On February 18 we were docked in Buenos Aires, about 125 miles up river and on the other side from Montevideo. We had visited here for two days in 2012:
So we decided to spend the first day getting out of the city on an excursion to visit an Estancia for a look at gaucho life. This started with a long bus ride through the country with a voluble guide who spent quite a while demonstrating the venerable rituals surrounding the drinking of mate. When we finally reached the estancia we were served wine or beer along with delicious empanadas.
Historically an estancia was like a ranch set in the pampas, a grassy area of Argentina where the animals could profitably graze. Gauchos are the Argentine version of cowboys, with such skills as horse riding and breeding and hunting with the bolo, a three cord weapon with a ball or stone attached on the end. The one we visited plainly dates back to that time and was once a working ranch but appears today to be maintained as a place for tourists. But it is well maintained to give a taste of the gaucho lifestyle.
The original ranch house is maintained as a museum containing furniture and other items dating back 100 years or more. It includes a fully decked out kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room and chapel. On the front porch was a chair apparently made from the bones of a steer and it had a nice view of a large grassy yard and a stand of trees.
Leaving the house, we walked around the grounds for a while, taking in the trees, grass and flowers, and then walked over to the horse shelter. We didn’t see any cattle or sheep here, but there were plenty of horses. This grassy land is about all we would see of the pampas, a 300,000 square mile area in central Argentina of grasslands and few trees known for cattle raising. There were a lot of trees here, but they were probably planted by the folks who lived here.
The gauchos spent a lot of time leading horses around, apparently to demonstrate what they do on an estancia. There were two horse activities for the visitors, riding a horse in a group walking slowly around a track and riding in a horse-drawn cart. We did the latter – interesting, but too slow to be exciting.
We sat in some stands to watch the horse demonstrations. First the gauchos herded the horses to trot in a large circle. The horses probably do this every day so prodding them into line is likely not too hard. The best part of this demonstrations was a couple of dogs who lounged in the shade of the stands until the horses started to move, then shot out through the hedge to help guide the horses, with great enthusiasm and having a great time.
More interestingly, the gauchos engaged in a competition in which they would gallop at speed under a log from which hung some small rings. Using a lance about the size of a large fountain pen they would stand up in the saddle and try to lance the ring, often successfully. Giving the ring to a lady in the audience, it was explained, entitled the gaucho to a kiss from the recipient. It didn’t look easy (spearing the ring, not the kiss).
It was time for luncheon so we headed back to the main building. On one side of the entrance patio was a gaucho store (probably a mockup rather than a working store). The main building on the other side housed a vast dining room; it appears we were lucky because on some days they must host several times as many people as were in our party, the only one there today. We walked past the barbecue and a circle of bone chairs on our way in and sat at the long tables where we were served wine, beer and steaks or lamb. The steaks were pretty good, but the Argentines cook it longer than we prefer.
While we ate there was entertainment on a small stage. A singer & guitar player and some dancers. The dancers in particular were very good, particularly the one who danced at the end with a couple of boleros. We were behind a pillar, so photos were difficult to get.
Back on the ship this evening we had another show of Argentine dancing, including tango, gaucho style, drumming and bolo dancing. The three performers were quite good, but we would have been more impressed if we hadn’t seen the dancing demonstration at the estancia, which was at least as good (if less dramatic in presentation). Unfortunately, the lighting was pretty dark and I probably left my camera on the wrong setting, so the pictures aren’t great. Here are some anyway, to end our first day in Buenos Aires.