Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sayta Ranch - Confidence, Charisma, & Chauvinism: The Three “C’s” of Gaucho Living

Gaucha Jesse surveys the scene.
           We went to Sayta Ranch to horseback ride.  For 3 superb days we ate an unreasonable quantity of meat, drank an unreasonable amount of wine, and in between the eating and drinking even did some horseriding.

            Sayta Ranch is located in Chicoana, outside of Salta.  The ranch is all-inclusive, including a pick-up from our hostel.*  We arrived at Sayta around 10, had a (small) breakfast and met the other gauchos (both the working gauchos (handsome young men, generally unmarried, but with a handful of kids), and the tourist gauchos (also all handsome, but mostly married).  At that point it was time for our first morning ride.  We saddled up and then basically walked (with one tiny path for galloping) with the horses for three hours.

I think its clear that both me and my horse
had the same thought in mind.
Get me home for lunch.
In my view, the optimal length of a horse ride is 60-90 minutes.  As anyone who knows me would suspect, however, the optimal time immediately drops to zero once I am hungry.  And so when you combine a small breakfast at 10, followed by a ride from 11 AM to 2 PM you can be certain that someone was feeling pretty sorry for himself about halfway through the first ride.  Would you believe me if I said it was Jesse who was feeling sorry for herself?  I didn’t think so.  Despite my pangs of hunger, the first ride was very scenic.

Fields of green tobacco, golden wheat, and the Andes in the distance made for some pretty impressive scenery.
But even if we went to the ranch for the horseriding (or is it horseback riding?), it was the lunches that made it all worthwhile.  I would happily ride all day for one of the parillas that Enrique, the owner of the Ranch, made for us each day.  Outrageous in size, he purchased at least a pound of meat for each man, woman, and child at the ranch, but perfectly cooked, this was an asado with love.  With, as you will see, tough love.

Like an oasis to a man in the desert, this parilla was my saving grace.
8 kilos of beef.  11 guests, including 2 children**.
But, man, look at those costillas in the back.
The dog sure knew where to sit.
I was only slightly jealous. He was closer to the meat, but I had a chair.
          Enrique is a difficult man to describe.  He has an aura of confidence, charm, and charisma that draws you in and instantly connects you to him.  Within minutes of arriving at his home you feel truly welcomed, not as a client, but as a friend.  Without formalities or pretenses Enrique instantly puts you at ease and you settle into the life at the Estancia.  Life at the Estancia, however, is dominated by Enrique.  At his house you play by his rules – and he has many great rules.

Enrique, Jesse, Dave, and the parilla (BBQ).

Rule #1: Carne, Pan, & Vino (Steak, Bread, and Wine).  Everything else is hospital food
            For Enrique, there are only three things to eat in this world: steak, bread, & wine.  Everything else, as he put it, is shit.  Or, more descriptively, hospital food.  And after 60-some years on this diet perhaps he is right, he was robust and had more vigor than men half his age (read: me).  And his parillas bore witness to this belief. 
Enrique's Table.
In his mind, your plate is always empty.

            After the morning ride we would return to the ranch to find pounds and pounds of steak roasting on the grill.  Though he served up (delicious) salads he pulled me aside and told me that these were for the women and children.  Men, he said, eat steak.  And at Sayta Ranch, boy did I eat steak.  Gorgeous, perfectly seasoned, and massive cuts of filet, sirloin, flank, ribs, pork, and other bits that came from parts that I don’t even want to know about.  And all of this was after the starters of salchica (the best sausage I’ve ever hard), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (with and without blue cheese) and more that I am probably forgetting.

            With the wine flowing freely (see Rule #3 below), Enrique could not be stopped with the meat.  Within moments of finishing one glorious cut of meat (or in fact, moments of halfway finishing) Enrique was at your side, simultaneously complimenting you on your culinary accomplishments and challenging you to take one more slice.  Not that it was really choice.  The meat was so good, that in the moments hesitation between the primal “more-delicious-meat” thought and the higher functioning “I am so stuffed I could burst, and I have a 2-3 hour horse ride coming up, and  after that we still have dinner” Enrqiue had slid another perfect slice onto your plate, clapped you on the back and beamed with pride, it was impossible to say no.

Morcilla (Blood Sausage)

Salchica (My most favorite and delicious sausage)
Lomo.  A whole filet mignon tenderloin.  For me.  Heaven.
Dessert.  Look at the crisp grasso (fat).
I wish I had it now.

The man is an Asador.

Rule #2:  Water is for showers
Enrique hazing Niko & Rebekah.

Along with his view that there is no limit to the amount of meat a man can eat, Enrique steadfastly believed that water is for showering only.  When he spotted me pouring water into my wine glass (you only have one glass), with mock outrage he would roar, “Daaaahhh-veeeeed, What is this?  This is not a time for shower!”  And saunter over with a bottle of wine (and likely a slab of beef), dump the water on the ground and fill my cup to the brim (actually Jesse’s first, see Rule #3 below).
Indeed, the only proper thing to drink at Sayta Ranch is the light, easy-drinking wine that is served to each person by the bottle.  Allegedly produced by monks living high in the mountains, Enrique promised this wine would not, and could not result in a hangover.  Remarkably, he was right.  We know this because of Rule #3.

Rule #3:  Ladies First
Anytime anyone at the communal table was pouring wine, Enrique insisted that all the women’s glasses be filled (to the brim if he had his way) before pouring your own.  With everyone topping off everyone else’s half-filed wine glasses (and Enrique filling them even if they were full) it was no surprise that we went through one or two cases of wine each day.  Somehow, each morning we felt totally fine, and ready to horseride (well, kinda ready), and definitely ready for another asado for lunch.

The Experience
Our time at Sayta was superb.  In part, this was because of Enrique, his attitude, his force of character, and of course, his asados.  But it was also the other guests at the Ranch.  We really enjoyed our time with the Browning family (including a much needed beer with Brian after three days drinking only room temperature red wine), and learning Kneiffel with our best barman Niko and hearing about all his and Rebekah’s travel adventures, and meeting Patrick, Doris, Claire, and more.

The afternoon ride - post parilla, post vino - was always a bit more exciting and a bit more fun.
* Things actually got off to a bit of a rocky start when at 8:45 AM we were told our 9:00 AM ride had arrived.  As Jesse scurried about finishing packing, paying the hostel, and doing a final room check, the surly driver explained to me that the 9:00 AM pick-up time had been changed to 8:00 AM and that he had been waiting for over 45 minutes.  How we were suppose to have known the the pick-up time had changed, despite his repeatedly showing me the post-it note with our name, our hotel’s name and “8:00 AM” was unclear.  No one from Sayta had told us of the new pick-up time.  As we drove through the city it was strangely deserted, eerily so.  In an attempt to make amends with our driver (we weren’t sure if we would be spending the next three days living, riding, and eating with him) we asked why everything was so dead.  Sadly, his mumbled Spanish response was incomprehensible to us.  Later, we learned that that day was the census day, during which – by law – everyone has to stay home and some 650,000 teachers nationwide go door to door counting everyone.  Perhaps his grumpiness arose from the fact that those in the tourist industry are exempt from this government mandated day off….

** Note from Jesse:  Ian was only 13, but given that he ate more meat than even Dave, we put him squarely in the adult category.  Also -- the fact that Dave did not feel honor-bound to out-eat a 13 year old is truly a testament to the sheer amount of food Enrique served us.

More Photos

The Scenery

A great day for riding.

Workers tending to the tobacco by hand
Golden fields of wheat in front forested the forrested Andean foothills.

The Riding

Me and Jesse.  This photo took about 10 minutes to set up.

Claire gallops.
Patrick riding with his gourd.

Jesse gallops.

Still galloping!
Ian galloping.
Reed, helping the gaucho gallop.

May.  Not galloping.  Yet.
Niko gallops.
Rebekah gallops (even better than Niko).
Whoa cowboy - lets try to stay on the road (errr, grass).
And we're done.  Hitting the brakes.

The Ranch

Room No. 1 - Two twins.  Behind the kitchen.  Maid's quarters?
Upgrade with a wink & a nod to Enrique.  
First room's bathroom.  Note the showerhead over-head.
This really addresses that age-old question of whether you can pee in the shower.
Upgraded room!
But the way Enrique poured wine this bed was for passing out only. 
Horse-riding equipment.

More gear.  The saddles look comfortable.
Don't be fooled.
Enrique had the fifth and ninety-ninth motorized vehicles in Salta and Chicoana respectively.

What's a ranch without four-legged friends?
Here, Jesse plays dead with Fiorina.


  1. What a great place! How could you ever leave? I guess maybe your butt said give me a break - time for taxis in Buenso Aires!

  2. @Lynda: I know it's hard to believe (though easier after your week in BsAs), but after a few days we almost had to leave because there was no room left in our bodies for any more steak! Dave

  3. I hope you get your cholesterol checked out at some point... Perhaps some lipitor is in order?


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