The Man and the Image
Perhaps the most enduring image of Argentina is that of the gaucho, the country's larger than life cowboy riding the endless plains and pampas, who is a master of horsemanship and, at the same time, commanding a wealth of rural traditions and tenaciously true his code of honor. In Argentina, this popular image is also in large part a reality. Just as the United States had its cowboy and Mexico its charro - both nearly extinct now - Argentina was and still is home to the gaucho. Their exact number is unknown, but thousands of these horsemen still practice a way of life that bear a great deal of resemblance to what it was hundreds of years ago. The gaucho may use a cell phone and (on the largest estancias) even a GPS, but they remain absolute masters of the horse, and the rope as well.
The History of the Gaucho
Gauchos initially roamed all of not only Argentina, but also much of Brazil and Uruguay. So powerful and feared were the first gauchos that they often were used by the government instead of the army as a means of keeping order in the rural provinces. Their distinctive dress - which incorporates items that originally had to be imported from as far away as England and Turkey - makes them instantly recognizable. There is an entire genre of dances, folktales, songs, and words exclusive to the gaucho culture alone, and the cultural contribution of this group to Argentina is enormous.
The Gaucho Today
Today's gaucho still lives much of his life on his horse, and his way of life and culture reflect this symbiotic relationship. While most gauchos now live more settled lives and in many cases use as much modern technology as horsemanship on the job, many of his traditions remain intact, and their skill with a horse has not diminished in the least. A gaucho's exploits on horseback literally must be seen to be believed: horse and rider act as one seamless and graceful being, and the gaucho's roping and riding skills are considered the best anywhere in the world. The numbers of gauchos have declined over the last several decades, yet they are still found throughout the length and breadth of Argentina and continue to play a vital role in its cultural and economic life, and are even seen as the symbol of the nation. Nowadays the northern and eastern Pampas hold the largest concentration of gauchos.
Where to See Gauchos
A visit to most Argentine estancias allows visitors a first-hand look at just how talented these legendary outdoorsmen are. Many of these ranches are located within a day's drive of Buenos Aires and offer guests a chance to participate in life on the ranch to varying degrees. In some cases visitors even go along for the round up or help with the cattle drive. Usually the day includes an asado lunch and often a campfire dinner accompanied by gaucho songs and tales. If your itinerary includes a stay on such an estancia, you'll feel as though you've been transported back two centuries ago. For those who want to see as much of the gaucho way of life as possible in one place, the town of San Antonio de Areco, just 70 miles (113 kms) west of Buenos Aires is the epicenter for all things gaucho.
Estancias in Argentina
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