The Argentinian Gaucho
I have always had a thing for cowboys, you know, the rugged, romantic image is appealing. My interest is theoretical though, so no cowboys need apply…..
So, it goes without saying that when we were travelling around South America I wanted to see these guys at work, umm, I mean, I wanted to see their horses.
Cowboys are referred to as Gauchos in Argentina and Uruguay, Vaqueiro in Brazil, Huasus in Chile, Morochuco in Peru and llanero in Colombia and Venezuela. They are skilled horsemen working with herds of cattle, sheep and horses on estancias (ranches) but more than that, they represent a way of life that developed over centuries and survives to these days.
The Gauchos culture emerged in early 17th century when wild herds of cows, sheep and horses roamed the pampas (flatlands) freely. Gauchos were the adventurous horsemen who ventured into the rugged terrain to live off the land and later rounded up herds for the benefits of land owners. With their knowledge of the land and survival skills they also played an important role in helping the military freeing Argentina from Spanish rule.
The iconic gaucho image, mythical or real, is that of strength, bravery, loyalty, freedom and honour. Gauchos are rugged, solitary, nomadic horsemen travelling around the vast pampas, surviving on assado (grilled meat), wine and their iconic maté (yerba tea). Over the years their music, dance, food and legends have become an integral part of the culture in the countries where they live and work.
Gauchos in Argentina and elsewhere wear clothing and hats that are unique to their countries but there are common elements to how they dress. A beret in Argentina, broad flat brimmed hat in Chile, a poncho that keeps them dry and warm, baggy “bombacha” pants, wide shirts, wool belts, sturdy boots and a facon (a long knife) tucked into their belt are still the tradition on South American Estancias.
Kissed by a gaucho
Our day at the ranch was fun and, you know, a bit of a show, although this was a working estancia. But guess what? I got kissed by a gaucho. Here is how.
One of the most popular gaucho sports is La Sortija, traditionally a sport that allowed the gaucho that won the game to pick a woman for himself and give her a ring. The game involves a horse race where the gauchos must, while in full gallop, insert a long pole into a small metal ring hanging off a tall cross-beam constructed in the field (see image above and below). It seems impossible to do and to manage it the gaucho must have superb horsemanship skills.
We sat up on the bleachers to watch the race between two gauchos and sure enough, one of them managed to pick off the ring on the first try. Now his prize was to pick a woman to to kiss, and if that woman happened to be married, her husband had to kiss the gauchos’ horse.
To my utter delight, guess who the gaucho picked out of the women sitting there? Yours truly. I jumped down from the bleachers faster than a speeding bullet to give that Gaucho a kiss and I have the metal ring to prove it. Since I am married, G had to reluctantly and very slowly come down from his perch on the bleachers and kiss the gaucho’s horse to the delighted cheers of the audience.
That was a Gaucho day I will never forget. I think I am applying to work on an estancia. These men have good taste.