Years ago I had read Polly Evans’ book entitled It’s Not About the Tapas: A Spanish Adventure on Two Wheels. Evans chronicles her experience cycling through Spain. I read it shortly after returning from my semester abroad there, so it was a delightful since I was still obsessed with all things Spain. I also would go on to read another travel narrative of hers, Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure Into a Country and Culture Not Her Own (this takes place in China in case you couldn’t guess). She also wrote a book about her adventures in New Zealand but somehow I never read that. When I found out she had written one set in Argentina (a country I HAD been to), I added it to my list and fortuitously came across a used copy of it in a bookstore in the charming small town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
On a Hoof and a Prayer is about Evans’ many adventures in the massive country of Argentina (seriously, the country is so big its size is somewhat unfathomable). As its title suggests, horses play a major part. She originally goes to Argentina for the purpose of horseback riding, a hobby/sport/way of life (whatever you want to call it) that is a major part of Argentine life and society. As an well-bred English girl, she has of course been on a horse before, but as Evans will come to discover, horseback riding in Argentina is an entirely different affair than what she had found in Great Britain.
Evans experiences everything from stays at traditional estancias (farms) to genuine horseback riding adventures. I rode on a horse myself while in Argentina, although it was really a trot around the corral, but I’m not sure if I could remotely fathom having an entire trip planned around it. While not on a hoof and a prayer, Evans truly sees Argentina. She of course spends time in the cosmopolitan capital city of Buenos Aires, a place she quickly became enamored by and even dabbles in the art of tango even though at her beginners tango class she is reprimanded by her instructor to “stop,” and is told that “in tango, it is the man who leads.” Uh oh.
And then making me entirely jealous, she sees parts of Argentina I didn’t come remotely close to seeing-the perfectly pristine , jaw dropping scenery of Patagoina, which from how she describes it is truly the ends of the world (looking at a map confirms this), and also the falls of Iguazu that some say are the most majestic in the world. Her travel escapades that I enjoyed the most were the ones that took place in the area of the former Jesuit missions even though it seems Argentina, from a tourism standpoint, looks upon these as more of a sleepy afterthought (at least according to Evans and her descriptions of the lack of tourism infrastructure). Her description of the abandoned churches left me particularly intrigued in one day visiting them-
“But curiously, despite the fact that the place was in ruins, the graceful atmosphere of the church and its surrounding rooms-the library, the priests’ quarters, suggested that those men of the cloth had only temporarily stepped out.”
In each of the chapters Evans provides copious amounts of historical background on the places she visits. As a reader who knows very little about Argentine history (I think most people are ignorant on this save for the more recent history of Eva Peron and the Dirty Wars), I definitely appreciated it although yes, it can get a bit dry (read: somewhat like a history textbook) at times. But, Evans being British and all, saves the day with her dry humor and wit which exudes through her writing just about every time.
Years later, I am glad to have finally read another of Evans’ works and now will definitely want to check out her New Zealand travel ode too. In all her writing, Evans always does a terrific job in transporting her readers to the places she is talking about. If tangos, snow capped mountains, and Malbec wine have ever entered your dreams, be sure to check out On a Hoof and a Prayer.