THE OLD WAY
Tales from Los Molles, Argentina, a land that has escaped time.
By Sean Kelley
March 14, 2023
Los Molles is a small village at the foot of the Andes in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. The towering snow-capped peaks make the large estancias that litter the valley floor appear nearly non-existent, the cattle seemingly only specks on a landscape vast and expansive. It is a place reminiscent of mountain ranges in Montana or Wyoming. Gauchos here tell stories of “the old way”--a time before cell phones, the internet, or modern technology reached this landscape.
Gaucho culture is rooted deep in the history of South America. Originally nomadic, gauchos ran cattle and livestock on large pampas in Argentina. They slept under the stars, worked odd jobs, and carried themselves through life in the most simple, pared down way possible. In the 18th century, as land in Argentina became increasingly privatized, gauchos found regular employment on large ranches. As a result, their unique, peripatetic culture began to fade, though their skills as horsemen were invaluable as beef became one of Argentina's largest exports and a skilled hand was always in demand. Today, gauchos remain the backbone of livestock operations in Argentina.
A few years ago, our friend Horacio Pedro Blanchard made his first trip to this valley to get back in touch with that forgotten way of life. He and his friends rode with local gauchos and experienced a way of life that is slowly fading into the noise of the modern world.
Horacio was born in Buenos Aires and grew up outside the city on his family’s ranch, where he learned to respect a life spent working with the natural world. He grew to love horses and raising cattle, and to this day, his family still runs a cow-calf operation where they breed their own genetics and work in unison with the land to preserve a way of life long forgotten.
Pedro made his first trip to Los Molles in 2021 to explore the mountains and ride with local pack outfit GR Tourismo Aventura, after hearing of this place from his older brother. His brother had worked as a wrangler here, and after his first trip, Horacio returned to do the same. He spends each summer horseback, guiding tourists and curious Argentines on multi-day trips through a place that has seemingly escaped time.
“Argentina. My country. My home. My people. Horses, friends and mountains. Getting together, stories with mates in between. Each year, this trip helps me. Helps me to understand, to connect. To disconnect and connect. Disconnect from ‘reality’ and connect with reality, the actual one. No phone, no social media, no masks. Just regular people living. It helps me to learn how to share. That's why I come every year.” - Horacio Pedro Blanchard
Days are spent exploring the landscape on horseback, bathing in rivers, and cooking over an open flame. Drinking mate, the traditional South American beverage, or beer, eating burgers, sharing stories, and laughing. Saddle pads are used as makeshift sleeping pads, and you sleep under the stars, just as the ganaderos who ran cattle here a hundred years ago would have. Guides are dressed in traditional clothing, cotton pants tucked into tall leather boots, striped cotton shirts, and either a boina or a felt sombrero. Everything feels reminiscent of the past and is meant to honor the traditions of those who rode this valley long before Horacio and his friends did.
To this day, Horacio makes a yearly pilgrimage to Los Molles to honor the past and cleanse himself of the present. A few days spent unplugged to feel the same things those who came before him did: an overwhelming sense of smallness, a connection to a wild place and to a culture carried by only those who understand it most. Though he lives and works in the modern world, Pedro feels a strong connection to the history and heritage of the people and places that make Argentina so special.