The coach pulled into a dusty service station, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We’d asked the ticket inspector before boarding how we would know when we had arrived and he’d said it would take about two hours. We’d been on the bus for exactly 1 hour 51 minutes, was this it? We gathered up our backpacks and quickly shuffled down the stairs and confirmed it was in fact San Antonio de Areco. This was to be our first adventure outside of Buenos Aires without the security of our Spanish speaking family to fall back on. We had made it!
As soon as we stepped off the bus and began the short walk to our hostel, we could feel the atmosphere was completely different to the big city we‘d come from. The streets were empty of people with hardly any traffic, the chosen mode of transport was quite clearly the bicycle and the houses were mainly timeworn single story buildings guarded by yapping dogs.
Whilst the town is tiny, there's plenty to do. Our first point of call was the tourism information centre where we met a really helpful guy who gave us a map, along with a number of recommendations of places to visit. The first place he suggested was a nearby Gaucho museum on an old ranch so we eagerly trotted off to find it. It was a stunning set of buildings surrounded by a huge Estancia (ranch) which immediately transported us to a different century. A time where Gauchos worked the land on horseback wearing baggy pants, spurs and beret hats. Not yet being fluent in Spanish we struggled to understand much until we googled it afterwards as all of the information was written in Spanish, but it was a great starting point in appreciating the history of San Antonio de Areco.
We wanted to explore the countryside ourselves by horseback so we booked a two hour tour with a modern day gaucho called Juan Pablo. We were blown away by how serene and picturesque his ranch was, he lived in a beautiful pink house that he explained was built in the early 19th century. There were chickens, sheep, cows and horses, ancient farm equipment lying around and a fairy tale brick well in his back garden. Juan Pablo seemed lovely, but we were in the middle of nowhere so we hoped he wasn't going to off us and shove us down it! We loved idly trotting around the Argentine outback on our horses, Tilo and Puma, without a care in the world.
The Tourist Information centre hires out bikes for free so we decided to head out to Vagues, a town that our hostel owner had told us consisted of four houses and a disused railway station, but was worth seeing. We knew we had found the disused railway station when Sarah's back wheel was buckled by part of the former track. And so we found ourselves 7km from town in the middle of nowhere, without a hope of getting our bikes back by the 7pm curfew and with the added complication that we'd had to leave our passports as a security deposit on them. As these are the single most important things in our posession whilst we are travelling we started desperately running through our options. Walk? But it had taken us almost an hour to cycle there. Abandon the broken bicycle? How would we explain that to the tourist centre. We racked our brains.
On spotting a pick up truck approaching we thought we would try our luck at negotiating a ride. We flagged it down and in our best Spanish/sign language we frantically demonstrated to the Gaucho who got out that the bike was broken and that we were stranded. He got his toolbox out and tried to fix the wheel until he realised half of the spokes had snapped. At this point he hoisted the bikes onto the back, signaled for us to jump in his cab and drove us all the way back to the Tourist Information centre. This lovely guy was representative of the people of San Antonio de Areco as a whole and we are truly thankful for his kindness in rescuing us.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in San Antonio de Areco and would recommend anyone visiting Buenos Aires to venture there, it's well worth the trip. The atmosphere is relaxed, the people are friendly, there's lots to see and do and the restaurants are amazing. We are also going to be writing a blog on our top 5 places to eat in San Antonio de Areco which we will link to when we have completed it.
We're looking forward to our next adventure on the beaches of Uruguay, hopefully there will be no hitch hiking involved!
James & Sarah x