A gaucho is a South American cowboy. I recently visited Northern Uruguay to see how these guys roll.
First thing I can tell is they know how to put on a good festival. I attended the annual “Patria Gaucha” fiesta, where the gauchos gather to listen to music, dance, drink, eat grilled meat, and most importantly, put their cowboy skills to the test. There was 3 full days lassoing, riding bucking horses, chasing down run-away cattle, etc. These guys are good. At the end of it all was a huge procession with 3,500 horses & riders!
A cowboy on horseback twirling a lasso. Does it get more authentic than this? (pic from AL)
After watching these gauchos do their thing I wanted to give it a go myself. I spent a week at a nearby working enstancia (“ranch”). Every day my fellow guests and I would saddle up, herd cattle or sheep (way more fun than you might think), help give vaccinations, even brand the animals. The ranch itself was a beautiful home with wood stoves for cooking and no electricity, except a few hours each night with a generator.
Clouds hang over two riders
This cattle won´t get away with yours truly on the case
You are probably wondering: Exactly how does one go about branding cattle? Glad you asked. This is the perfect segue into the next installment of my “How To” series on The Unique Art of World Travel. (Is there no end to my usefulness?? It´s amazing…) Here is how to work this one:
1. Herd the cattle into the chute
2. Heat the branding iron in a fire
3. Get your buddy to restrain the cow by the tail
4. Leave your mark
Now, for safety reasons, the guests at the estancia are not supposed to gallop on the horses. But, I need to tell you, a couple times, when I was trying to divert a fast-moving herd or chasing a stray cow, my horse broke into one. Galloping is amazing! The ride gets silky smooth and the ground underneath whizzes by! I knew I should pull the riens right away, but gallopping is so much fun it was impossible for me to do so without a slight delay ;) I get this incredible urge to twirl my cowboy hat over my head and yell, “Yeehaw!” To be honest, this may have happened. Giggling like a small child at Christmas. I don´t think it is overly dramatic to say it feels like bit like flying. Only better, because you are not being transported by some machine, but by a living, breathing beast. You and he are in it together.
Horses: beautiful, powerful creatures that are willing to carry my lazy butt around. Mark it down — I´m a horse fan.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I have been doing a lot of talking about Argentinian grilled meat. Maybe I spoke too soon… the Uruguayan parilla (BBQ) is right up there. If you are ever in Montevideo, you MUST go down to the Puerto Mercado. It is a meat-eaters paradise. When I walked in, I started giggling like a small child on Christmas morning. If you like grilled meat, just do as I say: find a partner in crime, free up 2 – 3 hours on your schedule for meat consumption, go to any of the grills at the market, and order the “parilla for 2”. You can send “thank you´s” to my email address.
A Uruguayan parilla at the Puerto Mercado. The coals slow-cook the meat over the course of hours. These guys know what they’re doing.
If you have been to the Patagonias you will be familiar with mate, an herbal tea that is popular. I claim that Uruguay is actually the mate capital of the world. I swear every man, woman and child has a mate cup and thermos permanently stuck under their arm. They drink the stuff at parties, on the buses, in the grocery store. I can picture them on the toilet with it.
As I like to say, in travel, timing is everything. Out of pure luck, my first day in Uruguay was actually the inauguration of their new president. I stumbled upon this great party. There were thousands of people everywhere, food stalls, drinking in the streets, live music, dancing, and hundreds of flags flying. Watch the video. Feel the energy:
For your viewing pleasure, you can find more Uruguay pictures here.
Mark it down: I am an Uruguay fan.