Trust and Horse Traders

At 6am, on January 22, 2013, Alex and I will take off on a six-to-eight-week-long trip on horseback through Argentina’s Patagonian Andes. There will be lots of dust. This blog will tell our stories as we discover where we are.

January 12, 2013
El Bolson, Patagonia, Argentina. I’ve been reading a lot about happiness these days. I learned that being able to trust people factors heavily in the quality of one’s life. So with our well-honed Canadian naivety, Alex and I decided that we could trust someone to help us make our way through the murky underworld – or so it felt – of horse-trading in southern Argentina.
We knew that as foreigners we were going to pay top dollar for the four horses we needed to carry us on our two-month adventure down the eastern shadow of the Andes mountains, but we didn’t want to be too badly ripped off. We intended to look these horses in the mouth since at 4000 pesos each (about $800), they were hardly gifts.
With moderate language skills at best and precious little knowledge of local customs, we asked Christian to assist us. A trustworthy young man if there ever was one, Christian lives with his parents who own the small apartment that we’ve rented in El Bolson for a month each of the last three winters. Well over six feet tall, of Ukrainian heritage, with a dark, flashy-eyed wife and two blonde rough-and-tumble young sons, Christian discovered that Roxy, the lovely young woman who cleans the apartments his parent rent out, had a brother Roberto who was knowledgeable about all things equine. Roberto would be our difference between paying top dollars and being totally bamboozled, or so we hoped.
Roberto, our guide on the left and
Sebastian (“El Moro”) on the right leaning
against the 1962 Ford Falcon built in 1980..

Hopping into Roberto’s 1962 Ford Falcon wagon that was built in 1980 and featured a jagged hole in the floor that accommodated the stick shift that replaced the car’s original three-in-the-tree gear shift, we simultaneously figured that buying a few horses was less risky than relying on the Falcon’s brakes. Roberto pushed my faith further when he whispered a prayer before turning the key in the ignition. I’m not sure whether he was praying that his Falcon would start or that it would get us safely to where we were headed. But after meeting Sebastian, a Mapuche who runs El Bolson’s most successful horseback riding business, something known in Argentina as cabalgatas, maybe Roberto was actually asking God to keep us safe from someone who was a caricature of a horse trader. Devilish in his red beret, the chosen headgear of Patagonia’s gauchos, Sebastian had us break bread – really several legs of delicious lamb that he’d been slowly grilling over an open fire – before showing us the horses he had for sale. Seated at a roughly hewn picnic table at the side of Ruta 40, Argentina’s version of the Trans Canada Highway, we were blasted with questions and jokes. They exploded from Sebastian and his pals with the good-natured intensity of a gigolo on the prowl.

We had a chance to ride the horses on offer. Mosquito was a flea-bitten grey trail horse currently available for hire, the other two had the powerful legs of draft horses, with the sleek bodies of animals used to Argentina’s unforgiving landscape and fickle climate. “In your opinion,” I asked Roberto, “are these horses good for us to buy?”
Gauchito, one of the four horses we purchased,
not looking very happy about it.

With our trusted advisor’s endorsement, we agreed to do the deal with Sebastian. We were unable to get him to drop his price, but he was willing to put on new shoes all around, inoculate our mounts and look after them until our adventure began. Feeling like drug dealers, but unwilling to question our trust in Roberto, Alex looked both ways before pulling his thick wad of money out of his front pocket. He then peeled off 120 one-hundred pesos bills as we leaned against Roberto’s dilapidated 1962 Ford Falcon at the side of a dirt road, shaded from the hot sun by an enormous hardwood tree.