Exploring new ways to live


Spending one month in twelve cities is a great way to try on different lifestyles. You get a better sense if you’re a city person or a small town person, if you like to be on the water or surrounded by nature, if you value space or amenities.


Wrapping up my time in Argentina, I had the chance to observe two different lifestyles – one in the wide open foothills of the Sierra Mountains and the other tucked away along a river with 4×4 access only.


We had a track event that involved a two hour bus ride and a full day of horseback riding so it was the perfect fit to explore outside the city and spend time with horses.


When we arrived at the ranch, the horses were already saddled up outside. It was the skinniest bunch of horses I’d ever seen!


The gauchos matched us up and I trusted I’d have the perfect horse for me but when he led over a tall white horse, I hesitated.


I’ve never trusted white horses and find them high-spirited. But I hopped on and had a little chat with my horse. I talked about the great day we were going to have together and how excited I was to see his home.


We started off as a group but slowly found myself at the back of the pack.


As we walked by a farm, a dog ran out and staring barking furiously at us. My horse stopped. He was frozen (this was not good – a trail horse afraid of a dog?)


The other horses continued on and my horse got nervous. He threw his head and whinnied but refused to move.


I calmly told him it was okay and urged him along – but no luck. A few minutes later, a couple horses came up behind us and we joined them (maybe my horse just didn’t want to be alone?)


As we continued along, my horse veered into the bushes, causing me to duck under branches, and scratch my arm on the prickles.


Then we passed through a gate and he moved over at the last second, pinning my leg against the fence post!


Hmmm…what’s going on? I was getting the feeling he didn’t want to hang out with me.


Eventually we caught up to the rest of the group and got back in line…until some of the other horses decided they wanted to gallop.


I held my horse back, preferring to walk, but he had other ideas.


He started throwing his head and bucking, determined to get me off his back and go for a run!


I managed to stay on, as the gaucho came galloping over to help me. Still my horse wouldn’t calm down and continued to jump and twist.


Then I saw him eye up the fence and knew we were in trouble. If he decided to jump, one of us was going to get seriously hurt.


I had tried to bond with this horse, I had talked nicely but we just weren’t meant to be.


I jumped off and decided I would rather walk than continue to ride this crazy horse.


The gaucho explained it was a long way to go so I would have to ride something. Thankfully my friend Brandon offered to switch horses.


I gladly handed over the reins and mounted his quiet horse.


The rest of the ride was smooth as my new horse calmly walked along, carefully choosing his footing as we went through streams and down rocky trails.


More than once I glanced around and saw Brandon off the trail and trying to get the crazy white horse back in line.


After a 2.5 hours ride, we stopped for lunch and then had the option to ride back in the blazing sun or take the van.


2.5 hours was enough for me.


Half the group stayed to nap under the trees and the other half got back on the horses for the return ride.


I noticed the gaucho hopped on the crazy white horse, determined to keep him in line on the way home.


Even though I didn’t ride all day and I had to switch horses, I still enjoyed seeing the lifestyle of an Argentinian gaucho. They are brave and hardy – charging down hills and over rocks without a second thought. The wide-open space and fresh air appealed to me, but I know I need to be near water to feel happiest.


The next day, we headed two hours in a different direction to visit an eco-village called Umepay.


It was a gravel/dirt road so bumpy even our driver was concerned about where we were going. We stopped every oncoming vehicle and asked if we were on the right road.


As we approached several gates, I jumped out to open and close the gate behind our van (something any kid raised on a farm instinctively knows to do), and eventually we pulled into a quiet oasis.


We were warmly greeted by two women and a cute little boy named Tandoori.


We followed them to benches around a campfire pit, under the shade of a tree and listened to the story of how they created Umepay.


A group of 11 friends were fed up with housing costs and the rat race of working just to pay the bills.


They decided to sell everything, pool their money and buy a piece of land. They agreed to only develop 30 per cent of the land, leaving the remaining 70 per cent to nature.


Slowly they built homes and eventually a community hall for workshops and retreats. They shared sustainable values and worked together to create a lifestyle they loved.


It’s a peaceful place with hammocks, a meditation labyrinth, and daily yoga classes on the grass. People are friendly and relaxed.


Children are growing up seeing a different way of living – their parents aren’t rushing out the door to commute to the office every day, coming home exhausted and too tired to play.


These children are learning about nature first-hand, about growing your own food, about following your dreams, about listening to your heart.


I marvelled at what they’ve created.


A community with shared values, a peaceful spot to raise a family and not at the expense of removing themselves from the world. They use technology to their advantage and actually have better Internet than the nearest town.


Many people have online businesses – yes, sustainable living still requires a source of income. But they’ve found a way to blend business and passions into a lifestyle that suits them.


I imagine more of these communities will start popping up around the world.


Housing costs in Vancouver and the Okanagan are ridiculous and it’s nearly impossible for a young family to own a home. Why not combine resources with your friends?


Many of my girlfriends are single and we’ve often joked that we should buy some land together and have our own tiny homes.


We’d have our private space but also a community of friends whenever we wanted. There could be a large kitchen where we cook together, a gathering space for movie nights and pajama parties, a garden for veggies and herbs.


Alone we couldn’t afford this lifestyle but together we could have it all and more!


Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea after all…


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Showing 4 comments
  • Laura Cull

    Oh Michelle, so much to say about your horseback riding adventure, but I think I will focus on one thing, the horse’s perspective. I’m getting a grasp of your level of horse experience so let me share a few things. If you ever see a group of skinny horses tacked up to be ridden you should hesitate to participate. A horse that is fit to ride should not have ribs visible to the lay person’s eye, especially a horse that is typically used for trail riding as they tend to be a sturdier stock. Sadly it is not unusual to find horseback riding operations with horses that are underfed, overworked and tired of their job of carting different people around on the same trails.

    Just as with other animals, horses are individuals with their likes and preferences and tasks that they are more suited to than others. Some horses are very well suited to the job of being a trail horse. If they are fed, cared for and treated well, some horses can quite enjoy this life and mange quite well, just as some horses are more suited to being a jumper or other kind of show horse. Not every horse is suited for every job yet how often is that ever considered, especially when their owner is trying to use them to make a living.

    Another very often overlooked issue with horses in barns everywhere is physical pain. Horses backs are not well designed to carry weight. Proper saddle fitting is crucial to maintaining a healthy back in a horse. When I decided to ride Hope I had the ladies at the tack store come out and measure her back using a specific instrument and using those measurements we found a saddle to fit her. Do you think that level of care goes into choosing a saddle for most trail horses? I can assure you it does not. And then there is the bit that goes into their mouths and how a person handles the reins.

    No my friend, your horse was not crazy. I suspect he may be tired, needing some time off to graze and just be a horse, perhaps be reevaluated for another job, perhaps have just one dedicated person to ride him and learn his rhythm and needs, and be evaluated for any physical pain that has so far been undetected. Go deeper and get out of your human experience and go into that of the animal, see things from his perspective.

    Oh and we equestrians refer to white horses as gray (or grey) and they can be found in any breed, and it is the breed that has much more of an influence over temperament than colour. Grays aren’t any more spirited than any other horse, but a gray thoroughbred would be more spirited than a gray stock horse found in the back country of Argentina. So don’t let colour fool you!

    • Michelle

      Thanks Laura. I totally appreciate what you’re saying and you’re right – we have to look at things from all perspectives. I know I’d get pretty bored riding the same trail over and over! xo

  • Krista Hargrave

    Hi sweetheart,
    I can feel the anxiety, and then the enjoyment, and then the, “Okay enough already” of your ride. Seeing the world from horseback certainly offers a different perspective.
    I love your communal living train of thought. Perhaps we can try such an adventure when you come home. Missing you lots.
    Love Mom xoxoxo

    • Michelle

      Yes, this year-long adventure has been full of emotions! Miss you too – xo

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