Before I started this excursion, I wasn’t exactly sure how we were going to make this trip work. How, I wondered, do you ride into a place where you have never been before with four or five horses and manage to find a place for them and us to stay?
Well, let me explain.
We rode into Cholila yesterday and though we’ve been there quite a few times, we’ve never arrived with our horses. As we neared town, a young man on a bicycle stopped to volunteer his assistance. We explained that we needed a place for our five horses for the night. He directed us to a woman who rented cabanas, saying she might rent us a field for the night. A little further down the road, we came upon an older gaucho astride a beautiful big horse. (He turned out to be 72.) We stopped him and asked him the same question. He agreed with the cyclist. So we rode to the cabanas, but no one was home. Seeing we were having no success, the gaucho returned to help us out. When we inquired of him if he knew a blacksmith, he took us to what turned out to be the local blacksmith’s brother’s house. We learned that the blacksmith, Rodrigo, would come later and shoe four of our horses who were much in need of a trim.
We tied up the horses in the empty lot next to the brother’s house and before I knew it, Alex was shooting Ramiro’s air gun at a target and Beto was in his element since Ramiro and his twin brother Rodrigo, the blacksmith, were accomplished jockeys and great horse lovers.
I managed to pull Alex away from his fun because we had arranged to meet Inez, a fine woman who managed the Lago Cholila Lodge, at 4pm. She had kindly offered us the use of her house for the night since she would be staying at the Lodge that night. She gave us a quick tour of her darling little place (It had lights and hot water.) before agreeing to meet us for dinner at 9pm at her uncle’s parrilla, a barbecue restaurant.
We then headed back to the horses to learn that they could remain tied up in the empty lot for the night.
That evening, we had a fabulous meal with Inez while Beto stayed with the twins. Last we saw them, they were sitting around an open fire drinking mate. We consumed way too much red wine and I soon found another restaurant guest, Antonio, seated at our table trading stories with Inez and me, while Alex had retired to the kitchen and was entertaining Inez’s uncle and his son, the chef, with his stories described in his most bizarre mix of English and Spanish. Antonio told me he lived alone on a small acreage near Lago Cholila that was owned by a wealthy singer from France. At 42, he said he had no use for a wife, hated TV and spent his evenings playing his guitar and singing milongas, soulful songs that are made up as the singer goes along. They describe the day’s events and are sort of stories told in verse. Every week or two he came into Cholila to pick up supplies and enjoy a meal and some good wine.
When Alex returned to the table, he had two new best friends. Inez’s uncle then disappeared, returning shortly with a very fancy silver focon or gaucho knife. It was practically brand new and had belonged to a friend of his who had died and left it to him. He then presented it to Alex as a gift. At 1am, we returned to Inez’s house for the night.
The next morning dawned with crystal blue skies and a fresh coolness in the sparklingly clear air. We found Judy tethered virtually on the sidewalk and worried we were turning our horses into street urchins, but she seemed nonplussed as she lay down and stretched out in the warm rays of the sun. Passers by virtually tripped over her head.
The blacksmith came back to finish the last two horses. While we waited, his brother showed us his collection of photographs of his success as a jockey and a rodeo rider. Across the street people gathered in front of the hospital. I thought I heard women weeping, only to discovered that the night before an older man had taken his own life and these were his family and friends.
As the morning gave way to the afternoon heat, Rodrigo finally finished the first of the two horses he had to shoe for us. During a break between horses, a man walked by selling large paper bags filled with still-warm sugar donuts. I bought a bag for 15 pesos ($3) and we shared the treats as Rodrigo gave me the Spanish — Argentinian really — words for all the tools of his trade.
We decided to stay another night since the shoeing (150 pesos or $30 per horse) wouldn’t be done until mid afternoon. Alex and I retired to the Petrominera station to use the Internet. While there, who pulled in but Julio Campo Crispo who had put us up for two nights a week or so earlier at his lovely place on Lago Lezama. He agreed to join us for a pasta dinner at Inez’s uncle’s restaurant at 9pm, and so the day proceeded — exactly as one wouldn’t expect.