A Day in the Life of an Argentinean Estancia
There’s nothing more evocative for us men than cowboys. We all have childhood memories of sitting with our dads, entranced by Spaghetti Westerns on the television, mesmerised by the sheer visceral excitement of life on horse-back, reins in one hand and lasso in the other.
So the chance to meet real-life, modern-day cowboys was simply too good to turn down. My opportunity came on a recent trip to Argentina, which is home to a vast arid province called La Pampa. Here, the main source of industry is farming, and across the region are ranches known as ‘Estancias’.
From our base in Buenos Aires, the Argentina capital, my travelling partner and I undertook some research into these venues, and soon discovered that there were a myriad of tour companies offering ‘authentic’ trips to visitors.
After seeking the advice of some locals, we were encouraged to choose our estancia carefully, since many of them were not so much authentic, as absolute tourist-traps. We finally settled on an estancia located about 1.5 hours outside of the capital. It had excellent reviews on the internet, and crucially, offered an ‘Asado’ lunch as part of the package (Asado’s are Argentinean barbecues teeming with delicious, juicy meats, and for a devout carnivore such as myself, represent gastronomic nirvana).
Our journey to the estancia was made in a van that also included about 12 other tourists, a friendly tour guide, and several thermos flasks that it turned out were full of the traditional South American herbal tea known as ‘Mate’, consisting of hot water and dried leaves. In England the tradition of offering visitors a “nice cup of tea” is embedded into our DNA – and in Argentina the same is true of mate.
We arrived at the estancia suitably refreshed and were immediately ushered into a room where we were given a potted history of the venue, as well as a brief itinerary for the day. We learnt that Argentinean cowboys are called ‘gauchos’ (hence the ‘Gaucho Grill’ restaurant chain in London) and that they date back centuries.
Then we were taken outside where we were treated to an impressive display of gaucho party tricks, involving lassos being thrust at high speed around horses necks (no animals were harmed during the making…etc). It was, of course, all for our benefit, but it was genuinely impressive to see the skill and control the men had acquired over these noble animals.
Next we were herded (pun intended) back inside for what to my stomach at least was the main event. Lunch! Within moments of being seated a platter of crispy meat had been thrust upon us. I was in heaven.
Once we had devoured a farmyard worth of cow, an impressive troupe of dancers entered the stage for some post-food entertainment. Their set included salsa, tango (an Argentinean invention) and some novelty dancing that I don’t believe is affiliated to any nation or culture…
Finally, to complete our afternoon’s entertainment, we were given a talk (translated into English) by an 80-year-old gaucho who had dedicated his life to the estancia. It was fascinating hearing him speak with such passion about his lifestyle, and the travails of life on an estancia (including the caprices of weather, government regulations, and the ever-present threat of viral livestock diseases).
It was in stark contrast to the starry-eyed glamorised perception that I had held as a boy for these intriguing hardy-characters known as cowboys.