The Life of a Gaucho

A gaucho is basically an Argentinian cowboy — they tend herds or grazing areas of cattle and sheep. The mountains of Patagonia create an interesting rain shadow that stops rain from reaching certain areas. This forms vast areas of dry land which can support grazing but it takes a lot of land to provide enough food for a herd. As a result, ranches in Patagonia are huge and vast, spread out for miles and miles. The ranchers hire gauchos to tend and protect the animals. I’m sure that there are many types of gauchos and that they have many different roles, but the ballads and songs about them tend to focus on those who live a solitary life living in remote areas with no running water or electricity.

Today we had the pleasure of visiting one of the Patagonian ranches outside of Bariloche. We were welcomed with sopaipillas (a type of fried pastry) and tea while the ranch manager told us about the ranch. Afterward, we all mounted our horses for a ride through the ranch lands. The horse ride was beautiful — we went through streams and through the countryside for about an hour and a half while being treated to beautiful views of the canyons and rock formations in the area. Our horses were maybe a bit too tame but it made the ride fun even for those in the group who weren’t comfortable on horseback.

After the ride the guides introduced us to yerba mate, a traditional tea that is very very common in Argentina. Once we knew what it was, we started to notice it everywhere — the security guards at the airport shared a mate, the guides on the bus shared a mate, there were thermos’s for mate water sticking out of many Argentine’s bags, etc. To make it is relatively simple but there is a ritual to it.

  • The mate cup can be anything, but it is typically served in a small cup that looks like a vase or gourd.
  • You fill the cup about 2/3 with mate tea. The mate maker then puts a straw into the cup that has a filter on one end to prevent the tea from going up the straw.
  • The mate maker then puts some water into the cup, just enough for a few drinks though — they don’t fill the cup — and passes the mate to one of the group.
  • The drinker then takes a sip or two of the mate and hands it back to the mate maker. It is very very important not to touch the straw (other than to drink out of it) during this process. Apparently it is very offensive to touch the straw.
  • The mate maker adds more water and hands it to the next person. And then it goes on from there.

It doesn’t take long to drink a cup of yerba mate, but it is very much a bonding experience and is usually only done amongst friends. It’s a bit bitter but said to be quite stimulating.

After our tea we had a huge meal cooked over the fire at the ranch. Lamb, beef, sausage, and salad with tomatoes grown in their hothouse.

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And then we headed off for a lovely float down the Limay river. It was an easy float in level 1 rapids but we saw many condor and were treated to beautiful views of the valley before heading back to Bariloche and laughing at the amount of dust and dirt we had collected through the day!

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