On my third day in Argentina, it was time for the Gaucho Party. Okay, it sounds fantastically touristy. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely is. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, gauchos are basically Argentine cowboys. They herd cows, tend horses and more. They have their own special history in Argentina. The national book is a poem about gauchos called Martin Fierro by José Hernández.
I’ve been fascinated by gauchos since high school. I took a class on Latin American history and we read another classic work of gaucho literature called Don Segundo Sombra by Ricardo Güiraldes. I hated it at first but eventually it won me over. It was a series of vignettes about a gaucho.
I wanted to check out a ranch since my first trip to Buenos Aires. Many hotels have these packaged tours that you can sign up for and I was set to do it. But then I got a terrible sinus infection and decided that being outside all day was not a good idea.
But this time, I had my Gaucho Party and I’m glad for it. It was about an hour and a half drive outside of Buenos Aires to the Estancia San Susanna near the town of Los Cardales. It’s beautiful country. When we got there, we were greeted by gauchos bearing wine and empanadas. I liked how this was going. We had about an hour and half of free time. Estancia San Susanna was a horse ranch, not a cattle ranch.
On the way there, our tour guide told us that we would have the opportunity to ride horses. So I made a beeline there. I’d ridden a horse once before in my adult years (pony rides aren’t quite the same) so I was very excited about riding on the pampas. I ran over to the stables to be among the first to ride a horse. One of the gauchos helped me up on a brown horse. I had to get a little bit of a refresher with the reins. We waited until everyone was on their horse and then we trotted after the gaucho leading our little expedition. We trotted out behind some buildings and into the field. It lasted ten minutes but it was wonderful. I am terrible at steering the horse at this point; I kept running into people by accident. I’m thankful that my horse was trained to follow the others. The gauchos really knew their horses.
About forty-five minutes later, I decided to it again. I got on a white horse but she was a bit finicky. She really didn’t want to move. She got a bit restless at various points. She unnerved the horse next to me ridden by a French woman who was so nervous that she got off her horse mid-ride. I felt bad. There were some other horses that were grazing in the field and they were distracting her or something. Actually one of them was rolling around in the dirt, which was a sight to see! One of the gauchos had to let these horses into a different enclosure to calm my horse (and possibly others down). And I think she tried to bite my foot. But I completed my ride without falling off. I’m still glad I did it. Of course, it wasn’t until I was back in the city that I realized that helmets were not a part of the equation. Hmm.
During the free time period, I explored the Estancia house, which was where the owners of the ranch formerly lived. It was a very nice house with period furnishing. It was fairly lavish, lots of beautiful wood furniture, nice china, and other marks of fine living. There was also a wall of angel sculptures and a room with creepy dolls. There was a chapel as well. After all the gilded altarpieces, it seemed fairly modest and plain. It was perfectly suited to the surroundings. Attached to the same building of the chapel was a few rooms set up like an apartment. There were vintage women’s clothing and an entire glass case of hats. I will admit that I did drool a tiny bit. I’m not sure who used the apartments (the whole place was lacking in explanatory materials). Maybe it was for a spinster sister/daughter or maybe the priest. I don’t know.
After the exploration of the house, I went on a brief carriage ride around the property. It was a pleasant ride where I chatted with the gaucho driving the horses. I mentioned my love for Don Segundo Sombra and he suggested a recent documentary about the man who inspired the book.
Then the bell rang and it was time for lunch. We started with salads, which were okay. The main event was the meat. The beef was very tasty. Very juicy. The chicken was okay. But the second different cut of beef was delicious! Probably the best I had on the trip. Wine was unlimited for better or for worse. And then the dessert was some delicious fried pastry with sweet jelly filling. Very delicious.
Then there was a lovely folkloric show. It started with two tango dancers. It was a little out of context but I love watching the tango so it worked for me. Then a guitarist and bandleon player played some folks songs. I always love watching musicians play the bandleon. They bounce this accordian-like instrument on their knees as they play. Swoon! The dancers then came back in traditional outfits from Northern Argentina and danced more folkloric dances.
I think my favorite part was when the man of the couple danced with bolos. Bolos are composed of weights at the end of interconnected cords. They can be swung around and thrown. They can be used as weapons This guy was incredible. He swung these bolos masterfully around, even crisscrossing his own body. He even had the bolos hit the floor in rhythm to the musicians behind him. It was very impressive. He made it look effortless, which is a mark of a true entertainer. I spend a lot of time with circus performers to know that a) he’s had to hit himself in the head several times b) it probably took 100s of hours for him to be so easy with them.
Then it was time for the gaucho games. The tour guide explained that there were certain competitions held between the gauchos to determine the best gaucho. The games weren’t really explained so we had to work out the rules. The first game was herding horses, I think. Each gaucho had a group of about 10 horses of the approximate same color. They’d ride them around mixing with other gauchos’ horses. Whoever could coral their horses neatly and quickest in front was the winner. I’m not sure if this is accurate but it’s what seemed to make sense.
The second game was a bit like jousting. Except instead of a long wooden stick, they had a pencil sized metal rod. And instead of a hoop the size of a coffee plate, it was a tiny ring hanging from a hook. It was very impressive when one of the gauchos hooked a ring. Then they would find a lovely lady to give her the favor. But they had to get a kiss on the cheek in return.
The experience wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I was thinking we’d visit a cattle ranch since Argentina is famous for its cattle products (oh steak! oh leather!). I also thought that we’d have a giant carcass of cow cooking on a spit outside like I’d seen in a random travel show. Then again, there were not a lot of people and it would have been a tremendous waste of food. And the food was tasty regardless. I still had a great time and totally glad I did it.
Then it was time to return to the city. We hit traffic on the way home because of a futball/soccer match exhibition game between Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago. The entire Trinidad and Tobago team was staying in our same hotel. The previous night, we ended up witnessing a small press conference in the lobby where the president of Trinidad and Tobago addressed the team. It was really neat. Anyway, as we were waiting in the traffic, I noticed a driver wearing glasses who had painted blue and white stripes across his face. Nice.
That’s all for now!