Bariloche Airport open again

by Hidden Trails 01/13/2012

Today at 11AM the first Aerolineas Argentinas flight since June 4th flew to Bariloche and LAN is starting to fly again too. Authorities have informed that conditions are safe for flights not being the ashes a major concern now. Following up on our information of LAN regional flights from the Buenos Aires domestic airport, we are pleased to inform that the LAN Chile flight LA490 continues to fly to Santiago de Chile. All others have been rescheduled from Ezeiza international airport.

Bariloche Airport open again

by Hidden Trails 01/13/2012

Today at 11AM the first Aerolineas Argentinas flight since June 4th flew to Bariloche and LAN is starting to fly again too. Authorities have informed that conditions are safe for flights not being the ashes a major concern now.
Following up on our information of LAN regional flights from the Buenos Aires domestic airport, we are pleased to inform that the LAN Chile flight LA490 continues to fly to Santiago de Chile. All others have been rescheduled from Ezeiza international airport.

First Class Saddle Club in Argentina

by Hidden Trails 09/16/2010

Story by Julie Miller
... first published in the Sydney Morning Herald (Aug 21, 2010)

Julie Miller discovers the power of the mallet as she attempts to crack the country's number one sport of polo.
It's one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: that sharp, decisive "pock" as a bat connects cleanly with a ball - so effortless, so graceful, so absent from my existence.
As any sportsman knows, it's all about hand-eye co-ordination - a genetic blessing I was cruelly denied. But I take heart that, in this game, I have a partner who knows what's she's doing. In fact, she's doing all the work - I'm just along for the ride.
The stocky, hogged-mane mare I'm riding senses she has to follow that little white ball, ducking and weaving to fend off aggressors, and compensate for my attempts to make contact with it.
To be fair, this is my first crack at polo - the world's fastest, most physical horse game.
My lesson in sporting humility takes place at Estancia Sierra Chicas, a 2600-hectare ranch in the moody Sierra Chicas near Cordoba, in central Argentina. Owned by the Anglo-Argentine Begg family, this working cattle and horse stud attracts international guests seeking an authentic slice of gaucho culture without sacrificing life's luxuries. The property dates back to 1574 when Jesuit priests enslaved the indigenous people to construct the dry-stone walls that scar its golden, windswept hillsides. Back then, the land was used to breed pack mules for the Bolivian salt mines, those sturdy beasts kept in the stone enclosures, or potreros, that gave the ranch its name.
A family home for four generations, the 300-year-old homestead is a time capsule; its whitewashed adobe walls, worn timber beams and original cartwheel window are portals to those turbulent colonial days. But it's the personal touches that give the old building its character: faded family photographs, original oil paintings of favourite horses, a well-stocked bilingual library and a roaring log fire.
Guest accommodation in adjoining wings is comfortable, with an enviable collection of antique furniture. It's a little like staying at a friend's rural retreat - but one where you have no obligation to contribute to the cooking or washing up.
With a maximum of 12 guests at the ranch, time spent with hosts Kevin Begg and his wife, Louisa, is guaranteed as they lead condor-watching hikes around the property, visits to local churches, painting classes on the homestead verandah or tasting sessions of the ranch's own-label malbec.
But most guests come to ride, with the reputation of its horses firmly established in equestrian circles. As well as their extensive stable of working criollo cow ponies, the Beggs raise prized paso peruanos, a rare breed renowned for its fifth gait.
Most horses have four speeds: walk, trot, canter and gallop. The paso has an extra gear, a fast amble that slots in between the walk and trot and is as smooth and exhilarating as a canter. For novices, it's a breeze; for experienced riders, a revelation. As Louisa boasts: "It's like being upgraded from economy to first class. And once that happens, there's no turning back." Both passionate riders, the Beggs lead guests out to explore the property on their horses, allowing the natural rhythm of estancia life to dictate each day's activities.
During foaling season, for instance, a ride includes rounding up pregnant mares, bringing them in for the night as protection against marauding pumas, or checking on newborn foals, still wobbly on spindly legs. In summer, barbecues, or parillas, are on the agenda.
By far the most popular ranch activity, however, is polo - Argentina's national sport. No one plays polo quite like an Argentine. They are simply better, faster and more highly ranked than anyone else in the world - not to mention ridiculously good looking. This is where other champs of the sport - including the Packer clan and Australia's polo star Ruki Baillieu - come to hone their skills; adoring crowds of more than 15,000 attend the national finals in Buenos Aires.
Despite the fame and fortune of the sport's top players, polo in Argentina is not just for the wealthy. With an abundance of good, cheap horses and plenty of land to spare, it's played by all and sundry in rural areas - and, today, that includes me.
Having had a rather inglorious fall from grace the first time I rode a polo pony, I'm nervous as I mount my horse, Polera, and begin the trek down the driveway to the Beggs's competition-sized polo pitch.
Joining Kevin, Louisa and me are two other newcomers to the sport - staff member Hedda, from Sweden, and her co-worker Holly, from Britain. Head gaucho Luis makes up the numbers, his prancing pony working up a sweat in anticipation.
At the field we dismount while Kevin takes us through the basics - don't hurt yourself, don't hurt your horse and don't hurt other players. The idea, he says, is to have fun.
"We don't teach polo here, we play polo," he emphasises. "You could pay $150 an hour to learn to play in Australia and spend the first 10 lessons on a wooden horse. But here, the idea is to get you into a game within an hour."
More easily said than done; but as I swing back into the saddle and take my first clumsy whacks at the ball from a standstill, it seems achievable. Introducing speed into the equation, however, is another challenge. As I trot up the field, steering one-handed, it's starting to resemble a game of croquet more than polo, with most of my shots a mere dribble or complete miss.
After an hour of fumbling around, Kevin announces it's game on: the two staff girls and Louisa versus Luis, Kevin and me.
"We'll set the shots up for you," Kevin advises. "If you miss the shot, just ride ahead - we'll get the ball back to you." Which is exactly what happens - I ride, I swing, I miss - embarrassingly squandering Luis's perfect passes and soft set-ups.
Despite the fact it's a "friendly" game, Louisa, who plays in a local competition, isn't going easy. As I canter tentatively - still too scared to give Polera her head - I sense Louisa on my left, pushing me off course. The aim is to pressure opponents physically and mentally, distracting them from taking the shot. She succeeds; I overshoot the ball, swinging back into a fray of clashing mallets.
There's a bit of cheating, a lot of shouting and plenty of laughter as Luis, Kevin and Louisa drive the game back into the open.
Suddenly, the way is clear - there's nothing between Polera and the goal as Luis flicks me a perfect pass.
"Julia, Julia, your ball!" he hollers. "Go, go, rapida!" Surely this time - but how can anyone be so hopeless? From behind, Kevin taps the ball, which rolls to a stop just in front of the line. This is my moment to shine - victory is mine! Gooaaaaaaallllll!

Estancia vacations or Polo Clinics can be booked with Hidden Trails

Argentina - Sierra Chicas Riding Adventures

by Hidden Trails 01/17/2007

Riding the Sierra Chicas Mountains
Riding sturdy sure-footed horses in the oldest mountain range in South America , with condors circling overhead, is an awesome experience, writes Lesley Bayley 'Follow the line of the valley and then look up.

Then you'll see them. ''Yes, yes, now I see them. Wow!' Excitedly, the instructions were passed down the line of riders. Many pairs of eyes turned skywards and, inevitably, broad grins broke out across the riders' faces. The cause of all the animated activity was eight condors, sweeping effortlessly, almost nonchalantly, through the air against a background of bright blue cloudless sky. Condors have a massive nine-foot wing span yet they twisted, turned and soared with a grace that we humans can only envy and dream about. However, the reason for the presence of the condors in such numbers was much less romantic. 'It's the calving season so it's a good time to see the condors,' explained Kevin Begg, one of the owners, with his brother, Robin, of the estancia at Sierra Chicas in Argentina. Indeed, when we reached the spot where the condors were, there were several head of cattle, including a few gawky calves, grazing.
As we approached, the condors landed on outcrops high above the valley, but it felt as if they were watching our every move. As soon as we moved off, the condors took to the air again and resumed their circling above the cattle. I stayed at estancia in early November last year and it was my first visit to South America. I'm sure it won't be my last either! The flights are quite long, but I love flying so it certainly wasn't a hardship. There's a fantastic treat en route too - we flew to Santiago in Chile and then to Cordoba in Argentina, which meant that we flew over the snowy peaks of the Andes - awesome! I traveled with Sue Maling and her husband Jon. We were met at Cordoba by a taxi company for the hour-long journey to the estancia. Initially, we were on normal roads but as we climbed higher into the oldest mountain range in South America, the Sierras Chicas, the roads became dirt highways and then stony tracks. At this point we all reflected that back home we'd only consider driving a 4x4 along these, yet the taxi was a Peugeot saloon, merrily bouncing along, with the driver neatly avoiding potholes and sudden changes in road level, with all the aplomb derived from years of experience. We arrived at the secluded estancia in time for lunch, served on the veranda.
The table was laden with plenty of home cooked tasty food, accompanied by excellent locally-produced wine. Seated at the table we looked out across a stunning view, the breeze was deliciously warm and there was a great sense of tranquility and peace, broken only by birdsong or infectious laughter from the kitchen. All in all, a superb setting and a great introduction to the enjoyable times ahead. Good food and wine are hallmarks of this holiday - the estancia is pretty self-sufficient supplying beef from its own herd, eggs from the chickens that wander around the homestead and delicious home-made bread. 'We have tried milking cows but it wasn't that successful as we usually need more than can be supplied,' explained Kevin, adding that the cows hadn't been particularly co-operative either. 'We don't grow our own veg, but go to town for locally-produced vegetables'.
Electricity is provided primarily from wind power and a little from solar power. It's a new addition to the estancia though, a pair of wind turbines being installed in the last couple of years. It's a sensible way of utilizing nature's bounty as the wind was ever present, although in varying guises. The estancia has a homely yet dignified ambience and I must admit I would have loved to have visited when the only form of lighting was kerosene lamps. This estancia is the kind of place that gets under your skin without you realizing it - which is perhaps why the guest book is full of enthusiastic comments and promises to return. Which is what people do, but for a variety of reasons, as not all the guests are horse riding aficionados. Although horse tourism is a major income stream for the estancia, non-riders also come to enjoy the food, to walk, watch birds, and go shooting or just to de-stress. It's not surprising that the estancia features in a book called Heaven on Earth about 'divine hotels around the world'. But staying at the estancia is not like staying in a hotel - it's more like being part of a house party at a good friend's wonderful home. The rooms are furnished with antique beds, with traditional local rugs on the wooden floors.
There is a feeling of authenticity, simplicity and style, with plenty of warmth thrown in (provided by the attentive staff and the wonderful log fires). Members of the Begg family and a member of staff join the guests for each meal and look after everyone extremely well. In fact, the most difficult part of being on this holiday is pacing yourself, as far as food and drink goes. If you are a rider though, there is a feast to enjoy. The estancia is surrounded by 6,000 acres of land with varying terrain, from wide open spaces, to winding tracks bounded by trees on either side, to wooded areas, to rocky climbs up steep mountain sides. Then there is the polo field where many people have their first taste of playing a chukka or two - a sport which is great fun and very addictive! Plus, of course, this is the land of the gaucho - the great horsemen who have a long, proud tradition and attachment to their horses. The gauchos like their horses to be forward-going and to carry their heads quite high. They train the horses to stop at the lightest touch on the rein and to go anywhere and do any job without hesitation. Jose, one of the gauchos who rode out with us most days, was amazing to watch - he was as happy working cattle as he was leading guests on rides, when often he would quietly break into song. His singing voice and talent for emotive story-telling was proved later in the week - before dinner one night we were treated to traditional music and dance. Jose sang, danced and also recited a gaucho's poem - despite the language barriers there was no doubt about the emotion and love a gaucho feels for his horse. The riding style is different, but can soon be picked up. For English-style riders the major contrast is that the horses respond to neck reining and if you try to use the reins as you would normally, the horses just do not understand. However, once you get this sorted in your head, the horses are very responsive, being just as easy to stop as they are to get moving.
One practice which all of us loved was the habit of having sheepskins over the saddles - these were just so comfy. Each day we rode twice, after breakfast until lunchtime, then a break during the heat of the day, before enjoying a late afternoon/early evening ride. The open landscape, with large tufts of paja brava grass, was quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before. We had some fantastic canters across this landscape though, with the horses being foot-sure and confident. Although I rode several different horses, all of which were fun, I did have a special place in my heart for a Paso Peruano gelding called Barry. He was much smaller than my normal mounts, but he had attitude and character in great abundance. Barry did not believe it was worth being on a ride unless he was at the front - even when we had a pit stop and he appeared to be snatching a few minutes to doze, he instinctively knew when Jose made a move. Without me even asking, we'd be right there behind Jose, ready to lead the next canter. Woe betide any other horse that tried to sneak in before him - the ears would indignantly flash back and Barry would muscle in, putting any miscreant in their rightful place with just a small adjustment of his body position. I spent most of my time on him enjoying his comfortable paces and chuckling away at his wonderful sense of self. With so much land to ride over, each day's riding was a revelation.
One morning we rode over to the estancia where Kevin and Robin were brought up. It wasn't until we were in the garden of the estancia that we realized there was a building there. Kevin explained that his grandfather built the estancia and that it was designed around one feature - the view. Once inside the house Kevin drew back the curtains at one window to revceal a breathtaking panorama - one that sadly, his grandfather did not live to savour, dying shortly after the house was completed. There's a beautiful garden at this estancia, which is looked after by a Chilean man who is in his 80s, but does not know how old he actually is. The man has no papers and therefore cannot get a pension - so he is reliant upon the kindness of the Beggs who provide him with a home and income in exchange for his gardening skills. Something that sets a holiday at this estancia apart from any other trip is that you have the opportunity to learn about another culture, without actually realizing that you are doing so. Both Kevin and Robin answer guests' questions frankly, discussing everything from how agriculture operates to the fact that as the police in Argentina are some of the lowest-paid workers, corruption is inevitably present. Some aspects of Argentinean life can be frustrating, as Kevin explained. On the run-up to the last election, the government suddenly started to build a road through the Beggs' land, without any prior notice or consultation. Once the election was won, work on the road stopped and will probably not recommence until the next election. Many people have moved out of the countryside to find work in the towns. In their area, the Beggs are major employers and it's a tribute to them that a lot of the staff have been with the family for many years. They support the community in a number of ways - for instance, the sale of polo shirts to guests produces cash for the local school.
The Beggs paid for electricity to be put into the school and for an oven to be built in the school grounds so that the children could learn to cook. We rode to the school one day - as two of the four children currently at the school do every day. Pupil numbers can vary, but there is just one teacher and her charges can range from five to 13 years. On another occasion, we rode to the cattle station where some of the animals had been herded together so that they could be vaccinated. The noise was ear-splitting as the calves had been separated from their mothers and the dust raised by the fastmoving cattle and horses assaulted our eyes. The gauchos skilfully guided their horses, matching the movements of the cattle so that they could herd them into the crush. Here, five at a time, the cattle were checked and vaccinated. The description for this estancia does promise a 'true insight into rural life in Argentina ' and you do get exactly this. It's much more than a holiday; it's an experience you should not miss.
It all came to an end far too quickly and instead of sitting on our horses looking down, from our vantage point in the mountains, across the pampas to Cordoba, we were driving to the airport. Getting on to that plane was difficult. Kind regards Robin

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