A little taste of one of our excellent homestays in South America. You can sample this on Volcanoes and Pampas tour
It was very early as our bus from Bariloche pulled into the Bahia Blanca bus terminal. Sleepily we got our bags and were met by a smiling Alejandro who was waiting to take us to the Estancia San Juan, the ranch owned by his father where we were to spend the next couple days. After driving about 30mins out of town the van stopped, Alejandro jumped out and opened a gate on the side of the road and we entered the grounds of the Estancia. We were greeted upon our arrival by Roberto, Alejandro’s father, and the 4th generation descendent of a French immigrant who’d built the ranch.
Over the generations the grounds of the ranch got smaller and smaller as each new generation divided it up amongst themselves but its grounds still stretch as far as the eye can see. Today it’s still a working farm, mainly cattle but also sheep and, before the current drought, wheat. But times are hard for Argentinean gauchos, government policy aimed at keeping the price of beef low in Argentina has made them less competitive on the world market and they are now in their fourth year of drought. This estancia, along with a number of others, has turned to tourism for an extra income but it is still first and foremost a working farm.
As the sun wasn’t up yet Roberto and Alejandro showed us to our rooms and let us get a couple more hours sleep. “We want you to feel like this is your home, like you’re one of the family.” Over the next couple of days they definitely made sure that we would feel like this and made it hard for us to leave their warm hospitality.
After a basic but nice breakfast Alejandro took us for a walk around the estancia and some of the grounds. As he walks us around Alejandro tells us a bit about his youth growing up on the estancia, how the school he went to was in his uncle’s house not too far away and about why they’ve decided to open their home to visitors. This isn’t one of the big “tourist” estancias near Buenos Aires, they only get visitors once in a while and occasionally host events such as weddings. This is true, down to earth, Argentina. As we walk around we spot a number of birds, we’re hoping to see some Rheas (a S. American ostrich) that run free in the area but have no luck this time around. Alejandro also points out some of the local plants that he knows. He’s not a guide per se but having grown here knows a thing or two.
We return to the farm-house built in 1903, and Roberto brings out a couple cold beers for us to share together. He also has a photo-album from various decades. We chat idly and relax, really feeling welcome and at home. Lunch is served and it’s a veritable feast of chicken (from the farm), potatoes and salad. It is accompanied by the only thing a decent Argentinean meal could be accompanied by – a good bottle of red wine.
We spend the hot hours of the day relaxing, lazing around, just enjoying the surroundings. Roberto has a parilla (Argentinean barbeque) planned for the next day and he asks us if we want to witness the slaughtering of the lamb. Those of us who are interested follow him and Alejandro and we meet Carlos, the estancia’s gaucho – a true Argentinean cowboy. He’s just brought the sheep in. Sadly (or gladly depending on your perception) the slaughter is put off till the next morning and when we wake up it’s already been done. One of the neighbours arrives with some horses for a bit of horse-riding the next day. Roberto owns a few horses but has borrowed his neighbour’s as a couple people have never ridden before so need tamer animals.
After another walk out to a hill to see the sunset (and an armadillo) with Alejandro and Roberto we return for another cold beer and another fine cooked meal. Roberto proudly tells us about how their farm was recently used as the set for an Argentinean movie called “La Ventana” (the window).
Our second day starts with a bit of horse riding, Carlos, the Gaucho, shows off his horsemanship before heading off, giving us a bit of a show. The group goes off in two goes. The first lot come across some of the Rheas that eluded us the day before. In the afternoon we chose to just have a relaxing time. Staying on the estancia has really relaxed everyone, it’s taken the edge off the bus rides.
In the evening we all sit under a tree, a nice breeze ruffling its branched on this warm summer night. We chat, drinking cold beer and nice wine as half a lamb roasts on the fire. Both Roberto and Alejandro speak English so communication is easy enough. Everyone, with a full belly and merry from the wine which has been flowing freely puts off going to bed as the next day we have to leave this idyllic place. We look back at the past two days and our glimpse at the heart of Argentina and its rural way of life. No big sites and must sees here, but a chance to experience what this wonderful country is really all about.
But as they say, all good things come to an end. The next morning we reluctantly get driven back to the bus terminal and say goodbye to our wonderful hosts. We board the Buenos Aires bound bus on our way to the next adventure.
You can sample this on Volcanoes and Pampas tour
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