An estancia is an Argentinean ranch. These ranches are usually several thousand acres. Gauchos are Argentine cowboys. The horse is the gaucho's most prized possession; we were told that a gaucho would rather share his wife than his horse!
11.29.2007 - 11.29.2007
Our guide Susanna rounded up about 50 of our group this morning at 9 a.m. and herded us onto a bus for a long ride out of town. We headed into the pampas ("plains") about 146 km (79 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires to a large estancia (ranch). On the way, we listened to tour leader Sylvia tell us about the politics, culture, economy, and agriculture of Argentina. As we listened, the city turned to suburbs and then to large flat fields. Much like western Iowa and Minnesota, soybeans and corn are planted in long straight rows; cattle dot the pastures; and herds of horses graze on the horizon.
The estancia we visited is owned and operated by a wonderful couple who raise crops, beef (Herefords and Aberdeen Angus) and...polo ponies! We were welcomed at the front gate by a group of five gauchos bearing the Argentine and US flags. Our host Poncho is a retired lawyer. He and his wife hosted a greeting party in the back yard with fine Argentine wines, beers, sodas and fresh baked hot empanadas. Once we were refreshed, Poncho walked us to a covered set of bleachers near the polo grounds where we watched "The Gaucho Games." The five riders competed in a series of four games. The first was a race against time, riding around a series of poles; the second was to catch a small ring (the size of a wedding ring) on a pointed stick while galloping on their horses at full speed; third was to throw a bolo (three rawhide ropes with leather covered stones tied at the ends that are thrown around the legs of running cattle to catch them — the Argentine lasso); and, finally, there was a regular horse race. The winner of two out of the four competitions was Julio Ford, 4th generation Irish-Argentinean! The title of "most elegant" gaucho went to a 78 year old cowboy.
The games were over, and it was time to eat. We were set in a nice air conditioned room and served a multi-course pafilla (barbeque). Each table was set with two kinds of green salads, cold cubed boiled potatoes with parsley, and bread. Then the parade of meat began. Our first serving was a small thick link of sausage. Next were pork ribs. Next, we had chicken. The fourth serving was flank steak and the final course was tenderloin. Poncho challenged us to cut it with our fork: "If you cannot, I will send the cook into the fire!" The cook was safe; the meat was most tender. After all that, were we filled up? Yes, but no matter because to top off our meal, we were all given ice cream and strawberries.
All of us now full and satisfied, it was time for more entertainment. Two gentlemen — one on guitar and the other on accordion, violin, or flute — played music while a very young couple demonstrated a variety of dances. At one point, Susie was asked to waltz and later John was invited to join a group doing...something like a ceili dance.
After the dancing, we said our good-byes to our host and hostess and boarded the bus. Sylvia said her experience has been that everyone nods off on the way back.. .and, true to form, we did! That nap will come in handy, because we will rise at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to get to the airport and fly to Ushuaia in Terra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina.
Tomorrow night at this time, we will be sailing for Antarctica...at the end of the earth.