Argentina, Tucuman : 24th July 2002

So, we were three again and just when we thought we could get going again, Miss M got the flu… and just when she got over it, the weather changed and it was rain, cold and wind for 5 days solid. Everybody advised us NOT to leave while the weather stayed miserable and we were all very happy after a few days to have seen bright sun and blue skies again. Miss M was sad to leave all her new friends behind and she promised Santiago Castellanos that while she is in Argentina, she would only drink Villa Mora wine. Miss M was very impressed with this lovely red wine and was lucky enough to have some every night during her stay in Cordoba. Santiago also said that Villa Mora would become one of the official sponsors of the TATA Challenge in the form of providing help and contacts along the way… and he had indeed stayed true to his word. For those who would like to read more about this tasty wine, the origin of the name Lola Mora and much more, go to www.lolamorawine.com.ar.

It was a Saturday morning when everybody gathered very early at El Galpon, grooming us, drinking Mate and getting the packs ready. Miss M decided that I would be the riding horse and Tusa would be on the lead. Eduardo (the lad who has the polo school at El Galpon) and his girlfriend and her sister all got on top of their horses to accompany us out of the city as they knew all the short cuts and back-roads. When we got outside Cordoba city on the main road to our next destination, we said goodbye to our riding companions and headed off.

Tusa wasn't co-operating greatly and kept on pulling back for the first 10km but got a bit better after that… well, until we had our first little accident. I don't know what happened exactly but all of a sudden Tusa gave a big jump and in the process the leading rope went around Miss M's leg, pulling her off me, straight to mother earth! I got an awful fright and nearly stepped on Miss M as she hit the ground. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt and after Miss M regained her composure, she looked around to see who had spotted the fall! She led us to the nearest tree to catch our breath and after a while she was back on top of me again.

Everything went smoothly until Tusa and I spotted our first train and what happened next was truly terrifying. I am forbidden to tell you what happened - Miss M's orders - but all I can say that it was nearly a fatal incident. Apologies for having to keep you in suspense but I am sure that Miss M will share the story with you at some stage.

Because of all the happenings during the day, we arrived at the outskirts of Jesus Maria when it was already dark. Miss M was very tired and hungry and had the shakes when we finally came to a halt. Our host-family arrived and the two girls offered to ride us back to the house and Miss M to go in the car. Miss M was so happy about this and when we finally arrived at the house, she already had a shower and was ready to tuck into the barbecue.

The next morning Mr. Sebastian Bush looked at our feet and announced that whoever shod us, had done a bad job and suggested to rectify the matter. He is a very experienced Farrier and in no time we were the proud owners of new shoes. Our next stop was only 25km away on a dirt road and when we got their Carlos awaited us with lovely alfalfa, maize and water. He was also so kind to hose down our tired and warm legs. He breeds Criollo's himself and he gave Miss M a lot of sound advice while she tucked into Sylvi's peach tart.

The following day was an early start for we had another long stretch ahead of us. The last 10km must have been the most difficult as Miss M developed terrible pains in her knees and feet. She took her legs out of the stirrups every now and then to give them a stretch and we were all ecstatic when we saw the outlines of Dean Funes in the distance. We had a very warm welcome by the Bechara family, the kids even gave Miss M roses to say Bienvenido (welcome!) and we were also met by the local TV station for a quick interview.

Everybody was very concerned about us going through the Salinas (salt lakes) between Dean Funes and Frias and after much consideration Miss M agreed that we would all be transported to our next destination. She was told that riding through the Salinas might be too hard on us as it is very isolated with little food and only salt water to drink. Miss M had planned to camp out with us but was told that it would have been freezing cold in the evenings with not even a tree in sight for shelter. Juan Carlos Bechara used his contacts in Dean Funes to get a horsebox and after a bit of drama to get us in, we were off to Frias. Here we were met by a very hospitable family who were half Arabic and Miss M told us afterwards of all the exotic food she had been fed. She mentioned a dish which consists of raw minced meat and Miss M said the only way managed to swallowed this was after it was "heavily coated" with olive oil and black pepper.

The trip between Frias and Tucuman was very long and very boring. The road just stretched out in front of us with not a curve in sight. At times there was hardly any riding space next to the road and we had to go onto the tarmac - not the most comfortable for our legs and feet. At one stage Miss M went into the long grass next to the road and when we got onto the road again, we were all covered in the most annoying little thorn possible…. the girths, the poncho, Miss M's trousers, her sweater, our coats….. everywhere was this white beastly thorn which breaks off in little pieces when you try to get it off and Miss M ended up spending the whole evening to getting it out of everything.

Simoca was our last stop before Tucuman and here Miss M got much more than what she bargained for in the form of a terrible electric shock from a lampshade in the room that she was sleeping in. Her host felt very responsible for what had happened and got the local doctor out to give Miss M an injection. Miss M slept until lunchtime (great timing!) and needless to say, we didn't go anywhere that day. The next day our host offered to accompany Miss M to Tucuman (a 52 km ride) on horseback but after 15km his horse's shoe came loose and he was forced to turn back. We were all exhausted when we arrived in Tucuman and after some calculations, I realized that we had done about 230km in five days. Pancho Crito (our host) met us just outside the city and within 15 minutes we had to look pretty for the newspaper people. We were also welcomed by a Gaucho on his white Peruvian horse and after that Miss M left us at his brother's house where we would rest for the next few days.

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