Postcard from Argentina: part six

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye’s constant quest for adventure has taken her back to Argentina – the land of gauchos, glaciers, football, tango and beef

Continued from last time

Buenas dias dear reader,

And just like that, it’s autumn (otono) in Argentina. Sure it’s still  t-shirt temperatures by day, but going out at night  – cue the violins – now necessitates the wearing of long sleeves.

Autumn in Argentina also signals the end of the political honeymoon for Mauricio Macri. The international investment community may continue to be smitten with the new Argentine president, who assumed office at the start of summer on 10 December 2015. However an increasing number of Argentines aren’t happy with the measures Macri has taken to make Argentina a market darling (Barack Obama’s recent visit – just over 100 days into Macri’s term – was the first to the South American country by a US president since 2005) again.

The blue eyed businessman – the first centre-right leader to come to power since Argentina returned to democracy in 1983 – recently reached deals with US creditors who had balked at the ‘no pay’ stance of ‘Queen’ Cristina (Macri’s predecessor) in the wake of the country’s 2002 default on US$100 billion in bonds. As a result, Argentina will now pay US$4.65 billion to the hedge funds –  a 25 percent haircut on the funds’ original demands. Macri justified the deal claiming:”If Argentina is left out the world, you can not even begin to walk the path of development.”

But if the plethora of protests – as much a daily event here in Argentina as an asado (bbq) – against Macri and the new government are anything to go by, it seems that the Argentines would rather their country was kept out in the cold than endure the president’s painful austerity measures.

20160224_151128

Case in point? The Argentines are used to electricity subsidies (monthly charges of 50 pesos or less for electricity were common under Cristina’s watch). Consequently Macri’s price increase of 300% – regardless of the fact that it has been for the good of the country (I can’t count the number of times, my apartment was without electricity for at least 48 hours when it was close to 100 degrees outside during the Peronist reign) has been a bitter pill for the people to swallow.

Nor have the Argentines – who by all accounts are better at life than most of us, juggling 101 jobs and hobbies well into the early hours – reacted well to the sticker shocker that greeted them in the supermarket (prices for their beloved beef are up by 60 per cent) on their return from their summer holidays.

20160224_151232

Marci may have claimed in a recent interview with an Argentine TV outlet that “the gradual way out of the disaster left [by previous governments] is via gradual austerity,” but his belt-tightening ​measures are alien to the average Argentine who – as the old adage goes – will make one peso and spend two.

Make no mistake: Buenos Aires’ former mayor has made great strides in reviving Argentina’s ailing economy (thus fulfilling his election motto of “let’s change”) but he has a mammoth job on his hands in trying to placate the fiery local population who, under the Peronist Kirchners and their socialist policies, became accustomed to the good life…

20160221_141659

Yet while Macri and the Argentines are rolling up their sleeves and returning to the office, I saw the start of Autumn as the perfect time to roll up my clothes into an overnight bag and escape to an estancia (ranch) so as to experience gaucho culture – without the crowds.

Gaucho (pronounced gow-chose) culture has always held an allure for me and for obvious reasons. Gauchos – much like their American counterpart, the cowboy – were rugged risk takers who preferred to pass days full of adventure under the wide open skies as opposed to be confined to a particular city or place.

As both a freelance journalist who doesn’t keep regular hours (I hate regular hours) and a wanderer hell bent on seeing seeing new places (I am someone who is always thinking of world as a whole and planning trips to some part I haven’t yet seen), I can relate, in some small way, to the gauchos’ nomadic lifestyle.

Argentina’s gauchos never knew the the order and convention of domestic life. Rather they relished the excitement, the movement and the constant moments of crisis that life on horseback in the Pampas (a fertile lowland area of Argentina) afforded them. They were afraid of regularity which, for the gauchos, meant dullness.

20160314_191554

But it wasn’t until the Argentine War of Independence (fought from 1810-18), when the gauchos were able to employ their knowledge and experience of the Pampas (an area that stretches from Patagonia to Uruguay) to aid Argentina in winning independence from Spain, that the gaucho became a national hero.

20160306_142004

Their legend was cemented in stories such as Don Segundo Sombra (which tells the tale of two gauchos) by Ricardo Güiraldes and poems like José Hernández’s epic 2,316 line Martín Fierro. Today the composition with its famous stanza “A son am I of the rolling plain, A gaucho born and bred, And this is my pride, to live as free as the bird that cleaves the sky” has been translated into 19 languages and is one of the most widely read, analysed, and discussed pieces of literature ever produced in Argentina.

20160314_133106

But the aforementioned masterpieces weren’t enough to save the gaucho, whose demise occurred in the late 19th century. The reduction of labour costs in the countryside, forced many gauchos onto estancias (ranches) where they still got to work with their beloved horses (as the saying goes, “A gaucho without a horse is only half a man”) but felt stifled in that they were settled with regular wages and responsibilities.

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.

To be continued tomorrow

To read the second part of Kaye’s postcard from Argentina: part five, don’t forget to log onto Just About Travel tomorrow!

To read part one of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part two of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part three of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part four of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here and here

To read part five of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here and here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,