Monday, December 13, 2010

Sayta Ranch and the Famous "Enrique"

Images not as clear as usual.  I've started compressing the images for the web as WiFi is not so great in Bolivia and Peru. Use your imagination, it's still beautiful
While hiking in Torres Del Paine, Christina and I met a Chris and Jane, a British couple who had spent three days at the Sayta Ranch, about an hour outside of Salta, Mendoza.  They told elaborate stories of horseback riding in the mountains; massive midday assadas and a charming ranch removed from, well­-pretty much everything.  They also began to paint a picture of Enrique, the owner of the ranch, the orchestrator of all things meat and the master of everything with four legs.  I’ve always loved horses.  I spent a lot of time as a child, hugging my dad’s leg as he cheered on the thoroughbreds at a racetrack in Kentucky, near our house.  My father has been involved in horseracing since the 1970’s, so much of our small talk at the dinner table revolved around horses.  And, since as far as I can remember, I made it a personal life goal to own a small piece of land with a riding horse, lots of four-legged critters and a pond where I can fish and play fetch with my dogs.  So, when I heard of Enrique’s ranch in all its glory, it sounded like a dream come true.  And, from the moment I realized I would be visiting Argentina, I had conjured up images up riding horses in the mountains with gauchos.  So, it was settled.  Christina and I traded glances across a picnic table and without a spoken word; we both agreed that we would visit the Sayta Ranch.
Getting to Sayta Ranch would require an 18 hour bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina to Salta, where we would then be picked up at the bus terminal and transferred by car another hour to Sayta Ranch.  We caught an overnight bus leaving Mendoza at 8:00p.m.  After a bizarre game of bingo in Spanish, a few hours of dodgy sleep and five movies, we arrived at the Salta bus terminal.  Outside of the bus terminal, a man held a sign that read “Clayton”.  We hopped in his car and quickly made our way out of the city and into the rolling countryside peppered with adobe houses and perfectly spaced rows of tobacco.  An hour later, Christina and I arrived at Sayta Ranch.
All the pretty horses.


As we hopped out of the car, we were nearly tackled by Mickai, a humongous Dogo Argentino with testicles the size of baseball. And, Fiona, a rambunctious yellow lab that immediately made me miss my own dog, Lola.  Before even getting our footing, we were greeted with an aggressive hug and kiss by Enrique: a burly, big bellied Argentinean with a grey beard and a large knife tucked squarely into the front of his rather large custom embroidered belt.  Enrique is the type of character that appears only in movies and books.  He’s like a Latin American Earnest Hemingway, with bits of Juan Valdez and Indiana Jones mixed in.  We set our backpacks on a bench and before we knew what hit us, Enrique had pulled us over to a long wooden table underneath an awning and began pouring full glasses of wine while he filled our plates with chorizo, blood sausage, beef ribs,  tenderloin and sirloin; all perfectly charred over a wood burning fire.  Christina and I had met more than a handful of people while traveling that had crossed paths with the famous “Enrique”, so we were well aware of the mid-day all you can drink and eat meat festivals.  However, we were not prepared for Enrique’s unique form of “meat hazing”.  Enrique, admittedly, lives only off of bread, wine, and meat with an occasional hand rolled cigarette.  He claims his diet has kept him healthy and as such, he has turned it into a quasi religion of which, he makes no qualms about recruiting people to the cult of “meat”.  In a matter of thirty minutes, Christina and I had been force fed a bottle and a half of wine and enough meat to feed a family of five.  After begging for mercy, Enrique finally let us up from the table to see our modest accommodations.  I felt slightly ill and really buzzed, but optimistic about the next few days.
 Enrigue working the grill.
 A lunch for five.

Our humble abode.
The next few days were some of the most relaxing days I can remember.  We were over an hour from any sort of industrialized civilization on a picturesque farm where dogs, chickens, ducks and all sorts of four-legged critters roamed freely.  We were being hosted by a small, but gregarious Argentine family and not a single word of English was spoken during our three day stay.  What a unique experience it was,  each day consisted roughly of the following:
-Wake up and have coffee and bread outside of the horse barn
-Take a morning three hour horse ride through the endless fields of tobacco plants and into the foothills of surrounding green mountains
-Return by 1:30p.m. for our midday assada in which a small group of guests would be force fed as much wine and meat as they could possibly stomach before their refusal to eat more turned down right angry.
-3:00 hop back on the horse, completely full, rather buzzed and noticeably sore to head back into the mountains for additional horseback riding.
-Return by 7:00 for coffee and tea outside and relax as Enrique peppers everyone with questions about the ride.
-8:00 Enrique would begin force feeding us red wine.
-10:00 we would enjoy dinner in the kitchen of Enrique’s house, after which more wine and lots of storytelling would ensue
-12:00 hit the sack and continue to be woken up every hour by rooster’s cockle-doodle-doing!!!

 Just trotting along...
 The Ranch.
Me and my horse. My big ass surely made him tired.
Some Highlights:
*Riding a horse at full gallop is an amazing and being able to do so at will in the Argentine mountains makes you feel a bit like John Wayne reincarnate.  However, my body was sourly unprepared for the beating it would take.  When I woke up on my second day, I honestly thought I could not walk to the bathroom, let alone sit on the toilet. Subsequent horsehides were painful, but eventually worked out the soreness.
*On our second night, after many, many glasses of wine and conversation, Enrique escorted us to a secret room where he kept a rather large and impressive collection of illegal guns and ammunition that his father had started when he was a child.  In this room were at least 100 different types of guns hanging on the walls and lining the floors.  He had lugers from WW II, civil war era pistols, the actual knife used in the Crocodile Dundee film and an endless assortment of other guns, many of which I’m sure were bought and smuggled illegally into Argentina.  More impressive, however, were the grenade launchers, shoulder fired rockets, live mortars, grenades, Gatling guns, and the single live ground to air missle in the corner of the room.  I was forbidden from taking any pictures, but hopefully you can get the idea.  After an hour of explaining his favorite weapons in detail, we retired back to the kitchen where we drank more wine and continued exchanging stories as best as we could.

On our last night, Mickai, the giant Dogo Argentino, ate one of Enrique’s enormous white ducks.  It was kind of sad, but also pretty funny to see Enrique’s reaction at the paradox of having one of his beloved creatures eat another of his beloved creatures.
 Just another ride...

Enrique with Christina and I on our last night.

All told, our experience at Sayta ranch was beautiful.  It was a perfect escape from 40 days of crazy travel and Enrique is truly the type of character you only meat once in your life.  If you are ever in Argentina, head way north to the Chicoana region, about an hour outside of Salta and stop by the Sayta Ranch to visit Enrique.  This is a place I will definitely visit again before I die.  Thanks for following along on this crazy journey.



  1. Couldn't have explained Enrique better. That ranch sounds right up your alley, so when you get back, here's a list I assembled:
    a) get land (lots in Montana)
    b) get more land
    c) grow salty beard
    d) establish self as Noah and watch animals roam to your domicile
    e) establish self as the gunlord of north america
    f) send invite, Ashley and I will visit

    Seriously man, these stories are just flat out awe-inspiring. I feel so...unmanly. Bastard.

  2. Nice posting Clay... I'm rolling on the floor in laughter. You are also making me wish I was still traveling. Live it up dude, and I hope to catch up with you when you return.