Today we headed out into the Pampas grasslands region southwest of Buenos Aires. Soon the city gave way to farms, ranches, and waves of Pampas grass silvery in the sun.
The Pampas region is big blue sky country like Alberta and Montana.
It also has its own breed of cowboy, the Gaucho, a man of fiercely independent spirit who lives a hard, sometimes violent life rewarded with self-determination. Because of their skills, gauchos were forced into the military and during the wars of the 19th century in the Southern Cone, the cavalries on all sides were composed almost entirely of gauchos. Because of the resentment arising from this, gauchos have become an important symbol of contemporary Argentine thinking and are part of Argentina’s folklore and literature.
We were to learn all about their culture at El Ombu Ranch, named for the magnificent tree in the middle of the property.
First, we were treated to some mouth-watering empanadas,
And then, some horseback riding.
The gaucho diet was composed almost entirely of beef while on the range, supplemented by yerba mate, an herbal infusion made from the leaves of a South American tree, a type of holly rich in caffeine and nutrients, usually drunk from a gourd by a shared straw..
At El Ombu, we were treated to considerably more, we were served the full asado – chorizo sausage, chicken, pork ribs, pork loin, flank steak, and filet mignon. Whoooa, doggie!
Of course, music became part of the tradition and the guitar a natural instrument for the same reason North American cowboys used it – its portability. The music, song and dance is passed on from generation to generation and was shared with us today.
An essential attribute of a gaucho was that he was a skilled horseman. “He has taken his first lessons in riding before he is well able to walk”. Without a horse the gaucho felt himself unmanned. The naturalist William Henry Hudson (who was born on the pampas of Buenos Aires province) recorded that the gauchos of his childhood used to say, a man without a horse was a man without legs. Richard W. Slatta, the author of a scholarly work about gauchos, notes that the gaucho used horses to collect, mark, drive or tame cattle; to draw fishing nets; to hunt ostriches; to snare partridges; to draw well water; and even − with the help of his friends − to ride to his own burial.
“The eagle lives in its nest,
the tiger in its jungle,
the fox in the cave of another,
and, in his uncertain destiny,
only the gaucho lives wandering
to wherever his fortune leads.”
– from Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez,
Translated by Emily Stewart