We celebrated Julio’s 65th birthday with his family and friends. Julio is taking the picture. Believe it or not, but this shot is taken inside his stable.
In Hindsight and on to the Future
The horses are on the range for winter; our saddles have been stored, and I managed to wash the dust out of my riding clothes and eliminate the grime from under my fingernails. My screensaver is now a photo of Judy and me. (See below.) For our return trip to our guide Beto’s place at the end of February, Alex and I had three warm sunny days on our own to reminisce about our adventures. When we rode down the long hill into Beto’s a year ago, I felt triumphant as in We Did It. We Said We Would and We Did! This year, after we dismounted for the last time, we were full of stories about the people we’d met or reconnected with, and the sites, especially the Tigre Glacier, we’d seen. Instead of triumphant, however, we were simply sad that our days in the saddle were over for another year or more.
This is my screensaver.
Anyone who does any long distance riding will likely visit the website for the Long Distance Riders Guild, which is maintained by Americans CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly. It is the go-to place for anyone contemplating an equestrian expedition, and CuChullaine is generous with his time and expertise. In reading accounts of other treks on horseback that appear on the site, we recognized that our trip was short by comparison. (A trip has to be over 1000 miles long to qualify as being long distance.) We also realized that our style of travel and perhaps our purpose for setting out in the first place didn’t necessarily conform with other equestrian adventurers.
Rather than start at point A determined to reach point B, as in a ride across America, we rode in circles. Then we went back this year and repeated parts of the same route, visiting many of the people we’d delighted in the year previously. We realized that just as there are travellers for whom the journey is more important than the destination – The Welsh author Gwyn Thomas, once said, “But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.” – there are travellers like ourselves who like to dig down into the places they visit and get to know the landscape and its people.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up and have lived most of my life in a place defined by the lay of the land. I spent every summer day as a youngster swimming in Southern Ontario’s Credit River and many long winter afternoons skating on its frozen waters. I can trace the river’s journey from high in Dufferin County to Lake Ontario. The Niagara Escarpment, which wends its way from Tobermory in the far northwest corner of the province to Niagara Falls in the south, made its presence known in the backyard of my youth. The steep cliffs of the Forks of the Credit, the humpbacked Devil’s Pulpit on the skyline, the red Queenston shale claybanks were my home. Their spirit is buried deep in my psyche.
In an essay on travel writing called Home Truths on Abroad (the Guardian, September 19, 2009), seasoned travel writer and historian William Dalrymple discusses the genre of travel writing wondering if it has a future and if so, where it might lie. Rory Stewart, whom Dalrymple refers to as “probably the most highly regarded of the younger generation of travel writers,” figures prominently in the essay. Dalrymple writes, “Stewart is also sure that the kind of travel writing which will show the greatest durability is that where an informed observer roots and immerses himself in one place, commiting time to get to know a place and its languages.”
We stayed with Don Aviles again this year. For 42 years he has spent the four summer months living with his horses, dogs, cattle and sheep.
As someone who travels and writes, I recognize myself (and Alex) in this description. My desire is to discover the backstory. My natural tendency is to research the place and its people and tell their stories. The travel writing I like to read involves people who invest in a place, maybe build a house there or take a job. I take pleasure in getting inside another culture and its people. To know people’s names.
Paul Scott Mowrer, an American journalist, once wrote, “There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” What I’ve discovered from our travels over the past two years is that plodding along on a horse in a country that reveres its horses and horse culture has resulted in people throwing open doors that might otherwise have been slow to crack. Moreover, by returning to visit again and again, acquaintances have turned to friendships. In horses it seems, we found a common language. And from a saddle, where I am not burdened by keeping a bicycle in a straight line or tripping over a rock should I look up while hiking, there is time to see the cracks and crannies, study the plants, piece together the route of a river.
Dalrymple quotes Stewart once again, “In an age when journalism is becoming more and more etiolated (limp), when articles are becoming shorter and shorter, usually lacking all historical context, travel writing is one of the few venues to write with some complexity about an alien culture.”
I’m not there yet, not ready to write a travel book about Argentina, Patagonia or our horse travels. I still have too much to learn. But the culture of this wonderful country is unfolding in the lives and stories of the people we meet, in mountain peaks and crystal stream, and in the research I am compelled to undertake. As long as I keep coming back, keep digging deeper, a book will appear.