After leaving BA we took a short bus ride out to the pampas (what is considered the heartland of Argentina) to a quaint town called San Antonio de Areco. SADA is often called “the prettiest town in the pampas” and it certainly lived up to it. Every November SADA holds a big festival called El Dia de la Tradicion which is basically a mass gathering of all the gauchos from the pampas. They come with herds of horses prepared to show off their horsemanship. Gauchos here are regarded much like we Americans think of old westerns: a lone cowboy out to take on the world with only his horse as his companion and loyal partner.
Gauchos have had it pretty rough here in Argentina until recently. They were always on the outskirts of society, eeking out a living by managing free roaming herds of cattle. When the price of beef started to rise investors began to build estancias (ranches) in the pampas and the once free wheeling gauchos were suddenly exploited farm hands. By the 19th century, with estancias running like well oiled machines, Presidente Sarmiento was quoted saying, “fertilizing soil with their blood is the only thing gauchos are good for.” Luckily, many gauchos persevered and while much of gaucho culture in Argentina is akin to going to an old western show in Texas the dia de tradicion brings out the few remaining true gauchos living on cattle farms out in the pampas. Don’t get me wrong, there were also your fair share of wealthy gaucho hobbyists as well but it was pretty easy to tell the difference simply by watching a true gaucho and a weekend gaucho ride their horses next to each other.
We stayed for 3 days in a truly adorable hostel owned by an Australian/ Argentine couple. Night one we got to drink cervezas (40’s that come in a comically large looking keg cup) and dance to traditional music with the gauchos. I was dragged out on the floor twice and really wish I had learned to say, “I’m bad at following” before heading out there but they were all jovial and seemed happy I was willing to dance at all.
Day 2 was full of watching rodeo which included the bucking bronco contest. Machismo at its best. We also ate our body weight in asado which is really just entire sides of a cow grilled over an open fire.
Day 3 was the final day so there was a parade in the center of town. Each estancia or family had a flag with their family symbol on it and the whole family was on horses and dressed to the nines. Woman riding side saddle in gorgeous, flowing dresses, tiny tots that seemed like they shouldn’t even be able to fit their legs over their horse’s back, and, of course, the gauchos in their finest attire: red berets, balloon like riding pants (bombachas), and leather boots. It was funny watching the kids go past because as Andy put it, “theyre the same age as all the other kids here who are drawing pictures in the dirt with sticks while they’re riding a grown horse and corralling a herd of 20 horses at the same time.” Perhaps even more so as a 24 year old it made me feel like a bit of an underachiever.
After the parade there was more rodeo, some more asado and a whole lot of very burracho(drunk) gauchos. We saw more than one RUI(riding under the influence) on our way to the bus that night but there always seemed to be another gaucho right by their side to lend an arm and keep their friend steady on his horse. Lone rangers they are not.