Polly Evans, a travel writer and journalist, spent about five months traveling around Argentina, with a loose goal of learning to ride horses. On a Hoof and a Prayer recounts her travels and adventures. Reading travel books right now is bittersweet: it’s a way to travel vicariously but also makes me miss traveling so much more. This book in particular made me sad for the loss of traveling because parts of Evans’s trip reminded me so much of my own travels in Ecuador last year.
I have read several of Evans’s other books, and this one might be my favorite so far. She really transported me to Argentina, from green Andes mountains to pampas to the cold of Patagonia. At each stop, she at least tries to ride horses, mostly successfully, although not always gracefully. The horse-riding often provides comic interludes but also allows Evans to see otherwise-inaccessible terrain. Perhaps because of current circumstances, I liked that Evans traveled almost exclusively in more rural and wilderness areas, with just a brief stop in Buenos Aires; I enjoyed reading about the open spaces more than I would have enjoyed reading about a densely populated city.
Although Evans does not come across as particularly wealthy–she is effectively a solo backpacker, frequently traveling by local bus and staying in small hostel-like accommodations–the horse-riding opportunities are often run by wealthy families of European descent, a definite relic of colonialism and the economic inequities that persist. Evans does not address this specifically, but at each stop, she brings in aspects of Argentina’s history, including the decimation of indigenous people by the Spanish colonizers and the brutal dictatorships of the 1970s. There is a sharp contrast between the feeling of peacefulness that pervades the descriptions of Evans’s travels and the violence of this history.
Overall, I really loved reading this. Sometimes books hit you at just the right time, and this one did. A bonus: it counts for my Dewey Decimal Challenge!