Argentina. A country of horses and cattle. Of meat and red wine. You imagine wild pampas, streaming waterfalls like the Iguazu in the north or glaciers with penguins in the south. Buenos Aires seems almost like Europe, not only due to its architecture, while in other parts you can find the Argentinian horseman.
The gaucho – suntanned, chewing coca leaves, speaking Spanish slang while being in remarkable control of his horse. It’s a country of diversity and yet, there is one question. What is the true Argentina? Away from the tourist’s point of view.
What is it like to live with gauchos on a ranch and learn about traditions and Argentinian culture?
Entering another world
In northern Argentina can be found the small town of Chicoana, which seems like out of a picture book of the past. Yellow-painted houses line the street, the main square is surrounded by small cafés and restaurants. In the distance, lush green hills, and fields as far as the eye can see.
Chicoana is located in the province of Salta named after the capital, also known as La Linda (“The Beautiful”) in reference to its valleys, mountains and parks.
We leave the familiar city hustle behind us and turn onto an unpaved road. Our progress is slow, the car is jolted back and forth. The roadside is lined with trees, bushes and shrubs and we seem to be driving further and further into the grasslands. Scooters ride along us and every now and then barking dogs stand at the side of the road. Nonetheless the area seems calm and peaceful, almost like entering another world.
The Sayta Estancia
Finally, a sign reading Sayta is visible in the distance. The morning sun lets some rays through the canopy of trees and glimpse the white ranch with its brown roof in the shade. Some of the 38 horses are standing in the associated pasture and grazing peacefully.
The Sayta Estancia has been in existence for 22 years and it seems as if hardly anything has changed. Just like its name suggests. “Donde el tiempo se detiene” is the meaning of Sayta. It’s the language from the region Jujuy and Salta called Aymara and stands for “where time stands still”.
The ranch is family-run by a small team including gauchos, a cleaning lady, a cook and a gardener.
Gaucho at heart
Enrique is the owner and leading the ranch together with his sun Federico. When everybody leaves in the evening, he stays at the ranch together with his three lovely dogs. While there are many extraordinary people in the world, nobody is comparable with him. He has traveled and seen different places in the past, nonetheless, decided to come back to his beautiful home and stay in Argentina to live the gaucho life.
Even though it’s a 24/7 job, he loves this life and wants to share it with his guests on the ranch. Over the years his ranch became quite well-known, but he never stopped his effort in making them feel welcome – like guests, not tourists. Everybody is treated like family, including me during my time there.
Once you step a foot on this ranch, you might never want to leave, and many guests have never forgotten their stay. Indeed, Enrique has received so many gifts from all over the world – most frequently thoughtful items that reveal one of his passions – witches.
Therefore, it was quite logical to create the Sayta logo as a combination of the two things he loves – horses and witches.
The passion for horses is probably even more than just a passion. It’s a lifestyle. “Ser gaucho es principalmente una filosofía de la vida,” mentioned Enrique in an interview with the dutch journalist Erica Terpstra meaning that being a gaucho is primarily a philosophy of life.
The so-called gaucho is an Argentinian horseman, more precisely an expert in dominating his horse while living in the grasslands, also called pampas. He portrays the free life, the strong relationship with horses and the life outdoors. Always by his side you can find a sharp knife, which is called facón and carried under a belt that is attached to his bombachas (baggy trousers).
On top it’s common to wear ponchos to keep warm while traveling from Estancia to Estancia in the old days to find work while living of meat and wine. Enrique still follows this diet and is convinced of its health benefits stating that he has never had any medical problems in his life.
Nowadays many gauchos work in the tourism industry, showing foreigners traditions and granting them an insight into the gaucho lifestyle. However, it has not always been like that. In the 19th century the gauchos of Argentina have been soldiers fighting for independence from Spain.
A day at the Sayta Ranch
A typical day at the Sayta Estancia looks as follows:
Once the guests have arrived, they enjoy a typical breakfast which contains coffee, homemade bread, jam and the famous dulce de leche. Then it’s time to get onto the horses, who have been prepared by the gauchos.
Horse riding at the Sayta Estancia is possible for everyone, regardless of the previous experience since the gauchos pick the perfect horse for each guest. Once settled, the guests start their ride through the beautiful green countryside of Salta along fields, cattle, rivers and trees.
Due to the previously mentioned Argentinian diet – meat and wine – the ride is oftentimes followed by a true Argentinian asado (BBQ) and many guests claimed it had been the best BBQ in their entire life.
And not just the BBQ is outstanding and feels like having the chance to dive into true Argentina, the entire experience at Sayta is remarkable. While you can choose between the mentioned morning ride, you can take a ride in the afternoon as well or take a multiple day ride in the mountains. To experience even more, why not stay in one of the rebuilt construction trailers that are set on the ranch, basic but with everything you need.
Whether it’s learning how to make empanadas or rope knots for horses, preparing avocado cream from an avocado tree in the garden, listening to folklore music by guitars and drums at the ranch or joking with Enrique – it feels like true Argentina. So different from Germany, almost like another world. A world without worries in union with nature.