, but those were all just everyday things for them.

Festival Nacional de Doma y Folklore

It was also the time of year for the Doma festival, a rodeo and folklore festival in nearby Jesus Maria. Hundreds of cowboys compete in different categories, either bareback or with tack, for different times they need to stay on a wild, bucking bronco. We wanted to go 5 of the 10 nights, but sadly on our first night there, a gaucho fell under a horse and passed away that night, so Doma was cancelled the next night. Its only the second rider to die in 10 years, but horses also get seriously injured, so this may have been one of the last Doma festivals since social pressure for safety is rising.

Our friend Valentina enjoying the great views and fresh air of Ongamira

The highlight for me this trip were all the small moments, when I found myself bareback on a horse on a road that didn’t lead to anywhere familiar, and traveling down gravel roads to unknown destinations and always finding something magical. I made friends, beastly and manly, and don’t think it will take another year before I find myself back in Ongamira

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?