Kaye’s constant quest for adventure has taken her back to Argentina – the land of gauchos, glaciers, football, tango and beef
Continued from yesterday
Fast forward to 2016 and dozens of estancias dot the outskirts of Buenos Aires. And it’s on these rural estates, once the private getaways of wealthy families, where you’re most likely to meet a modern day gaucho.
I did just that by spending a day on Estancia Los Dos Hermanos – a beautiful ranch run by the hospitable Pena family, nestled in the picturesque countryside of Zapata.
For anyone who wants to learn a little about the gaucho way of life – or simply gallop through the gorgeous Argentine countryside on a thoroughbred – then a visit to an Argentine estancia is a must.
But even if – like my companions – you’re not particularly fussed about cowboy culture, a stay (whether it be for a day or infinitely longer) at Los Dos Hermanos offers the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle, bright lights and sheer size of BA and relax and recharge your battery for a bit.
I was picked up from my apartment in a slightly fragile condition after yet another late night in BA (never mind New York, this is the real city that doesn’t sleep), by the charming Santiago early one Monday morning and driven directly to the estancia.
After a much needed medialuna (more’ish small half-moon shaped croissants) and coffee and a warm welcome from Rosario (Rose), one of Ana and Pena’s five children, I soon felt much better and ready to don my riding hat and embrace my inner cowgirl.
Jorge, Los Dos Hermanos’ resident gaucho helped me mount Moro – my thoroughbred for the day – and taught us the basics (how to hold the reigns and halt a horse) before leading our group of three out into the great Argentine outdoors.
Trotting along trails in air so fresh it made me feel giddy, I saw no roads or shops – only horseshoe prints. After the non stop noise of Buenos Aires (noise is everywhere in BA), I found the vastness and emptiness lovely.
We returned to the ranch from our morning ride happy if hungry – which was just as well as a generous (the folks at Los Dos Hermanos certainly don’t expect you to starve) al fresco asado was waiting for us.
The afternoon is your own to explore the estancia, take a dip in the swimming pool or an afternoon siesta in one of the hammocks.
However tempting though it was to spend the afternoon soaking up the sun from a hammock, I decided it would be criminal not to get back on the horse (so to speak) and live out my Argentine cowgirl fantasies.
On my afternoon outing, we got off the beaten path and I even learnt to gallop – something the muscles in my inner thighs and back could testify to the following morning.
Later that afternoon after watching the sun do its incredible sinking thing, we rode back to the estancia for a mate(Argentina’s beloved herb tea) with the Pena family.
For as much as I enjoyed riding, many of my lasting estancia memories were gained from speaking with the staff who were raised on the ranch and have tonnes of interesting tales to tell.
More than that, an estancia stands out for what it doesn’t offer: noise, pollution, pressure, distraction. It offers the kind of complete escapism from modern life you might think impossible– little wonder then that the ladies I arrived with, in need of a break from the boliches (clubs) of Buenos Aires, ended up extending their stay…
But if you’re a time poor traveller and can’t squeeze a day or two at an estancia into your BA itinerary and yet after a glimpse into gaucho culture, make for Mataderos – a working class barrio in western Buenos Aires named for the cattle slaughterhouses established there back in 1899.
Held every Sunday, this free folk fair is arguably one of Buenos Aires’ best-kept secrets and a celebration of Argentina’s rural traditions.
Visitors can fill their boots at the various food stalls selling regional fare such as humitas (corn cakes) and empanadas (Argentinian pies), watch locals clad in coloured skirts and bombachas (gaucho pants) perform traditional folk dances in front of the huge outdoor stage and pick up handmade leather bags for a fraction of what the vendors in tourist heavy San Telmo sell them for.
However the standoutof La Feria de Matadero is without a doubt La sortija: expect to see gauchos galloping at their fastest along a corridor of sand before rising up out of their saddle – leaving just their feet in the stirrups – in an attempt to spear a small ring, all the while cheered on by rowdy locals.