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

Lucky Days in Ghana

The Cape Coast Castle

The Cape Coast Castle

Just getting into Ghana seemed like a victory enough, but then I lucked out even more. A taxi driver, waiting to fill his 5 shared seats, gave up as soon as I entered, and then I had my own private car to deliver me the 3 hours to Accra. He smoked a joint in the car, accurately timed between police check points, and I had to play stupid and sweet to 3 more demands for hand-outs on the way. He delivered me to the front door of my couchsurf host, who turned out to be a slightly depressed Israeli guy, or atleast a very unhappy and negative guy, so 2 nights later, I snuck away to the beach with a bunch of Lebanese friends I had made. I also bonded well with his other Israeli friends, and everyone took care of me like a visiting relative that needed to be fed and escorted around 24/7.

The best friend I made was Asaad, who managed one of the ex-pat bars I had been to a couple times (its called Firefly, you should go there!). It kind of felt like everyone there was Israeli or Lebanese, but if I didn’t say anything, I fit in quite nicely. When Asaad spotted me and realized I was fresh fish, he asked me where I was from and what I’d done or seen in Ghana. I hadn’t seen more than the Israeli guys house and the embassy of Cote D’Ivoire, so he asked what I was doing tomorrow at 3.

riding on the beach

riding on the beach

“Nothing.”

“Come to the beach with us?”

“Ok.”

Then, 1 and a half hours later, at 2:45am, he asked me if I was ready. He meant 3 am, and we drove to Kokrobite through the night to arrive at sunrise. We sat on the beach, as the stars disappeared and the sky lightened, and the largest, brightest comet I’ve ever seen streaked the sky in neon blue and a flash of orange. Then the sun rose, and started to cook us at 8 am, so we eventually retreated into the beach house to nap a few hours. The rest of the day was spent grilling lobsters and riding horses on the beach, and I felt like I had found yet another African paradise.

the Accra Polo Club

the Accra Polo Club

I stumbled on another dream day in Accra, when I got permission to ride some polo ponies at the Accra Polo Club; I rode a feisty little gelding in circles at sunrise, trying to figure out the 4 reins in my hand, and finally felt like the horse under me had enough power to gallop without heaving under my weight (i.e. every beach horse I’ve ridden in West Africa).

Later I went further west to Cape Coast, staying with friends of Asaad’s, and visited the many castles and forts spread out along the coast, including the haunting St. George’s Castle in Elmina. Each fort ironically markets itself as “the biggest slave castle,” “the largest underground dungeon,” or “the largest number of slaves sold,” but they all give the same, spooky, hair-raising chill down your spine when you visit. The smell of the slave chambers is still poignant, even after hundreds of years and being cleaned and ventilated, but the smell of blood, sweat and tears stubbornly sticks to the walls. It made me noxious, but it was hard to miss a visit to these white, fortressed castles, sitting so gloriously on the sea.

St. George´s Castle, Elmina

St. George´s Castle, Elmina