It’s a summer thing really, a road trip; windows down, crammed into a car that is always a little too small trying to make the chocolate last and throwing far too many voices into the navigation pot. We’re off to somewhere in Cordoba province to stay at a ranch, exactly where in Cordoba we haven’t quite nailed down just yet. That sort of detail is not required till the last possible minute of course, today we venture off into the wild and in some way it’s nice not to know exactly where.
First of all though it’s necessary to get out of our hostel and to the airport to pick up the hire car. The hangovers from the big night have faded faster than the memories will so it’s farewell Cordoba city, welcome countryside. We pick up the car and get into the routine of mundane tick-boxing before we’re off. Laf and I are squished in the back and in charge of music, Barnaby is at the helm and Charlie is co-pilot, the A-team is into gear. In the tangle of getting out of town it’s on for young and old with Laf and Charlie toggling between a map, written directions and GPS, it’s a recipe for disaster. we manage somehow to get out of town with only a few small detours and U-turns, how we manage this so smoothly no one can work out but Charlie will take credit I’m sure. Victory in anyones books, go team. We joked that four intelligent adults should surely be able to read a map. At this stage our confidence is still there but not anywhere near as brazen as it had been.
Getting out of town unsurprisingly reveals a landscape that is as expansive as it is rugged. Distant open plains are intermittently spoiled by jagged rock mountains, the small range here rising up to form a sort of plateau of rock, rock and more rock. Although the altitude here is nowhere near enough to be above the tree-line we see precious few trees of any height at all, the plant-life here is high alpine in appearance transported into a realm it doesn’t belong. This openness gives our drive an unspoiled view of the forever on, the open expanse stops for no one out here and plays the perfect backdrop for this voyage into anywhere.
We do eventually reach the mountains and start our ascent upwards on the winding ribbon revealing great views at every turn as the world drops off the side of the road. The mountains here aren’t particularly huge, nor are they trifling, a great sense of grandeur that doesn’t at all impose on the sense of freedom and getaway that a road trip engenders. We even manage to get a condor sighting from the car which is a huge bonus, the giant aeroplane/ bird soaring close enough above to see the iconic wing shape and markings clearly.
And of course, we need to stop for lunch, empanadas goes the call from the hungry gallery. We stop in a small town in the middle of god knows where to tackle that road tripping pastime of finding food however you can. Of course this is Argentina and the place that sells empanadas doesn’t have any empanadas left, this country is really good at this. We do settle for a local salami which we take a few slices of in the car, it’s fatty as hell and delicious. We eventually scoff down some pasta and burgers at a small rest stop bar attached to a petrol station, glamorous of course. On two fronts this is not only essential but apt, it is Argentina and if something, anything is open then you take the chance and a road trip would not be right without a dodgy meal along the way.
Sadly all good things come to an end and we make it to San Javier, yes it turns out that’s where we were going all along to ascend up the mountain to La Estancia. The dirt road seems to have stopped being a dirt road sometime in the 80’s and now 4km of this heavily eroded track is all that stands between us and declaring victory. Our poor little 1.6L Renault doesn’t cope so well, scraping, struggling, spinning tyres and stalling a few times. All passengers have to get out and walk a few times even need to put in a joint effort push to get it up the hill. We’re not sure if the little yet-to-be-named car is going to make it at all. This was not in the brochure.
We eventually do make it and we arrive to a picture of heaven in the middle of nowhere. Partway up the side of the bare rocky mountain is a forested outcropping that surrounds our hacienda called, La Constancia. This is a working ranch of 1,000 acres, similar in many ways to Sayta where we stayed just last week, we could get used to this ranch stay type of thing. Where Sayta was all horses, rustic charm, gaucho lifestyle and punishing hospitality, La Constancia is definitely a more upper crust approach. Manicured lawns, gracious gardens, and elegant buildings surround more spaces to relax and read books on vintage furniture than you could poke a stick at. This dash of unapologetic luxury a vast extraction from our usual travelling mode and shamelessly well received. I’ll even look past the profusion of Agapanthas, Crocosmia and Hydrangeas; weeds in my book only saved by the grand trees, figs, peaches and flowering Dahlias everywhere. We’re on the other side of the world and plunged into a garden of all the plants we know.
The road trip is declared a winner and we finish off the afternoon with a well earned beer and an attempt at fly fishing. We’ve all never done this before and it’s great fun, Laf the only lucky one to snare a trout despite plenty of bites. Fly fishing proves to be a definite art but it all ends in shambles as Laf bumps the delicate rod onto a rock and it snaps, that’s the end of that. Alongside friends from home in a garden setting that is all too familiar we sink into a piece of rural luxury that mocks the city life. With the road trip officially over the jury has returned: Argentinian country is declared the winner, the road trip is a success and we are all found guilty of the sin of indulgence. The defendants are all completely unrepentant.