Here's why you should come and stay on the Estancia La Margarita ....

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What’s Driving like in Argentina



One of the questions guests ask themselves or us before coming to Estancia La Margarita (www.estancialamargrita.com ) is how to get here. There are basically three options i.e. by bus, by taking a taxi or by renting a car and driving here. Lots of guests opt for the first option as its pretty cheap and easy. Others have decided to rent a car and take in some other sites while on the road to La Margarita visiting say Mar de Plata (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mar_del_Plata) to see what all the fuss is about in Argentina’s top coastal resort or they head down to the Sierra de Ventanas a gorgeous hilly area in Provincia about 200kms from La Margarita (http://www.welcomeargentina.com/sierradelaventana/index_i.html)

Many that have chosen to drive here  have asked me what’s driving like in Argentina. Since I have driven here for the past 12 years and experienced all sorts of driving conditions I fell pretty qualified to answer the question.

First thing to remember is that Argentine drives on the right  (www.whatsideoftheroad.com) just bear that in mind if you are from a left driving country.

This did have brakes thank goodness!
Over the years driving here has got less and less how shall we say precarious. Course that doesn’t mean its totally safe but it is a lot better for sure than say 15 years ago. When I first came here and started to drive it was just after the financial crises. I was amazed at the state of the cars that were being used to drive on the roads here. Talk about being held together with rubber bands and cello tape. I used to take pictures of these cars that amazingly still started up and crawled along the Argentine roads. These cars presented all sorts of hurdles re- safe driving here. The old bangers were precarious to say the least as regards many had little or no brakes and steering was gangster driving at its best. They crawled along the roads causing all sorts of congesting as cars tried to over take them and many had accidents as well with no brakes so how could they stop gulp! It seemed the police didn’t think they were a problem as they sailed through any road checks. That or they were  just too afraid to  try and stop them  for fear of being run over  (goodness knows what the roads checks where looking for so few of these bangers seemed to be stopped). Just to illustrate how bad the situation was. When I went to buy a second hand truck for the estancia about 13 years ago I pointed out to one owner after taking his truck for a test drive that it had no brakes. He casually said it’s not the brakes that are important it’s the engine just use the gears to stop!

Over the years as the economy has improved so did the standard of the cars and the old bangers  are gradually disappearing. Don’t get me wrong there are still many  on the road but much fewer these days. The thing to watch out for these days if you are driving up to 150 kms outside of the city is speed. In the porteños (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Porteño ) desperation  to leave the city and get to those  wonderful green open spaces of Provincia called la pampas they speed as in the film! Thing is there is very little control to stop them. There are very few speed cameras and no speed cops. For those of you who hate speed cameras apart from the first 40-50klm, leaving the city you won’t find any obstacle to stop you doing a ton on the roads of Argentina   - just watch out for loose cows and horse though!

There are few motorways in Argentina. Those that exist go from BA to Cordoba and BA to Mar del Plata . These roads are good but are to be avoided on the bank holidays called feriados here (http://servicios.lanacion.com.ar/feriados/2015 ). In fact the time to avoid them is the same as in any other country when it comes to holidays i.e.  the day before the holiday and the day of the return. Outside of these times the roads can be pretty empty and the driving can be carefree. Here’s a tip - a good time to drive on the weekend is between 12-4pm as many Argentines are with their family enjoying an asado  (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=asado ) and the roads can be spookily empty. I often drive back to the city or to the estancia within these hours

One thing not to forget is that there are a lot of trucks on the road in Argentina. Many are huge trucks carrying cows and other livestock or agriculture products. Be careful when over taking them and always always look in your rear view mirror, as Argentines seem to like a threesome meaning three cars across the road. They will see you overtaking and then proceed to overtake you while you are overtaking. The first time this happened to me my heart was in my mouth but as times have worn on I have got pretty used to it. Certainly be a bit more careful in your drive for the first say 150 kms as you drive out or enter the city. These roads are dominated by the crazy porteños escaping or entering the city who drive too fast with little police control  (although that is changing).

After about 150 kms things start to clam down somewhat and oddly its not because there is more control, in fact there is less! I put it down to all those cows and sheep grazing in the fields calming everyone down. I have to say once that short bit of adrenaline filled porteños part is over it can be a pleasure to drive in Argentina with its fabulous scenery to melt your heart.

Hiring a car here is not cheap for sure. You need to shop around to get the best rate but once again be warned it not so cheap. Also be prepared to get a car that doesn’t meet what they said they would be giving you. If this happens so put up a fight and you may get something better – umm maybe

Petrol cost today (but check if you are driving tomorrow this is Argentina!) is around 1US$ a litre.

Be sure to carry your driving licence with you as it’s a legal requirement whereas a passport is not.

There are numerous road checks. These are in place to check for stolen cars and overloaded trucks. In the main the police are polite and providing all in is order will salute you on your way in a few minutes with smile


Over the years we have had lots of guests who have hired cars to come to the estancia and all have survived. They have had the freedom of the road and their comments have in the main been good about their experience re -driving here so don’t let this blog put you off it will be well worth it Argentina is a great country to get lost in.

This is David Cummings alias The English Gaucho hasta pronto 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Is it Safe to Travel?


Over the years since I owned La Margarita I have been asked by potential guests how safe is it to come to Argentina.   Many females travelling alone asked this question. There is no doubt that all of South America has a bit of a reputation as being a bit on the wild side, a little bit dangerous so to speak. But is it justified?  Is it safe for example for women to travel alone and is it advisable. Thing is as we all know travelling anywhere has its dangers and certainly Argentina is no different.

Liza travelled alone from Slovenia 
Take precautions. Make sure you don’t go to no- go areas in Buenos Aires and there are some believe me. However, I am from London and there are plenty of no-go areas in London to be widely avoided. However, we have had many single female travellers who have come to Argentina who commented on how they felt very safe in Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole, some even saying they felt safer than in their own country. And many said that travelling down from BA to the estancia was a breeze.

Of course with Google these days it’s easy to look up the areas to be avoided and those to visit. The biggest complaint in BA is mainly the wolf whistles that a single girl may get if she is walking in the city.  However, on talking to many guests who have come it’s more of a newspaper alarmism than a genuine complaint – does happed for sure but not sure that it can be termed dangerous.

We have also had many families traveling with children on the estancia, some as young as one year old. I never heard one of the parents complain how dangerous it was. Of course those that hired cars were treated to the terrible Argentina driving however, you can also be treated to that in Milan or Portugal where for me it is worse.
 
David and Cris travelled from El Salvador to the La Margarita
David and Cris who now run La Margarita for me travelled down by car from El Salvador to the estancia. It took them one month to get here. They passed through some of the alleged most dangerous countries in South America such as Columbia and El Salvador itself. They weren’t robbed, attacked, harmed or threatened during their trip. They only have wonderful things to say about the trip and the people they meet on their journey. Course they could have been lucky who knows but I am not sure. Over the years I have meet many travellers who have passed through these countries and they have been fine.

In the UK a trip from Hove (in the south of England)  to Worthing in the south of England would be ranked as one of the safest journeys on the world I reckon. But yesterday (17th July 2015) a 79-year-old man was involved in a car crash and the other driver got out of his car and brutally stabbed the old man to death. In many cases when it all goes wrong it’s normally a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – sadly nothing more and that’s what  tragically happened to Mr Lock. 
Nel ( 21) from the UK travelled alone for 3 months
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sussex-stabbing-live-motorist-stabbed-to-death-following-car-crash-in-findon-10395498.html

Traveling always involves some risk no matter where you travel – some countries are riskier than others without doubt. Is it worth that risk that is the questions to ask yourself. In my mind there is no doubt to travel is a wonderful thing. We can be involved in other cultures, listen to different languages, eat different food and meet wonderful people. It’s a privilege to be able to do this  - get packing its definitely worth the risk!


This is David Cummings alias The English Gaucho hasta pronto

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

At Last The Gaucho School is on Line (https://thegauchoschool.com )


I remember how it all started all that time ago. We’ve always been aware that when guests came to La Margarita they loved the fact that they were in the land of the gauchos. For many it was the reason why they came in the first place   They were always fascinated with the work of the gaucho, of the criollo horses they rode and of the work they did. What gauchos basically do is to look after cattle simple - but is it? They are the Argentine version of those cowboys who inhabited La Ponderosa with Ben Cartwright and sons. Good gauchos are a skilful people when working with horses and cattle. They  can make rounding up a herd of calves look easy  - that is until you try it! Their skill with horses is often second to none since most are born in the saddle and it’s a joy to watch them on a horse. When guests came they loved to watch the gauchos at work with cattle and leaping on to horses just like in those cowboy films we loved to watch when we were kids.

One day we were on the way back from a long ride we offer to The Pulperia Gervasio ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vUpOrFnSpQ) when in the other direction came a herd of calves being driven by about four  gauchos (two were lady gauchos  called chinos here). As we got nearer the gauchos invited our guests to work with them getting the calves into another field. Our guests were thrilled to be doing this and got stuck into the task immediately they didn’t need to be asked twice. This was the real thing and for the next half an hour our guests turned into gauchos and chinas! What a ride to the pulperia is turned out to be (http://www.estancialamargarita.com/en/long-rides   

It got me thinking about if we could offer on La Margarita more of this type of event where guests come and learn to do what gauchos do. After all you never know when the skills will come in handy! And so was born The Gaucho School.

We have had some trial events over the past year where we had some groups come to try the events we had planned to offer such as learning how to saddle gaucho style, round up calves, learn how to use a lasso etc to how it would worked. What came out of that was how obvious it was that the guests enjoyed it. Not only did they enjoy it but they absolutely loved it. Maybe its going back to our basic instincts when were all hunters. With this motivation of seeing how much the guests loved it The Gaucho School was born. This was over a year ago and over this time we have been putting the finishing touches to the school.  As mentioned we have had a number of groups to the estancia who came to participate in The Gaucho School events. The last of these groups was a group of students from Louisiana last week. To hear their shrikes of laughter as they entered into the spirit of The Gaucho School as they attempted to compete in such events as barrel racing, in corralling calves and competing against each was a joy to see. Watching for example how the groups solved how to saddle a horse correctly after being show a couple of times was fascinating 

Now we have at last got the web page done and we are open for business. I am really excited about the future for the school. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Recently we had Fabienne Coutuier   a well know journalist in her native country of Canada who was sent down by the national newspaper La Presse to write and take pictures of The Gaucho School in action . Fabienne loved it and so did her newspaper who published a great article about the school


So if you have dreams of being a gaucho for a few days now you know where you can come to fulfil that dream- vas a encantar!

This is David Cummings alias The English Gaucho hasta pronto

PS.  Really really sorry if you have contacted us over the past year to come attend The Gaucho School trails but we were inundated with request to come to the trails but we didn’t have enough space for everyone – we do now so please let us know if you would like to come we would love to see you here



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Love the Autumn on the Estancia

Autumn riding with Jack
Summer is over and what a summer it was hot, sultry and wonderful. We had some lovely guests come to stay with us from all over the world. Some came to stay in the main house with all include while others come to stay in the self-catering rooms alias La Casa Rosada. Some came for just a few days some came for a lot longer – up to two weeks! Some came for the riding and some just to chill out and just watch the world go by while enjoying the shade of the trees in the park. No doubt about it we love having guests on the estancia. For me our guests bring the estancia alive as they share their experiences with us and long may it run.

Now the leaves are falling, the nights are getting chillier and the pool is now closed.  For me, although I love the summer, this is a lovely time of the year especially for those who want to do some serious riding. The heat of the summer has gone leaving us with   glorious sunny days without it being too hot, allowing us to ride any time for day. The long rides we offer are all available with the cooler air. A lovely ride out is to the little pueblo of Tapalque, on the way visiting the house of Roberto Campos to share his total enthusiasm for the gaucho life. Move on to the river and enjoy a picnic while the horses rest ready for the ride back – absolutely   wonderful to help you forget about the crazy city life (for more info on rides have a look on out web page)

In substitute of sitting around the pool many guest at this time of the year sit around the wonderful fire in the main living room in the evenings. All rooms have wood bring stoves or fires places and nothing beats sitting around a warm fire reading a book or simply chatting with others guests or staff glass of wine in hand! In what seems like a world going totally crazy the estancia without doubt offers a refuge from that craziness and autumn and the estancia is the perfect time to experience it for sure.

This is David Cummings alias The English Gaucho hasta pronto