Tschiffely’s Ride: Ten Thousnd Miles In The Saddle From Southern Cross To Pole Star, by Aimé Tschiffely
It is striking and almost unbelievable to me that this work was rejected by publishers on three continents until the author was helped by the noted Robert Cunninghame Greene in having this work published at last as the author despaired of ever telling his moving story about a lengthy trip he took on horseback from Buenos Aires north to Washington DC and New York. The book is credited, and deserves the credit, for blazing a trail in the long travels by horseback of later “long riders.” While I am no great equestrian myself, I do appreciate compelling stories of travel and stories about horses and those who care for them , and this book is certainly a compelling narrative about a lengthy journey by horseback from a Swiss-Argentine who not only muses about the greatness of Argentine horses (about which he may be slightly biased) but also shows himself to be an observant and humane and deeply reflective traveler through the troubled countries of Latin America, which he observes with a great deal of insight and criticism. There is much in this book that is worthwhile even aside from the author’s evident purposes and interest in proving the stamina of horses when treated with humane care.
Much of the appeal of this book’s contents comes from a rare combination of the modesty as well as the observant nature of the author. In terms of its plot, the book consists of the occurrences and observations of a trip by horseback between Argentina and the United States, with a few interludes of boat travel in places like the Darien Gap which proved to be impassible. The author spends very little time talking about his travels in the United States because they did not present any sort of difficulty for him except for the quantity of traffic. He writes a lot about the logistics of traveling–finding forage and water for his horses, food and water and a place to sleep for himself and his occasional guides. He shows himself to be an observer of geography, the psychology of horses, and has a lot of criticism to make about the corrupt religious and civil authorities of many Latin American countries and the savagery they inflicted on the poorer and darker majorities of their countries. He is critical of the envious hatred of many Latin American elites towards the United States and is fond of pretty women, lovely views, the nobility of people and horses, and hospitable people when they can be found. Whether you are more interested in the journey itself or what the author sees along the way, or both, there is much to appreciate here.
In looking at this book from the standpoint of reading it decades later, it is baffling to me that this book was not recognized at its time by contemporary publishers as being a book of obvious excellence. The author details Latin America in the early 1920’s as being filled with a great deal of injustice and seething with envy towards the United States and its power and wealth as well as with internal conflicts over various abuses within their own societies. The author manages to avoid fantastic and embellished accounts but there are parts of this book that are all the more horrifying in its discussion of economic backwardness and the immense violence directed at women and the poor, largely because the author’s obvious (to this reader at least) compassion for both human and animals is judged as mawkish sentimentality by those who casually rape and murder their fellow citizens with impunity. Most readers, I imagine, will see in the abusive treatment of Latin American elites the fuel for the revolutionary fury that has filled the region periodically since then, and the authors matter of fact dealing with these concerns only makes this book a more important one in terms of its eyewitness account of life in Latin America during the early 1900’s from an observant man traveling very slowly on horseback.
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