Another Bucket List Item: Riding in Patagonia, Gaucho-style

Horseback Riding Pingo Salveje Cabalgata Patagonia Chile

I’ve determined that there is a serious need for a review website for experience horseback riders looking for good places to ride – it is so hard to find! But fortunately we found a great place for riding in Patagonia.


We just got back from a two day riding trip at Pingo Salvaje Estancia and it was amazing. We arrived at the estancia (that’s a ranch) to meet our guide, Cristian, who we quickly recognized from Base Camp just two nights prior. We met him through Kit, another friend from the hostel, and they play in a band together. Cristian has a great voice and plays guitar so well, beautiful original music.

We told the estancia when we booked that we are experienced riders and only wanted to go if it was more than a “nose to tail” ride. They said they could do that…. But when we arrived we realized we were with a group of inexperienced and first time riders. I was really concerned that this ride was going to be a disaster!

Pablo, the head guide, told us that we would be “evaluated” the first day of our ride to see how skilled we were… which is fairly standard practice. But I was ready to get to the real riding.

P1130444We met our horses and things started to look up for us when Pablo said he would give one of us his horse – her name was Maria, but he told us that every calls her Crazy Maria. A few of her quirks include:

  • the wind makes her crazy, she hates it (note that we are in Patagonia, a place known for constant, strong winds)
  • she doesn’t like any other horses and bites and kicks them
  • she goes from walk straight to gallop
  • her gallop is like an exaggerated bunny hop of sorts

I loved her immediately!


And Rick got to ride her mom, Pinta. She was very responsive and Rick really like her. He says she may be his favorite horse he’s ever ridden.

P1130247We started off toward the mountains and rode through some beautiful valleys, passes and up towards the condor lookout and cliffs. We were fortunate to see over a dozen condors – the largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan of over 10 feet.


We got a beautiful view of Laguna Sofia, where we had ridden through the laguna earlier.

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Then we got to do a little riding lesson for the newbies. Rick says I got my guide on. I just couldn’t help myself, and they actually did really well. We taught them in a circular clearing to canter. Then after, Cristian told Rick and I we could go ahead of the group so we got to have a little race across some of the flat area, of course, Rick “Saco-de-papas” Agostin won – he’s got the speed, I’ve got the style.

P1130312We got to ride for about 6 hours total, and returned to the estancia to set up our camp. We thought we were going to be eating pasta and lentils for dinner, but we hung out chatting with Pablo and the team for a while and were offered a bottle of Carmenere and some left over Cordero Asado, fire roasted lamb.Upgrade! So we heated it over our bbq pit at the campsite and drank wine from the bottle, it was delicious. P1130299We went to bed early, excited for our big day the next day – we had proven ourselves as good riders and Cristian said he had some big ideas for us tomorrow!

We woke up to almost completely clear blue skies, a rarity in Patagonia, it was the best weather day of our trip. Upon arriving at the barn, Cristian told us we were going on an exploratory ride today, a route that he hadn’t been to before. Claudio, one of the gauchos would go with us to show us the way, it would be a long ride. So long in fact that Rick had to switch to a younger horse that could make the ride, so he got Estampa for the day. I got to stick with Crazy Maria.

P1130321Immediately we took off at a strong canter. It was like a dream, completely unreal, we were galloping along the ridge with incredible vistas of the lakes and mountains.

We crossed through a couple of other estancias and arrived at a bluff that overlook a panorama with both mountain ranges and multiple lakes. We stopped to rest the horses and have some yerba mate.

P1130349We all sat around and just chatted and sipped our mate, the moment could have been out of a movie I can’t picture anything more perfect.

P1130345 P1130352

We continued on through an ancient Lenga Tree forest. We had to go around the mountain to get to the entrance to the valley we were going to. We started up toward the valley and got incredible views of the entire Torres del Paine park. We could see the southern most torre, the Valle de Frances and John Gardner Pass.


We continued into the valley and that’s when things got a bit scary. We were cantering through the valley and I looked back to see Rick, and when I turned around all I saw was Cristian’s horse upside down, legs flailing in the air… she just hung there, somehow perfectly balanced stuck on her back… then I realized Cristian was UNDER her!! All I could see was a leg sticking out from under the horse’s side. I had no idea what to do, I just started to ride towards them. Pluma, Cristian’s horse, stayed balanced on top of him for what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably 45-60 seconds. She finally got on her side and was struggling to get up, I watched in slow motion and the hooves landed on either side of Cristian’s head, one hoof kicked him in the stomach, another in the knee. Pluma ran off spooked, but Cristian laid on the ground not moving. I honestly thought he was dead or unconscious. People just don’t get up from that kind of thing.

When I got to him, he was moving… a little. Quite shaken with some bruised ribs and a messed up leg, he was actually able to stand up. It was a miracle. I went to retrieve Pluma, who was also shaken up, but let Maria and I get close enough to grab her. By some miracle Cristian was able to get up and walk around, and insisted he was good enough to continue riding.


We continued on through the valley headed for the puesta (a rustic, very isolated cowboy camp) where we would have lunch, and celebrate Cristian’s amazing survival skills!


It was a good time for a break, we let the horses graze and we feasted on chorizo, homemade bread, queso fresco and yerba mate. This was special mate through… it came from a calf container!


The views continued all of the way back. The afternoon light made the lakes and mountains a completely different color. We got to gallop back across the beautiful landscape.

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We arrived back at the estancia and realized that we had been riding for 10 hours! It had been amazing, some of the best horseback riding we had done.


Thank you Pingo Salavage and Cristian! You are the best!!

I’m sorry, Ruger. It won’t happen again.

How to know if you just ate dog

So, I’m 97% Sure We Just Ate Dog…

Yep. You read that right.

It was not by choice. We had been riding our motorbike all around Cat Ba Island all morning and into the afternoon and we skipped breakfast. So we were HUNGRY.

Motorbiking Vietnam

We were on the far side of the Cat Ba Island, away from town, and wanted to take the long beach road back, so if we wanted to eat it was going to be at one of these houses we were passing that magically turns into a restaurants if you slow down and look at them. It’s really just a house… but if they think you might buy a meal, you’re suddenly being flagged down and called in (in Vietnamese of course!).

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

It’s mostly fields around us, but we finally find a strip of little houses, and pick one that seems ok and has a friendly lady flagging us down. There’s no sign really… and there is definitely no menu. So we ask

“Rice?” ..we get a perplexed look

“Bo?” (Vietnamese for beef) …shaking head

ok, last try…. “Pho?” …big smile and a big nod!

We feel like it’s a victory. We signal that we want 1 Pho, and then we are able to point to a beer can and get 2 beers. She hurriedly goes off to prepare our Pho.

In the mean time two very sweet Vietnamese girls, about ten to twelve years old come over and start trying to practice their English with us – really it’s limited to Hi, How are you, What your name, My name _____. But we have fun trying to talk with them and playing our now standard game of charades.

Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam

Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam Making friends and Eating Dog in Vietnam

Our pho comes out, delicious and steaming, full of cilantro, fresh greens, tender noodles, fragrant broth and sliced meat. We dig in. As I get my first bite of meat, I noticed it was not the chicken I thought it might be… no part of a chicken has that texture. I look closer, and ask Rick “hmm… what do you think this is?”. It’s not a red meat, like beef or goat. It doesn’t have the texture, look or taste of pork. It’s a light gray in color. We keep eating, not thinking too much of it…

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

But then almost in unison, we notice there a couple of mama dogs with cow-sized udders, running around the house and street but strangely only one puppy. We had learned from our guide the day before that while people ate dog meat, they didn’t eat the dogs they considered pets. They will basically keep a mama dog or two and a male dog, and don’t ever plan on eating those… but they do get those “pets” to make puppies, and the puppies are enjoyed…on a plate.

Almost as soon as we give each other a questioning look, both thinking “there’s no way,” a teenage boy pulls up to the house on his motorbike holding a puppy by the scruff of its neck. We curiously watch as he walks from one house to another exchanging brisk words with the lady of the house, pushing the puppy towards here, showing some money, and then getting what appears to be “no.”

But surely no… not our pho.

The two girls are still sitting with us, taking pictures with us and trying to talk. So we decide, we’ll just ask them what’s in our soup. We point to the soup, hold up a piece of meat, and make the questioning face and shrug our shoulders…. Then we start the animal imitations.

We moo – they laugh and shake their heads.

We point to a chicken across the street and cluck, cluck, cluck – they shake their heads no.

We oink – they laugh at us and shake their heads.

I do my best goat baa, Rick has to follow up with a head-butting action to get the point across – they shake their heads again.

We quack – more head shaking.

We look puzzled… so the girls try to act it out for us.

I’m still not 100% on what they were going for, or maybe I just don’t want to be, but it involved bending down and makes a handsign like you were motioning for something to come to you, and they made a sound like “puh, puh, puh” or “ruh, ruh, ruh”, and motioned in the direction of a near by dog.

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

I suppose we’ll never know for sure, and I’d like to think otherwise, but all signs seem to unavoidably point to dog. For what it’s worth, Rick says he thought it tasted pretty good. I can’t quite get there.

And after that, it seemed like everywhere I looked I saw signs for dog restaurants. I know it’s not in English, and I don’t know Vietnamese, but I can promise you this is not Mutt’s Cantina, not a sign for a dog-friendly restaurant. Do not bring your pooch to the patio here.

Thit Cho - Eating Dog in Vietnam

It’s definitely on my list of meals to be avoided in the future. And as a public service, I’ve created this handy chart to help you know if you are eating dog in Vietnam.

How to know if you just ate dog

I’m sorry, Ruger. It won’t happen again.


Childhood Bucket List Item: Ride Black Beauty — Check!

Riding Black Beauty - Marwari Horses of India

If you don’t know, as a kid I was a obsessed with horses. I rode competitively for a while in hunter jumper and dressage, and when I wasn’t at the barn, I was reading the entire [amazon text=The Saddle Club series&asin=B00J2J20P8] (shout out for Stevie! She was so cool. Did anyone else kinda want to be her?!) and Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague… or playing with my horse figurines… or studying different kinds of horses. You get the idea.

So on every trip Rick and I take I scheme to find some way to horseback ride while we’re there. Rick is a really good sport about it, in fact, he might not admit it, but I think he has a little horse fever now too! And he would tell you that my scheming is never really all that sneaky because A) I’m predictable. If we’re going a trip, I’m going to be looking for what kind of riding options there are in that area. (“Rick, Antarctica has horses, right??” j/k… kind of), and B) I get way too excited when I find some where we can ride and can’t contain myself.

So far we’ve ridden in

  • Costa Rica, tied for my favorite, Esteban and his family are amazing!
  • Colombia, my other favorite
  • Mexico, Manuel at Tierra Chamahua, love him and the vaqueros
  • In the U.S. lots of places, but most recently Colorado
  • …and now add India to the list!

So the childhood bucket list item – the dream of riding Black Beauty! And I got to do it yesterday!! He was seriously, movie-worthy gorgeous horse. My Black Beauty was a Marwari horse, a rare breed only found here in Rajasthan India. One of the characteristic features are the curved in, crescent shaped ears – so cute!

They are warm-blooded horses, known for their stamina in the desert and for being very brave. They were bred as warhorses, and learned very fancy moves because they would have to carry their riders into battle against enemies who were riding elephants. So these horses were trained to stand on their hind legs in battle so their rider could reach his opponent on an elephant’s back and attack him. Now they are generally trained in dressage. They have a beautiful gate.

My wonderful horse was incredibly affectionate, smooth gaited and a bit high spirited. It was a dream riding him.


So childhood dream to ride Black Beauty – CHECK!