Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nonfiction | Riding Through Argentina


Before our travels, I scoured the public library’s eBook offerings to find anything relating to our destinations—preferably more than just travel guides. In my search for Argentina, I was happy to come up with a travel memoir by Polly Evans called On a Hoof and a Prayer: Exploring Argentina at a Gallop. This was perfect—here was another experience of a place we were going and, particularly, a part of the culture I had been keen to explore myself; Argentina’s gaucho history was something on my list to discover while there.

From my understanding and experience, the gaucho is one of the remaining peripheral cultures that represent a rural, traditional way of life in Argentina. Much of central Argentina is covered in a landscape known as the pampas—vast grassland that has been cultivated for crops and livestock. The “gaucho” would be known in English as a cowboy, and it’s a culture that has evolved from a renegade gypsy lifestyle of stealing horses to one that maintains the land and promotes horsemanship.

So now that you’ve got a cultural backdrop, I’ll actually talk about the book!

Evans journeyed to Argentina from her home in England with a mission to master horse-riding, a skill she’d always dreamed about, as any good young English girl is supposed to. Here, though, there are no fancy riding outfits, and the style is far from prim and proper. Evans navigates her way through the country’s many regions, learning to ride but discovering the country’s history and culture along the way.

I find myself more wary of memoirs as time passes, following my husband’s line of thinking and finding them often too self-indulgent. I like memoirs that capture a unique moment of time or a unique experience; what do I care about random person’s trip to Europe who thinks herself so cute that she feels the need to share her experience with the world? Evans, though, does a really good job of balancing her own experiences with loads of information on Argentina’s history and culture. This was especially fun to read while actually being there, because I was actually learning and could see things firsthand. For me, this memoir didn’t fall in the category of annoying, because Evans wrote her stories straightforward, without a forced level of comedy or quirk. It’s like she recognizes that her experience wasn’t any more special than another person’s own unique experience, so she used them as a jumping off point to enlighten the reader about a certain place and culture, perhaps inspiring you to explore it for yourself. It was easy, enjoyable, and educational.

Or maybe I’m just slightly biased, because it’s always more fun when you can see it firsthand; but I think Evans is an author I’d be keen to read more from—she’s been loads more places and written much about it.

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