World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Gustavo the Gaucho

Taking a break from eating and hiking in Argentina, I wanted to go horseback riding. I had been looking forward to this for much of the trip.  Since I was eight, I’ve imagined going to Argentina and seeing what the life of a gaucho was like.  It all started with Goofy in Disney’s 1940s animated show about Latin America called “Saludos Amigos.”

We were met at Casa Los Sauces by Gustavo, a man who truly looks like the horsey type in chaps, boots and the curious addition of an orange beret. We were taken by van to his house, rustic place with a newly-caught  hare hanging upside down outside, where we quietly signed a waiver. 

After hopscotching around his many dogs and small mounds of dung, we were put on seasoned, docile horses.  Here, we received a quick lesson on reign directions (I had rarely ridden since childhood) and then we were off.

We rode out to lake Argentino and our horses largely took over. They seemed quite in control; not wanting to exert themselves. We were accompanied by the pack of dogs from Gustavo’s yard. This motley canine crew was a pack of half-a-dozen muts including a greyhound mix, pointer mix and terrier mix. 

We rode for over an hour and a half and stopped near the beach for a light picnic of picados: ham, salami, cheese and bread and a couple cups of wine. Sitting down, Gustavo said in Spanish “now shall we eat like Anthony Bourdain?” 

We laughed and asked him if he liked “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. “Es mi Amigo!” replied Gustavo. We learned that that Gustavo had guided Bourdain on an episode of No Reservations on a five day horse trek of Argentina for the show. We asked what that was like.  He said it was a lot of fun and that Bourdain can really drink a lot. No surprise there!

We discussed horses, dogs, religion and a little politics.  We learned that despite growing up in Buenos Aires and studying psychology at university, Gustavo had decided to choose the life of a gaucho due to his love of horses. He now owns 150 horses and lives a happy life in tourism in Patagonia rather than herding cattle on the Pampas. Mother nature was his religion.The lifestyle keeps him busy; doing the things he loves.
We ate a bit more and drank a little wine and then saddled up for the ride home. The dogs, which had been napping away, during our lunch excitedly, began sniffing around for something to chase. Soon they were off on the scent of something that was moving quickly across the grass. The something was a Patagonian hare. The greyhound mix gave chase, but she was foiled by the hare’s sharp turns.  The pointer mix—just off to the side—swooped in and took down the big bunny.  Another dog named Azul retrieved the hare, bringing it to Gustavo. The brief and not so glamorous hunt was exciting: there was a moment of exhilaration when the dogs lost, but then ultimately caught the hare.

We took the hare and the pack of excited dogs back to the ramshackle house. We sat on a bench and looked at an old photo album and politely had a sip of the very bitter yerba mate, a green tea popular in Argentina.  Thanking Gustavo for an unforgettable day, I finally had my "gaucho experience;" however, temporal.

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