Las Pampas y Los Gauchos

Last Saturday my class went to La Estancia Don Silvano for the day to learn about the Gaucho culture of Argentina. “Estancia” means little farm or ranch. A “gaucho” is kind of like a cowboy, but they did not use guns like the famous cowboys of the Wild West. More about the gauchos later…

Estancia Don Silvano - Horseback RidingWhen we arrived at Estancia Don Silvano we were greeted by this amazing guy, Juan Manuel. He was the coolest. He was hilarious, very helpful, very accommodating, and he looked like George Clooney.

The first activity on our list was horseback riding, since many of the other students had never done it before! I’m not going to lie, this wasn’t my favorite part of the day; it was only a 15 minute ride through mud, there wasn’t too much to see and my horse seemed very tired and I thought it was going to collapse. Ever still, I was incredibly grateful for this opportunity to spend a whole day out of the city, and the countryside was gorgeous.

After our horseback ride we went in search for the dwarf cow that resides on the farm. I’m perfectly serious, a dwarf cow. She stands about 3-ish feet tall, and her body is almost normally sized but she has feet that are about a foot long each. I have to say, it was quite an amusing sight. Her name is Mentira, because there is a saying in Spanish (I think originally it was German, but that’s beside the point.) “Las mentiras tienen piernas cortas,” that means, “Lies have short legs.” Which is to say lies don’t make it very far. So her name is sort of a joke.

Mentira the dwarf cow and her friend the baby buffalo.

When we found Mentira she was hanging out with her dearest pal, the baby buffalo, which had been rescued recently.

After we saw Mentira we walked around for a bit to take in the scenery. The ranch house was a very cute, white stucco building. All around the gardens there were cast-iron, white patio furniture, mostly empty because there was much else to do around the estate. The tables were tiled with colorful mosaics, peacocks and roosters roamed around the paths, and there were brightly painted old farm wagons and wheels everywhere. It was like something out of an old movie… so picturesque!

At 1:30pm they rang the bell that signaled lunchtime. All of the visitors filed into the lunchroom, which had probably been a big long barn at some point in time. There were endless bottles of red wine, caterers came around with several different types of grilled meats (carne asada, anyone?), but the best part was the performance that was put on during the meal. We heard different types of music from every part of Argentina and saw a few of the traditional dances, including tango.

Although it was cold in the morning, it warmed up during the afternoon. After our glorious feast we headed out to the fields where we sat in a row of bleachers and watched a demonstration of gaucho skills. The men of the ranch are called gauchos and the women gauchos are called chinas—not after the country—but it apparently is a word from the language Guaraní (from the pueblos originarios) or something like that.

Gauchos playing a larger version of the ring game.

In ye olden times, when there was a dispute about land ownership, the gauchos used to have a race and whoever won was the rightful owner. We got a demonstration of this sort of competition, from three of the people that worked on the ranch. I had never personally been so close to galloping horses before, which was quite the sight! The gauchos also showed us a game that involved a soccer goal that had tiny rings, about the size of a key ring, dangling from it. They then had to gallop at the goal and catch the rings on a stick as big as a straw. It’s hard to even imagine the difficulty! It used to be a game to win a bride, a woman’s name would be written on each ring, and if the gaucho caught it he would have to marry her!

After the fun and games we drank mate out in front of the lunchroom in the afternoon sun. Mate is a very common tea here that is made from the leaves of the Yerba tree. You can find it in grocery stores as tea bags, but the real way to make it is to pour the tea leaves into a special gourd, add some sugar, and pour the hot water into the gourd. Then you sip the tea through a special straw, called a bombilla, that has a strainer on one end. I haven’t actually done this though, we’ve only had pre-made mate. (This is on my list of things to do before I leave Argentina!)

And thus ended our adventure to La Pampas (the plains).

Juan Manuel (aka George Clooney) and I
Here is a photo of me with the charming Juan Manuel

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