Several of us from The Vines of Mendoza had the unique opportunity to go on a real wild west "Argentine cattle round-up." It was definitely a version of city slickers, as we headed to the campo
, or countryside, to test our our skills as would-be gauchos, or gauchettes as the case would be.
About two hours east of Mendoza city in the department of Santa Rosa, where there is basically nothing but tumbleweeds, lies the cattle ranch of a friend. Alejandrina, our graphic designer, Aimee, our French intern, and myself headed out to learn the finer points of Argentine cattle ranching. It was an experience none of us will ever forget.
Getting up early in the morning after a very un-Argentine breakfast of eggs (normally its only croissants and coffee) we mounted our trusty steeds and rode for an hour to where the cattle was grazing. We were to perform routine vaccinations, castration of the calves, and then ride back with the bulls, and all of the calves to the original holding pen at base camp.
Sounds simple enough, yes?
What sounds like a simple exercise was a lesson that took you back to the basics of nature. I think now, we all have newfound respect on just how physical it is to be a Gaucho, or cowboy. The amount of precision and team work it takes to round up each calf is amazing. The syncrony needed to herd the cattle one by one to recieve their vaccinations is a ballet of sorts. And to top it off, I don't know if I have ever consumed more dirt in one day. I was exhausted by the time our mid-day asado was announced and I had not even thrown the lasso.
We were enjoying our traditional Argentine asado lunch when we heard the dogs barking in the distance. All of a sudden the gauchos got up and began running. We were all a bit confused but it all became clear an hour later when they returned with a wild boar that the dogs had cornered. This sort of thing only happens in the movies, right?
Once they had taken care of the wild boar, I can't even go into the details around that, we still had to vaccinate the remaining half of the cows. Ale, Aimee and I were able to practice our roping skills but I am not sure any of us are ready to go professional anytime soon.
The highlight of the day by far was when we finished separating all the cattle and were ready to set off for base camp. It was amazing the feeling we had of herding the cows across a river, with the gauchos yipping and yelling, the sunlight golden as it streamed across the late afternoon sky. It was picture perfect, there is no way to describe it.
It was dusk and we were heading back with the cows, several of us with the calves and the rest of us with the bulls, or toros.
The sun was setting and then the real challenge began... How do you herd calves that want to go back to their mama's in the dark? It is still a bit of a mystery for us as well but we made it! As we rode on, the sky became studded with stars and the milky way was stunning. I don't know if I have ever seen so many stars in my life.
We made it to base camp in the dark, and it was COLD! Remember its winter here in Mendoza, Argentina. Once we had the cows situated we all basically dead bolted for the cabin and the fire!
I highly recommend if you ever get the chance to visit a working cattle ranch, do it! It really is the wild west!
Ai ai ai!