Travelling lesson 264: Never hire hiking boots

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The glaciar descending from majestic Mount Fitzroy

“Do you want to try them out around town a little bit before you head off?” says the shop assistant.

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A hiker who made it back in a very different condition to when he left

I decline the offer, assuming, as always, that everything will be okay.

Unfortunately being a generally optimistic person isn’t always a good thing…

Sophie and I had decided to hire hiking boots ahead of our nine-hour trek to Mount Fitzroy base camp for different reasons.

Her faithful foot soldiers had decided to turn on her during our 80km trek to Machu Picchu, carrying out an unrelenting attack which caused both her big toenails to fall off.

My desire to put on some fresh footwear came from a fear that my well-worn, well-glued, well… pungent trainers would not survive a full day’s trek.

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Sophie in front of crystal clear waters

And so the following day we set off at 7am taking in a picturesque path which runs runs parallel to a beautiful glaciar-backed river.

It doesn’t take long (about 15 minutes) for Sophie’s old feet demons to make an unwelcome return and some angry-looking blisters begin to appear.

Thankfully she has come well-prepared and is able to make a quick transition into her much less sturdy, but much more comfortable Converse trainers.

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Mount Fitzroy rises up behind a glaciar and a jewel-coloured lake

Disaster averted, we continue on to a forested area containing a small tent village.

It is here, at basecamp, that properly kitted out climbers rest up before they begin their ascent up the steep, snowy edge of Mount Fitzroy.

We are not ready for such an epic challenge, but we do push on far enough to make it to  a viewpoint which provides a famous picture of the stunning Mount Fitzroy fronted by an emerald green lake.

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Re-boosting depleted energy levels

It’s cold and windy, but we find shelter behind a big rock and take the opportunity to recharge the batteries by munching on some sandwiches.

Then the weather takes a turn for the worst and the majestic Mount turns into fuzzy Fitzroy as the mist tumbles over it and the biting sleet whips across our faces.

Time to descend. Rapidly. Unfortunately the downhill jog seems to instigate a fight between my feet and my boots which results in some colossal blisters.

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Not a happy hiker…

Sadly I haven’t brought my tried and trusted trainers with me and so for the next six hours Sophie has to put up with walking next to someone who looks like they are taking their first steps down the hospital ward after undergoing a hip replacement operation.

As my pace slows I begin to be passed by fellow walkers.

Firstly by couples out on a brisk walk, then by people taking a gentle stroll and finally by small children who can barely put one foot in front of the other.

Eventually several hours later than originally planned we make it back to our home base of El Chaltén.

As I take my boots off to finally relieve the pressure from my feet, the shop assistant sees the anguished expression on my face and realises I’ve not found the footwear particularly comfortable.

She can’t resist: “Perhaps you should have tried them out before you left for the trek…”

I nod begrudgingly, before breaking into a smile of pleasure as I catch a whiff of my well-worn, well-glued, well-pungent, but well-comfortable trainers

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My faithful old trainers: Wrecked in every way, but at least they don’t give me blisters

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The giant-sized iced gems of Perito Moreno

The awesome sight of Perito Moreno Glacier

Tinged with grit and dirt it looks like the browned topping of a lemon meringue pie, a million giant-sized white iced gems clawing skywards.

“Iceberg, right ahead!”

Crammed into a catamaran, we rise to our tiptoes to get a first glimpse of the 65-metre high spikes as they slowly come into view.

“Iceberg, right ahead!” shouts Sophie as we drift to within just a few metres of a jumbo ice cube bobbing gently on the glassy surface. As the light strikes its jagged edges, patches of the frozen water island take on a majestic turquoise hue.

Spot the ice-trekkers against the white backdrop

In the distance crampon-clad ice trekkers slowly attempt to make progress in this hostile environment.

They are nothing more than dark specks, barely visible amidst the vast carpet of blankness.

Our boat slows to a crawl and the engine noise is displaced by eerie creaks as the 250 km² glacier flexes in the cool air.

The ship swings round, then right in front of us a huge chunk of ice breaks away from the main body.

The massive frozen river rises up from the lake

It leaves a great cloud of powder in its wake as it plummets into the lake below.

A split second later the delayed eardrum-bursting sound pierces the stillness, with more impact than a gunshot going off in a library.

With little to draw comparison with in this bleak but beautiful scene, it’s difficult to get an accurate grasp of just how close we are to this monolith. But judging by the time it takes for the waves created by the tumbling block to reach us, I estimate it is around 150 metres away.

Like the White Witch’s castle, needles of ice poke upwards

Their arrival gives our boat a violent shake, indicating that the lump which has just sheered away from the glacier is pretty sizeable.

Although we witness regular ice-falls, the Perito Moreno Glacier in southern Patagonia is actually one of only a handful of glaciers around the world to buck the trend by advancing instead of retreating.

Boasting a bitterly cold winter, it is easy to understand why the sprawling sheet of upward-facing icicles is growing.

The slow creeping river of ice that is the Perito Moreno Glacier

Platforms on the bank facing the glacier provide a series of different observation points, including the opportunity to see the enormous blanket from a higher position.

For more than an hour we join the hordes who have flocked to gaze at this tremendous natural spectacle.

Everyone is waiting for the moment, the ‘calving’ where an icy mass crashes into the lemon squash-shaded water beneath.

Waiting for a ‘calve’ into the lemon squash coloured waters

Patience is the key. When the dramatic ‘freedom leaps’ finally come, they are more than worth the wait.

The energy and power is incredible.

Often one breakaway is followed by others nearby – the sudden change in the iceberg’s composition in one spot seemingly causing shifts and eventual falls in the ice around.

After an hour it’s time to bid goodbye to this breathtaking other world. As we trundle away from the glacier back to the bus, another explosion booms behind us as nature gives us one last reminder of just who’s boss.

Ice, Ice baby…

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A quick picnic at the “End of the World”

Sophie by the Beagle Channel

As we hurriedly make our leathery ham and squidged cheese sandwiches, we can’t help but let out an ironic little chuckle.

Sandwich at the ‘End of the World’

This should be a highpoint for us, our arrival at the bottom tip of South America after an overland journey of more than 15,000 miles.

From the salsa-ing streets of Rio, to the swinging hammocks of the Amazon.

From the warm waters of Colombia’s Carribean Sea, through the Andean peaks of Ecuador and Peru and on.

Past the shimmering salt flats of Bolivia, the tereré drinkers of Paraguay, the gravelly-voiced gauchos of Uruguay and the slick tangoers of Buenos Aires.

It’s been quite an adventure.

And now here we are at the place they call Land of Fire, Tierra Del Fuego national park.

At the end of the road, where Ruta 3 stops at the bottom of Argentina

A five-hour trek has brought us to the end of the road, literally.

It is here that the fabled route 3, which commences in Buenos Aires and runs down the eastern spine of Argentina, finally finishes.

From the spot when the the dirt track stops it is a just a few steps to The Beagle Channel.

This narrow stretch of water takes its name from the vessel that carried Darwin on his voyage of evolutionary discovery, making observations that formed the basis of his groundbreaking work The Origin of the Species.

The beautiful crystal clear waters of the Beagle Channel

Beyond, this strip of water, icy waves carry you to the ‘white continent’ – Antarctica.

Our minor hysterics are because we have but a couple of minutes to enjoy our moment.

In keeping with our hectic pace of travel over the last few months, we can’t hang about.

We have to hurry to make the last bus of the day to the World’s most southerly city, Ushuaia.

Brrr… “Why does everything look purple?!”

The Land of Fire is not a place you want to get stuck at for a night.

Its name is misleading, far from being a devil’s paradise, the weather is bitingly cold and through much of our hike we battle driving winds and skin-pricking sleet.

However, this is an unpredictable, changeable climate and when the wind and sleet eases off we are able to enjoy breathtaking scenery of lush pine forests and crystal clear waters.

At one point the tranquility is disturbed by the sound of loud, incessant hammering in the middle of the woods.

Our attention is drawn to a couple of long-beaked, colourful woodpeckers busily bashing away at a hardwood tree trunk.

Knockin’ on wood: Woodpecker at Tierra Del Fuego National Park

Back by the coast we spot some penguins resting on a rock a few hundreds metres out to sea and I think I see a beaver diving into a lake, but I can’t be sure, it could well have been a duck!

Starting on New Year’s Day it had taken 33 hours,  to reach here from the Atlantic coast seaside settlement of Puerto Madryn.

It was a particularly unpleasant journey for Sophie, who spent the first few hours spewing out the content of the ample quantites of Patagonian lamb and red wine we had consumed the night before to see in 2012.

Throughout our trip around South America we have arrived at new places without a hostel reservation and it has never been a problem.

Time to get the superglue out again! My trusty trainers have seen a few miles

But in peak summer season, Patagonia creaks with the weight of tourists keen to explore this desolute but beautiful land.

After our arrival in Ushuaia at about 9pm, the first five hostels we try are fully booked. A kind guy who runs a sushi bar gives us a ride in his car to a place he thinks might have availability.

It does, but it is extortionately priced. So, reluctantly we force ourselves to continue our search.

Old black and white photo of prisoners at Ushuaia Prison

Finally we find room at the Refugio del Mochilero backpackers for a comparatively cheap price.

Despite teeming with tourists, Ushuaia is a relaxed, laid-back spot.

Established originally as a penal colony, the town’s former prison has been converted to a museum containing exhibits about former occupants.

These include political prisoners sent to this wilderness to gag their critical opinions about the military dictatorships of the middle of the last century. They shared the prison with horrific murderers such as Cayetano Santos Godino, nicknamed Petiso Orejudo – the big-eared midget.

Prison Officer Cross… Don’t mess!

Godino terrified Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century when he was found guilty of the murders of four children and the attempted murder of a further seven.

In one case he killed a four year old boy by hammering a nail into his skull.

He was transferred to Ushuaia jail in 1923 and spent the rest of his days here.

On another of the prison’s five wings there is an exhibition dedicated to the plucky explorers who bravely attempted to discover more about Antarctica.

Model of a vessel used by early explorers to the Antarctic, crafted out of matches and wood by a former prisoner

Rare black and white footage shows Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen at base camp playing with huskies and doing final preparations before heading off to become the first person in the World to reach the South Pole.

Captain Scott’s ironically much more chronicled failure to beat Amundsen is also retold through letters and diary extracts.

The famous advert that charismatic Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton placed in a newspaper for recruits to join him on his latest adventure to the South Pole catches my eye…

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Hiding behind the snowman on the glacier in Ushuaia

Sounds fun!

The following day a drive and a chairlift ride from town takes us to the foot of a small glacier.

It sits on one of dozens of peaks that surround this beautiful little spot and offers spectacular views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.

At 5.30am the following morning it’s time to get on the road again for another long bus journey, up the western side of Argentina to El Calafate.

We are both a bit drowsy, but as we wait for the bus our senses are awakened  by the sight of an incredible sunrise…

…Perhaps this little spot does warrant the title Land of Fire after all.

Incredible sunrise over Ushuaia, the land of fire

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A Welsh tea and a march with the penguins in Patagonia

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Feeling peckish: Penguin at Punta Tombo, Patagonia

Before we came away, I was given a brilliant book of Traveller’s Tales including one by Don George called “The Culinary Chaos Principle”.

In it he describes his fond love of turning up at a restaurant abroad and ordering crazy-sounding dishes like Frooty Coostard Frayed Kek and Mixt Intestine Bean Luck – a feat with which we can certainly empathize (May I interest you in a South American ‘Toast with Briefcase’? Or perhaps an ‘Airport’?)

But this trip hasn’t just exposed us to kooky cuisine, sometimes it’s grabbed us by the ears and dragged us right through the Travelling Twilight Zone.

We’ve heard locals speaking Hebrew in Morro de São Paolo and German in Filadelfia. Now, in the tiny Argentinian village of Gaiman we are surrounded by – what else? – Welsh.

During the 19th century a number of Welsh settlers made the arduous boat journey across the Atlantic to set up a ‘home from home’ on the soil of the southern hemisphere.

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Welsh tea, Gaiman, Argentina

They took pains to preserve their own language and traditions, which have lasted through the decades and have won their descendants awards for cultural conservation.

As a result you can now cosy up and enjoy a mouthwatering traditional Welsh tea with all the trimmings, perhaps after visiting the tiny local museum that showcases original photographs, antiques and memorabilia brought over by the first immigrants.

Gaiman is a hop, skip and a jump away from the tourist gateway of Puerto Madryn, where Phil and I enjoyed a brilliant New Year’s that comprised a bunch of travellers from all over the world, tasty Patagonian lamb and seafood and lots (and lots) of champagne.

From there we journeyed to the wildlife reserve of Peninsula Valdés and gazed upon huge, lazy elephant seals relaxing on the pebbled shores alongside newly born sea lions, whose protective mothers would defend them against hungry seabirds that eyed them up from a few feet away.

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Penguins hanging out at Punta Tombo

But the most awe-inspiring experience came from hiring a car and driving three hours down the coast to Punta Tombo, to see the biggest colony of Magellanic penguins outside of Antarctica.

I’d always imagined penguins to only live in snow and ice, but here they were in landscapes that could have been plucked out of English coastal moorlands.

We were visiting in breeding season and found ourselves literally surrounded by the feathery little fellas as they chose a mate, guarded their eggs, fed their fluffy chicks or waddled past us down to the sea, from where they’d swim out up to six kilometres away to find food.

At one point some particularly curious ones even had a peck at Phil’s shorts and at my hat. Either that’s how penguins investigate weird things, or they couldn’t be bothered with the schlep to the sea and were trying out their own form of Culinary Chaos…

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I bet that there cap would be lovely with a bit of tartare sauce…

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Tingo, Tingo, Tango! Bringing in Christmas with the couchsurfers in Buenos Aires

Ho Ho Ho…la!

For the first time I can remember, I wasn’t very excited about this particular December 25th.

 A lone Nativity scene in Buenos Aires

It’s a time of year for escaping the cold and dark to warm up in front of the fire whilst watching It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s about getting crap cracker presents, eating too much food and trying to find an excuse to avoid doing the washing up.

Most of all it’s about being with family and if there’s one thing that’s sure to slap you in the face with a big fat reminder of the downside of travelling – that you are miles away from those you love most – it’s Christmas.

 South American Christmas tree, spotted in Buenos Aires outside the Casa Rosada

Although we first spotted a festive TV advert in Peru way back in October, beyond the odd tree in a park and the occasional Father Christmas in a shopping centre there had been few indicators that Saint Nick’s big day was just around the corner.

On Christmas Eve we saw some spray snow on a shop window, but in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees it just doesn’t quite have the same impact.

We’d planned to be in Buenos Aires for Christmas, but after leaving it pretty late to try and book a hostel we feared there’d be no room at any inns.

Surprisingly we managed to find a 21st century ‘stable’ fairly easily.

No donkeys, but it did have bunk beds, was cheap and was in a pretty lively part of town.

Our 21st century Buenos Aires stable

While it was great to have somewhere to stay for Christmas, the ease with which we’d been able to find the place made us think that everyone else had gone home, wherever that was, for Christmas and we would be celebrating alone.

We were soon to find out that was far from true.

Before we left the UK, one of the best bits of advice we were given was to join up to a website called Couchsurfing.

Its members form a community of people who love travelling and meeting folk from different countries.

It is called couchsurfing because if you have a spare ‘couch’ or bed or just a bit of floor, you can invite people to stay for a night or two.

Couchsurfing at “Awesome” Anderson’s house in Brazil

While we were initially a little apprehensive about safety, our fears have been unfounded and couchsurfing in South America has brought us some memorable experiences.

Our very first couchsurf was with Ludemar in Salvador. He was obsessed with Great Britain and sang the national anthem to me in front of the Union Jack on our arrival.

In São Luís, Anderson gave us the insider’s guide to the crazy colourful Bumba Meu Boi bull dancing festival and in Bogotá Juan invited us to spend the weekend at his sprawling mansion on the outskirts of the city.

The sprawling pool and jacuzzi area at Juan’s mansion in Bogota

In return, we’ve cooked each of our kind and generous hosts a traditional British meal – Cottage Pie followed by Banoffee Pie.

Key ingredients have been hard to find at times, so Sophie has faithfully carried the likes of herbs and tomato paste with her on the road, although the leaking of the ‘Salsa Inglesa’ (Worcestershire Sauce) bottle in her backpack was quite traumatic.

Shortly before the big day we turned to Couchsurfing, to see if it could help us meet some nice people to spend Christmas with. Sure enough, it came through.

Bringing in Christmas with Chris from Ohio

A kind soul from Buenos Aires had put up a post on the message board inviting travellers in the city to a meet up at Armenia Park on Christmas Eve. “Bring a small gift and we’ll exchange them some time after midnight,” it said.

I also heard that an American guy called Chris, who we’d met volunteering in Arequipa, was in BA so the three of us headed out on Christmas Eve to find somewhere to get a pre-party bite.

When we met him, he was a little shaken up having just escaped from a couple of robbers who had attempted to taser him at a cashpoint. Even though we were in one of the most developed countries in South America, it’s a reminder that you have still got to be careful.

Fireworks lighting up the sky at just gone midnight on Christmas Day

When, after wandering the streets for half an hour, we’d failed to find a restaurant, we returned to the hostel. The receptionist pointed us in the direction of Dorrego Square, just a short walk away.

It was buzzing and we treated ourselves to fat Argentinian steaks while flamenco and tango dancing took place around us. At midnight we were presented with a courtesy glass of champagne and fireworks began to fill the sky above us. Perhaps they did celebrate Christmas here after all.

As we headed toward the party along dark but still warm streets, it felt a bit like we were in a war zone as teenagers took to the streets to set off booming firecrackers and bangers.

With a few of BA’s couchsurfing community

When we arrived at Armenia Park somewhere in the region of 80 strangers were drinking, chatting and generally making merry.

Within a couple of hours very few were still strangers.

It was like the United Nations, and before the night was over Sophie and I had said Feliz Navidad to guys and gals from the US, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Argentinia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Chile, Spain, Malaysia and India.

Tingo, tingo, Tango! Pass the present on Christmas Day, Buenos Aires

With everyone nicely inebriated, it was time to exchange presents. So those of us who had brought a small gift stood in a circle.

The idea was that every time party organiser Diego said: ‘Tingo’ we passed the present we were holding to the person on our right.

When he said ‘Tango’ we stopped passing and opened the gift we were currently holding.

It actually took three attempts as someone kept being left with their own present!

Couchsurfers with their new presents!

In the end I became the proud new owner of a head massager (useful when the hangover kicked in a few hours later).

Sophie got a little purse and a pot of dulce de leche, a delicious South American caramel spread. Our offerings of Beatles purses appeared to be well received!

The party rolled on and I chewed the cud with rugby fanatic Igor from São Paulo and others from all around the globe.

The great escape: Sophie makes a Christmas morning exit from the party in the park

As an orange glow began to appear over the chic cafes and tango bars of Buenos Aires to signal the start of Christmas Day, the party finally began to wind down and we commenced the stagger home.

A few hours later the bright South American summer sun woke us up and we headed out in the vain hope of finding San Telmo’s famous Sunday antiques market underway.

It was and the streets were awash with folk browsing stands that were displaying quirky nik naks. We also caught some more dancing and street performers.

Nik naks at the funky Christmas Day antiques market in San Telmo

A Skype with the family made me wish I was at home enjoying a traditional turkey dinner, opening crap crackers and trying and trying to avoid doing the washing up.

There’s no doubt about it, that’s where every Christmas should be spent.

However, if like us you are desperate to experience a few more delights of South America before you head back, bringing in December 25 with folk who are strangers on Christmas Eve and are friends by Christmas Day makes for a pretty nice temporary family and it certainly embraces the spirit of  travelling at Christmas time.

We may not have had turkey with all the trimmings, but there’s always Bucks Fizz

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Jou know, guen jou’ve been Tango-ed

“I pity the fool who dances tango with me…”

“In Tango jou don’ move, jou gliiiide,” our slick-haired teacher Pablo silkily informs us as his long limbs swirl seductively across the polished stone floor.

I take a deep breath and clutch the top of Phil’s arm as the haunting music starts up again and we jerkily try to “gliiide” through the sequence we’ve been practising for the past hour.

To be honest it just looks a bit like we’re trying to polish some spilt red wine off the floor with our toes.

Pablo shows us how it’s done

Pablo’s instructions to “feeeel the music slowly seducing jou” are somewhat thwarted by the curvy Brazilian woman dancing behind us, who can’t stop giggling at Phil’s ‘Tango face’ (which depending how you look at it, is either full of a burning passion, or a bit like The A Team’s Mr T. If he were about to rob someone).

Meanwhile, my attempts at a sultry pout are more akin to a temper tantrum.

A particularly tricky leg-crossing manoeuvre nearly makes me fall over every time, but I don’t care – this is my birthday treat and despite the mishaps, I’ve been having a great time at the enticingly entitled Buenos Aires venue, Sabor A Tango (“Tango Flavour”).

Getting to grips with the tango

Eventually our five-seven-nine sequence clicks more or less into place and, swept away by the dramatic accordion-filled chords, it feels like we are smouldering around the floorboards of this 19th-century classic spot. All that’s missing is a red rose I can attempt to pass to Phil between our teeth.

Thankfully, before I get too carried away, it’s time for some dinner and the chance to watch the experts at work.

We walk down the winding white marble steps and are led into a vast dining hall decked out with tables decorated with crisp white cloths, flickering candles and shining tableware in front of a large stage.

Knocking back bottles of Malbec accompanied by tender steak and a suitably chocolate-ified dessert, we chat to a very sweet Colombian couple at the next table who are celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary.

Suddenly the deep red velvet curtain rises before us and three hairy-headed and even more hairy-chested ‘gaucho’ men stroll proudly into the spotlight.

Despite sporting what can only be described as silky MC Hammer-style trousers, they start performing an amazing style of tap dance incorporating long leather cords concealing wooden balls at one end, which they swing furiously around to provide extra taps when they strike the floor.

Pic courtesy of Sabor A Tango

After the enthusiastic round of applause for their efforts, a group of stylishly-clad musicians appear and strike up a lively tune as three attractive couples take to the stage and start flicking their legs around here, there and everywhere in that unmistakeable Tango manner.

As one of the men flings his partner high into the smoky air I feel relieved Pablo didn’t try to make me or Phil “feeel” any of those moves, as I’m pretty sure one of us would have ended up in A&E…again.

This move comes in lesson 3…

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Learning to lasso with the gauchos of Uruguay

In the shadow of the gauchos

Eyes transfixed on Sophie’s mesmerized gaze, a frightened animal is breathing fast.

A dark-featured cowboy clad in dirty black boots and a beige felt hat is battling to prise apart the struggling five-day-old calf’s hind legs.

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Looking on as a calf is sprayed at the estancia

Finally the grappling stops and the tough roughneck whips out a aerosol can from his leather belt and sprays the young cow’s nether region.

Like a South American version of Indiana Jones, the rugged farmer coolly releases his whip from the spindly legs it has been gripped to and the small, creamy-furred animal bounds off to fight another day.

Señor Indie wipes his brow, re-adjusts “el sombrero” and leaps back on to his horse.

Gonzalo lassos a calf

As he gallops towards the sun, chinks of light catch the metallic seven-inch knife that dangles from his side.

As our trusty steeds gently trot along behind, we have plenty of opportunity to take in the gorgeous surroundings. In every direction I can see plump cows lazily grazing among the 145 acres of lush pasture.

“Look there,” says Gonzalo, a 60-year-old gaucho and owner of the ranch.

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The stark white slaughterhouse looms on the horizon

On a hillside in the distance I can make out a large white building.

Frigorífico,” he adds.

In a cruel twist, it emerges that these huge beasts pass their days in blissful ignorance that the slaughterhouse where they will spend their final moments rests ominously on the horizon.

Gonzalo sees our distraught expressions and quickly chips in:

“You know these cows have it much better than their European counterparts,” he says with a slightly defensive tone.

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Riding high: Sophie gets into the gaucho spirit

“They have much more space in which to roam and they live to nearly four-years-old, as opposed to just two years in Europe.”

In blazing sunshine we trot on until we stumble across some wild horses.

Indie, real name Julio, leaps off his horse and slowly creeps towards a dark brown stallion.

The untamed horse appears nervous as Julio tentatively approaches, his eyes looking directly into the animal’s.

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Horse whisperer: Gonzalo tries to calm a wild horse

He tries to calm the startled creature by softly whispering “Shhs” to it. Then he slowly reaches out a hand and begins to stroke its long face.

Magically the animal doesn’t get startled, he seems to relax. Gonzalo tells me this is the first stage of taming a wild horse.

There are 30 horses on the farm, all of Arabian stock, used in rotation to round up cows in the fields by the gauchos.

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Billy big balls eyes up his next lady friend

We are also shown the estancia’s solitary bull, who has the toughest gig on the ranch – to impregnate more than 1,000 females.

After four hours the gauchos’ daily chores are done and we arrive back at the farm house.

There we help to hose down the animals we have just been riding.

Once washed, my ride makes for a funny spectacle as he rolls around in the grass to dry himself.

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I try and fail to lasso a bin

In the afternoon Gonzalo tries to teach us how to lasso, but instead of a cow we practise on a bin!

It’s a tricky manoeuvre and both of us repeatedly fail in our attempts to reel in the rubbish container.

That evening we are treated to the finest beef I have ever tasted.

Thinking that I might be tucking into a bit of SeñoritaDaisy, at whom I’d smiled in the fields just a few hours earlier, did make me feel slightly bad. But my word it was good!

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Beautiful beef reared on the estancia

Gonzalo tells me the meat is so good because the cows are organically reared.

I suspect the beautiful scenery and the happy lives the cows seem to live has something to do with it as well.

As we head for the bus station Julio gallops past on his horse.

A snapshot of a lifestyle that has remained almost unchanged for a century.

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Chillin’ out on the estancia

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