Jose picked us up early morning for a 2-hour drive to San Antonio de Areco, where the lovely Maria was waiting to show us her town. Gauchos rely on decorative yet serviceable items made from silver, such as spurs, stirrups, knives, silver coins covering pockets on their belts and decorations on horses’ reigns. These are engraved with family information and meaningful symbols, e.g. stirrups are upside down crowns, showing rejection of the monarchy. Maria’s husband and his whole family are involved in the very proud silversmith tradition.
The town is the de facto capital of the ‘cowboy’ world, and therefore, not surprisingly, a poster of a gaucho, patron of the horsemen, was prominently displayed in the sanctuary of the beautiful church.
Originally, the country was all pampas grass, and all trees had to be imported. The Spanish brought in horses and cattle that thrived and multiplied. The local people did not eat cattle, and so, a thriving export beef industry was handed on a plate to farmers. During the years of socialist rule, however, this industry suffered, and now many farms plant acres of soya beans to make a living. Estancia El Ombu, named for the huge indigenous Ombu bush (I would say a tree) in front of the magnificent house, is still a working farm but they embrace tourism to share the gaucho culture.
After being welcomed by a platter of empanadas (little meat pies) and a drink on the huge veranda, we settled at the tables on the lovely grass lawns and were treated to an authentic “Parilla”: a feast of course upon course of barbequed meats. After lunch, we had a folk dance display where a two-year-old little gaucho stole the show with his skillful steps! The day ended on a high note when a gaucho awed us with a powerful display of how his horse trusts him and responds to his silent commands.