Bibliophile reviews On a Hoof and a Prayer: Around Argentina at a Gallop by Polly Evans

Year published: 2006
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Argentina, 21st century

Polly Evans seems to have settled into a career as a travel writer, seeking out one adventure after the other. I don’t know what her journey in China was like, or her bike ride around New Zealand, but I know that her trip to Argentina was a typical whirlwind tour of tourist travel destinations. That she managed to squeeze out of it a semi-interesting travelogue is mostly due to 2 things:
1. She dug up some fascinating snippets of Argentinian history that she used to spice up the narrative.
2. She included horses and her efforts to learn to ride them.

Without the historical tidbits and the descriptions of her riding lessons and her subsequent rides and relationships with horses and her increasing confidence as a rider, I don’t see how On a Hoof and a Prayer could possibly have been stretched to book length, or even been made interesting enough to get published.

Much as I enjoyed her first book, It’s Not About the Tapas, I find this one to be little more than a book-length “what I did on my holidays” essay, something anyone could have done. She visits some interesting places, but it is mostly the historical snippets that make them interesting, not what she saw and did there. The writing is good, and she does manage to give a few poignant descriptions of places, nature and animals, but unfortunately her journey simply isn’t all that interesting. Gerald Durrell, Michael Palin and Tim Cahill have written more interesting accounts of their visits to Patagonia, for example (and I am sure Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux have as well, but I haven’t actually read their Patagonia books, so I can’t comment on them).

By the way, if you expect to read about hair-raising adventures on horseback and exciting fast rides, don’t bother opening the book. I am of the opinion that the subtitle, Around Argentina at a Gallop, refers to her speed of travelling, because she spent relatively little time actually galloping on horseback over the pampas.

Rating: A mildly interesting travelogue about a typical tourist holiday in Argentina. Mostly recommended if you are not familiar with Argentina or haven’t read some of the more interesting travelogues written about the country. 2 stars.

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