Even at golf cart speed it only takes an afternoon to learn your way around Harbour Island, just east of Eluthera in the Bahamas. It is, after all, only 3.5 miles long and less than a mile wide. You quickly make friendly relationships with pretty much everyone you meet, especially with the straw weaver lady who would make something special just for you and remember your name, or with Jeana who will smilingly rent you a brand new red golf cart as you step onto the town dock. But to really plumb the depths of the sweet, slow lifestyle and guileless welcoming nature of the people who live and work there might take a long time.The people of the island are cheery and engaging. They tend to the land, each other, and visitors with the same quiet joy as they do the tides, the sunset, and the catch of the day.

Of the 11 hotels on the island, we stayed at two different ones. The first, Pink Sands is on the morning side of the island. We really owe thanks to the person who decorated around there. The luscious colors, fanciful and sophisticated blend of art and culture, the architecture and landscaping, which collectively leads to the wide, long, perfect beach is undeniable eye-candy, wrapped in dozens of shades of pink right to the azure sea.
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We haven’t even gotten to the restaurant dinner menu, or the garden breakfasts! Both of these are distinctive blends of local fresh ingredients created for a very savvy palate. I am not sure if the beautiful hens with small herds of chicks in tow were pets or destined for the menu, but they hopped around the edges of the gardens at breakfast each morning making soft sounds of gratitude for the bits of toast that we tossed them.
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The other place we stayed is called Runaway Hill. It seems barely possible to fit your golf cart up the small entrance with its discrete sign at the gate, and the long gently winding drive, as it weaves through the elegant trees towards the beach, is reminiscent of old-fashioned island houses. Runaway Hill is a true B&B in that the guests all seem to become friends, sharing cocktails before dinner at a bar where you make your own drinks and keep your own tab.

Breakfast is served on a covered porch overlooking the impossibly blue ocean. The charming house sits high on the hill with a stunning view down the pink beach. Half-way down the hill on the way to the beach is a small swimming pool surrounded by a large terrace with many beach chairs and umbrellas for afternoon reading. This is home away from home! Roger and Carol have repeat visitors because of their hospitality, creativity, and the great time they deliver along with excellent food and charming rooms.
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During the day we walked or traveled by golf cart all over the island. Everywhere you turn there are charming cottages painted in bright Easter egg colors, with tiny gardens and painted fences. We found something called Girls’ Bank, which caught our attention when a fisherman walked slowly in knee deep water towing his boat like a pet pony across the shoal to beach it for the night.

We found tiny restaurants dotted about Dunmore town, with the spicy fresh aroma of dinner joining the evening breeze. We discovered a bakery called Arthur’s which appears to stand-in for a local Welcome Center and also makes excellent pineapple muffins. There are two marinas, but Valentine’s is the one to visit if you want to go diving.

I loved the Post Office, surely a social epicenter on the island. The Sir George Robert Library looks charming under two huge trees on South Street where it houses photos and island history as well as an impressive collection of reading material. The medical center is behind the library, and while we didn’t visit there we discovered that a local character called Uncle Ralph supports it in part by allowing visitors to photograph his eclectic hand-painted signs and then toss change into a cup, which he donates to the cause.

There are Catholic, Methodist, and Anglican churches as well as the Church of God. Leaning under a tree was a fire truck that would make any insurance agent cringe, but we never did find one of those agencies. There is a Royal Bank of Canada which had fax and email services, and a School For All Ages that seemed to climb up the hill as kids poured out of open doors to play in the sunlight. There are two real estate offices that we saw, a Piggly Wiggly, three gift shops, and a surprisingly sophisticated art gallery in a bright pink building with no discernable right angles.

There are a few booths along the bay side where we find woven straw, shells and combinations of these “tings” for sale. The hand-made gifts are sweet but we went there shopping a little each day as much for the conversations as for the presents for those at home. I bought two huge pink and gold conch shells and thus met Sarah, the senior merchant of Bay Street. Later I was told that Sarah is pushing 90. While she can be on the terse side and her hours are a tad irregular these days, she still opens her booth every day and has as far back as anyone can remember.

Shopping in the late afternoon became a grand excuse to walk across the street when the booths close at 5:00 to the Harbour Lounge and watch the sun set over Eleuthera in the company of a fine frozen fruit rum drink.

The nightlife of Harbour Island is spare and mostly centered around sunsets, music and rum. We heard about the frequent evenings of live music at Seagrapes, and rather wild parties at Vic-Hum. Gusty’s is reputed to be a local spot that finds visitors to be good entertainment, and returns in kind. We were of a mind to enjoy the quiet so nightlife for us was chatting with guests from other cottages, walking on the beach in the moonlight, or playing pool on the coral colored table while listening to the exotic music in the club room at Pink Sands.

Perhaps it is that Harbour Island takes just one more transition to reach than Eleuthera, or perhaps it is simply that visitors and locals alike have decided to live in slow elegant simplicity, but if you make your way there you will find that the casual friendliness, excellent food and folk art beauty of this tiny island gives you a warm glow that will last longer than your tan.

As mature travelers, we want a certain level of comfort and convenience. As frequent travelers, we also look for good value. We have become comfortable with booking our own air, hotels and activities, and were in the midst of deciding from among destinations in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America. The Internet has put this whole process at our fingertips. But, even for experienced travelers, putting together a lengthy point to point trip can be tedious, and that is the value of a qualified travel agency for most vacationers.

We opened an email one morning this winter that contained an offer that would enable us to combine a prepackaged vacation with our own desires for adventure and some self-styled outings, as well. This seemed like the ideal compromise, so we investigated in depth.

It was a cruise that would take us to three continents – South America, Africa, and Europe, all in 23 days. We would fly from Fort Lauderdale to the Amazon and make several stops in Brazil. Next, we would traverse the Atlantic to Africa, stopping in Senegal and Morocco. We would cross the equator twice. The journey would also take us through the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain, France, and Italy. We didn’t want an If This is Tuesday It Must be Belgium experience, but this trip exuded the sort of excitement and variety we were seeking at a lower cost and with greater ease than any of our self-plan alternatives.

Travel to more exotic destinations requires more homework. We finally left many health-related decisions in the hands of an experienced physician who ran a nearby travel clinic. After a few inoculations and the acquisition of emergency medications, super-strength insect repellents, and sunscreens, a Brazilian visa, and some good guidebooks, we felt we were prepared for the trip of a lifetime.

And what an odyssey awaited us! We would embark on a cruise aboard the 1200-passenger Royal Princess. Cruises may conjure up images of dance lines, Bbingo, and noisy announcements from the cruise director, the stereotype of the better-known Caribbean voyages. However, this was a trip for people who are destination-oriented. The Royal Princess is a classic ship, built in the 1980s as the flagship of its fleet, before such things as video arcades and rock climbing walls were added, and had recently been refurbished. Some areas could have benefited from a bit of redecorating, but all the comforts, services, and amenities we sought were certainly found aboard.

We unpacked once we had arrived in the Amazon, and didn’t need to think about packing up or changing accommodations until we approached Rome. This is the delight and convenience of the cruise experience. We floated from destination to destination as we slept, dined on gourmet meals, and enjoyed the varied entertainment onboard. Once in a port, we were well-fed, well-rested, and prepared to spend the day however we pleased in a new and exciting port.

Purists might ask “Is cruising a superficial way to see a country and its culture?” It can be. We’ve had deeper cultural experiences by renting a flat for a few weeks and living like a local. However, there isn’t time to see the whole world this way, and it is fun to sample what there is to see and do before investing a great deal of time and money in one place. It’s astounding how much of a culture can be appreciated in just a day when all your logistical needs are cared for.

The excitement began with our arrival in Florida in preparation for our charter flight to the Amazon. Everyone had to be in Fort Lauderdale a day ahead in order to be on the early-morning flight to Manaus. Manaus is the capital of Amazonas, the largest state of Brazil, and was, around the turn of the century, the only source of the world’s rubber supply. It is a lively city in an area filled with superlatives. I would like to share some experiences from our journey along the river that contains more water than any other in the world, the Amazon, and our visit to a small portion of the largest tropical rainforest on earth…
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We were assigned to the first of two charter flights and arrived in Manaus in the early afternoon. There was plenty of time to settle in and relax in anticipation of the pleasures that were in store for us. Approaching the bustling port, we could see the Royal Princess, which was surrounded by all sorts of exotic-looking local boats. We were immediately captivated by the sights, sounds, and pulse of the Amazon lifestyle.
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Just watching the cultural potpourri on the river was absorbing. Many local people arrive early in the morning for an evening riverboat departure in order to ensure a good spot for their hammocks. Some also bring family members, food, animals, and packages for the journey along the river, which can last up to a week or more. We could envision the experience as these boats bob and the hammocks sway! Meanwhile, we headed into our comfortable and luxurious ship to relax in our cabin before being served lunch onboard.

No tours were scheduled for this day of arrival, but most of us found time to explore a bit on our own. Some arrived early enough to take a walk in the city and see the Opera House, built of materials imported from Europe during the booming economic times of the rubber barons. Others strolled to the nearby market area where produce is brought in from all over the Amazon. The Customs House there was built around the turn of the century of Spanish bricks, and the Municipal Market was also built from European materials, including wrought iron said to be designed by Gustave Eiffel.

The Amazon basin was hot, but not unbearably so. We went out after lunch to use the inexpensive and convenient Internet Café, an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family. That night, there was a folkloric show on the dock. It was a spectacle filled with exotic sounds, colorful costumes, fire breathers, and masked and feathered performers. The level of energy was so great that most of the photos taken in the dark of night were too blurred to fully capture the experience.
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We awakened to a beautiful sunny day. However, we were headed to the rainforest, and showers seemed inevitable. We took a local riverboat along the Rio Negro, then a motorized canoe along the igarapes, or tributaries, passing the huts of the ribeirinhos (river people) along the banks. Many of these local people paddled up to our canoe to show us local creatures. They must have been encouraged by the tour company, because they were stationed at convenient intervals with a wide variety of animals. Sometimes it seemed like a Disney production! It was an entertaining way to insure wildlife sightings, and we were captivated.

No showers so far, but the prospect loomed. We were in the tropics. This, too, was a day of sensory delight to the eyes, and ears. We were indeed on an adventure! Insects proved not much of a problem, but we were well armed, just in case! We were told that the waters in this area are too acidic to support insect life.

Soon we were back on our local riverboat for a stop at Lake Janauary Ecological Park. We climbed to a walkway that took us through the tree tops to view the lake’s giant Amazon water lilies. Within moments, a cayman, the local alligator, appeared atop one of the lily pads. Nature flourished everywhere in the Amazon!
We relaxed and enjoyed the view from a local restaurant and souvenir stand. Opting to be cautious and not eat the local cuisine on the first day of our trip, we stuck with a snack and beverage we’d brought along.

Back on the riverboat, we headed to an area beyond the confluence of the clear dark Rio Negro and the murky Rio Solimoes. In this region, called “The Meeting of the Waters”, the rivers run side-by-side for over 12 miles before mixing together. There is a striking visible contrast between the two, which vary in density, temperature, acidity, suspended sediments, and velocity. Some say it looks like coffee with and without cream. Both grey and pink dolphins are found in this area, and we spotted a few grey ones — too fast for the camera.

Later, we stopped at a settlement on Terranova Island. The rain had traveled to the area we just left. Beautiful sunny skies still! We visited a family with seven children that lived in a typical hut. The children each had a local animal or flower to show us, and donations were welcomed. We watched as the men processed manioc, a locally grown plant used to produce tapioca, and marveled at the variety of plants and trees that surrounded us.

We were ready by this time to return to the ship for a leisurely dinner after the first full day of our journey aboard the Royal Princess. En route, we passed major industrialized regions, multinational factories, and modern middle-class apartments. Such diversity! This was just the first full day of our trip. What adventures must await!

The next day was a leisurely one, stopping at a typical village in the area where the Amazon River meets the Rio da Valeria. Boca da Valeria, with about 75 permanent residents, proved to be a fascinating place to spend a few hours, and no tours were planned. We simply wandered about, looking at local crafts, some passengers giving little gifts to the children, and nearly everyone snapping pictures.

The natives know that tourists are looking for photo opportunities, and many entrepreneurial parents dressed their children in Indian costumes, knowing that tips would be given. We knew that this was not the normal attire, but couldn’t resist taking a few photos of these obliging youngsters. We brought along small toys and school supplies for the children, some of whom had jungle pets to show us, and these were well-received.

Some villagers invited us into their homes. The houses, with modest exteriors, were simple yet quite comfortable inside, like a rustic beach house in the US.

The setting was remote but idyllic. We couldn’t resist buying a local woodcarving, despite warnings about termites. We checked it carefully and headed back to our ship. Dinner time was fast approaching, but we’d forgotten all about eating lunch and wanted a snack. No problem. We were on a cruise ship. We opted for the formal afternoon tea.

In the evening we sailed along, enjoying a beautiful sunset during dinner. Yes, the sun was still shining for us! We would have three leisurely days at sea, sailing along the Amazon and rounding the coast of Brazil en route to Recife. Known as “The Venice of Brazil”, Recife is home to 1.5 million people. Quite a contrast to our last port! We would later sail from this, the easternmost point of South America, to Dakar, Senegal, the westernmost point of Africa, the second of the three continents we would be visiting. This was surely becoming the trip of a lifetime!

No visit to Argentina is complete without seeing first-hand the cowboy life on a typical ranch because the country is proud of its international reputation for producing the best beef in the world.
The most efficient and helpful Concierge desk at our elegant five-star Park Towers Sheraton Retiro Hotel arranged the tour for us, saying it is the best tour of its kind. We had enjoyed our luxurious room and a fabulous breakfast in the lovely Park Towers Cardinale dining room overlooking the city. Our tour was to one of the oldest and most traditional ranches remaining in the Pampas countryside near Buenos Aires. Pablo Pascale, our well-informed and enthusiastic guide for our Estacion and Gaucho Tour, entertained and informed us all about Argentine traditions and ranching skills during the hour-long, 70 km, bus ride.

 

We entered the pampas, flatlands, where we saw soybeans, pampas grass, and grains growing, the breadbasket of Argentina and South America. Many small hardwood forests are throughout the area. Farm houses are small ,and the old ones have orange tile roofs and are of local sandstone brick or stucco, whitewashed. A windmill here and there are reminders of older days when these remote places had to be self-sufficient. Now there are also golf courses, riding stables and small businesses along the two-lane highway, which is heavily traveled. There are also many campgrounds and small cabins for rent.

 

At San Antonio Estación de Padua we saw at first-hand the historical ways of running a South American cattle ranch.
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This Estación is very important as the oldest ranch in Buenos Aires Province and everything is still done by ancient ranching methods. The same family has lived here since the 1800’s. The town of Areco is considered the capital of the original traditions having been built by Catholic padres who established the church here in honor of San Antonio de Padua.

 

San Antonio Areco is center for Argentina’s National Gaucho tradition and on Nov 11 each year is center of a huge festival with demonstrations by gauchos and horses from all over Argentina, as well as a big Craft Fair. There are also food booths with typical dishes from all areas of the country.

 

For city slickers who go to Argentina visiting this Estación is a must. Plan a whole day as you’ll be gone from before 10 a.m. until about 6 p.m. This one is the best remaining example of the original gaucho way of life from ancient times.
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In the 17th Century Gaucho originally meant “orphan” because the first gauchos were children of a mixed union between the Spanish conquerors and the local Indians. The child was abandoned to live on his own, not accepted by either culture. Roaming free he had to become self-sufficient, sleep under the trees and stars and learn the way of the land and animals. He learned to capture wild horses and break them. Gradually, the cowboy culture grew up and the Spaniards needed help tending the herds. And gauchos became a macho symbol. A gaucho’s wife in those days was considered inferior and called chinas, another derogatory term. Now the term is still used but in friendly way to refer to gaucho women.

 

At the Estación headquarters the owner’s family for over 100 years lived in the big hacienda, now a museum of family antiques and interesting ranch artifacts, including saddlery, objects of art, family photographs, furniture and metal works of the 19th Century.
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Nearby is the beautiful little white adobe Estación Capella (chapel),with bell steeple, straw roof, and green vines twining over the arched doorway. The stained glass image of Christ and the Madonna on the altar are in front of several pews where the family and workers worship, true to their Catholic heritage.

 

Just across from the chapel is the bunk house and outdoor domed adobe oven and well. All the thick walls of the ranch buildings are made of a mixture of clay and manure which is packed into a wood frame while wet and is sunbaked. The frame is removed and the adobe is whitewashed. The roofs are bundles of ranch-grown straw expertly attached by the ranchhands, and even with much rain in winter these roofs last about a decade.

 

The Chinas (ranch women) welcomed us upon arrival at the Pub, where gauchos meet with friends at night to sing and dance. We enjoyed tasty snacks from baskets of the local favorite: empanadas, delicious mixtures of grilled meat and vegetables wrapped in pastry and fried. These were so tasty with beer, wine, soft drinks. We wandered around the peaceful, pastoral greens. Behind the pub we saw our lunch sizzling on the grills and spits in the parilla house, where food is prepared in a tiered open-air grill under a thatch roof.
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For about an hour we were free to roam the ranch, and many visitors chose to ride on horseback or in the horse-drawn wagon. Gauchos were dressed in traditional garb of colorful blouson styled shirts, black pants, elaborate leather belts bedecked with coins and silver chains and emblems. These gauchos do not wear the expected cowboy hats but black tams which extend over the forehead and somewhat protect their eyes from the sun. To our surprise, none wore cowboy boots; instead they wore soft canvas and rubber-soled shoes that resembled ballet slippers, which they say conforms to the land and the stirrups and are more comfortable to work in.
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Gauchos saddled about a dozen large, beautiful horses, which appeared to have a mixture of quarter horse and thoroughbred. They are from the wild horses in Patagonia and are broken and trained on the ranch here by these young men. Argentine GauchosThe saddles are typical and unique to Argentina: First to be placed on the horse is one or more colorful, thick wool, woven blankets, then a wood and leather frame which resembles a pack saddle with no seat but does have molded leather knee and back rests. Next comes the second separate part of the saddle, a thin rawhide piece to which the silver stirrups are attached is laid over the saddle. A Patagonian sheepskin of thick wool is then placed over the stirrup strap, and the rider climbs on to sit comfortably cushioned. Everyone who wanted to got to ride a horse about a mile with the Gauchos close by to help and instruct. The beautiful horses were gentle and well-trained and were of many colors; sorrel, paint, appaloosa, black and chestnut. First time novices and expert riders alike loved the experience, and the on-lookers had just as much fun.
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Adjourning to the large ranch dining room we enjoyed a typical gaucho meal of lettuce and tomato salad, bread, potato salad, and parilla (grilled beef) and sausages.
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Plenty of beer, wine and soft drinks were available. During ice cream and very strong, slightly bitter, ranch-style coffee, the typical gaucho entertainment began. Historically these hard-working men lived far from any other civilization and created their own fun, usually after a hard day’s labor. Amateur musicians, just friends and not pros, would gather and begin playing accordions, drums, guitars, or whatever instruments they had, just for fun and for their friends’ enjoyment.
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We were treated to the old style of Argentine gaucho music and to see many of the original dances performed by a young china in loose white overblouse and full print skirt with ruffle. Her partner was a very talented gaucho dressed in black with a fancy belt and a menacing knife at the back of his waist. He wore his pants tucked into his knee-high, soft leather, black boots. They performed many of the old gaucho dances: samba, gato, chucarreira, escantido… flirtatious dances mostly performed with partners going apart and back toward each other, but only touching hands occasionally.

 

On the bandoña, an accordion-like instrument, a man played Mi Longo, the first Tango tune. Then the patrón performed the ancient Indian Mylando dance, the only Argentine dance which a man performs alone. It is fast with foot-stomping heeled gaucho boots reminiscent of tap-dancing. This dance, performed fast in the north and more slowly in the south, requires a strong heart and well-developed leg muscles.

 

Next the gaucho dancers and la china selelcted random partners from among the tourists, and we all enjoyed some after lunch rhythmic workouts on the dance floor to the syncopated tunes, laughing, clapping, whirling, and snapping photographs. It was lots of fun!

 

Adjourning outside we were delighted by the gaucho horse show which followed. The performance, which demonstrates the excellent precision horsemanship of these cowboys, had an interesting origin. It seems that three gauchos were in love with the same young woman. These met in a bar one night and after some drinking the bar tender feared a dangerous showdown was about to ensue, with each gaucho trying to defeat or perhaps kill the others to win the young lady. The bartender produced a small ring on a ribbon and hung it on a tree and said whoever could ride at a fast gallop and capture the ring on a little stick as he rode past would win the young woman. The feat has been a tradition ever since. When a young gaucho wants to marry a woman, he gives her a ring on a ribbon. If she accepts, he must demonstrate his horsemanship by capturing the ring on a small stick at full gallop before the couple can marry. We watched these excellent riders perform this seemingly impossible skill many times.
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Just before the end of our afternoon one gaucho demonstrated the use of the bolo, which is three leather-covered rocks on long straps which are thrown in lasso style at the legs of an escaping cow or ostrich (neando). The straps wrap around the legs, tripping the animal to a stop. Throwing the bolo requires much skill.

 

We highly recommend this day tour as a real education into the traditions of this wonderful country, to see how the men work in order to raise the famous best beef in the world. Pablo Pascale, our excellent guide, was even so kind and thorough as to send the following technical descriptions of the terms pertaining to this tour. This is fascinating to read and know before you go, or for a school report for young people researching Argentina, or cowboys, or South American life.

 

 

PEOPLE

 

The Gaucho
The word “gaucho” was used in the regions of the River Plate, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil,(although there the word is gaúcho) to name the horse riders of the planes or “pampas”, who kept cattle. The origin of this word is not very clear. “Guahu-che” is the most popular one and means “people who sings sadly”; it comes form araucano and denotes melancholy. The `gaucho’ is the fruit of the mixture of Spanish and aborigine blood; he started to create his own personality in the primitive vaquerías of the colonies. There he learned the tasks connected to cattle rising with a singular skill and founded his body to his inseparable friend: the horse. He spends most of the time on horseback, that is why he hates agriculture, since he must be standing all day long. His indomitable value made him the bases of the South American Independence. He was a shepherd in times of peace and a soldier in times of war. The big area of the “pampas”planes finally moulds his conduct. He is very free, of simple habits and leads a wandering life. That freedom which he faces his life with brings back to him a lot of misfortunes. He was excluded for a long time, but as time passes by he was popularly accepted and the word gaucho is now synonym of uprightness and nobility of heart.

 

The China
The “Gaucha” is also called “China”. She was the loyal companion of the “gaucho”. Her occupation was to grow corn, watermelon and onion. She baked their bread and used the mortar and pestle for crushing the charque, the wheat and corn. She brought up the children and she also wove her companion’s ponchos. She was as a good rider as he was. She used to wear a cotton shirt, underskirt and headscarf. She usually wore two braids. Sometimes she would also wear a loose and low-cut dress. She liked smoking.

 

The Baquiano
He was a “walking map” of those difficult or rather wild regions. He knew the land pretty well, that is the reason why the military forces wanted him to guide them in their campaigns. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in his book “Facundo” says: “The “baqueano” is a serious and reserved “gaucho” that knows twenty thousand square leagues of plain, mountain and wood. He is the only map that a general takes to direct the movements of his campaign. A “baqueano” finds a path that meets the way he is following, he knows the remote stream this path leads to. If he find a thousand paths, he knows all of them. He knows the hidden ford of a river. In the deepest night, in the middle of the woods or in the endless plain…”

 

The Capataz
The “Capataz” was the person in charge of the farming and the management of a ranch or farm.
This man knew the work in the fields, in the corrals and the roundup or rodeo; he did this on foot or on horseback.
In front of his farm workers he had to be an example of honesty, love and friendliness towards his family and work so he was respected and his orderers were obeyed.

 

The Chasque
The “chasque” or “chasqui”-a quichua word that means messanger- it was the name given to the horse riders in the pampas. They delivered messages or mails to other regions. With their admirable speed they traveled over wide forests and hot sands,delivering the urgent communications descretly.
This man was the precursor of the modern post in the Argentinian countryside.

 

The Domador
The domador is the only job that has been maintained trough time. The rude image of the “gaucho” in equal fight with the colt is still a symbol in our country. Before beginning the training the “gaucho” must tie the colt to the “palenque”(tethering-post), brush it, wash it and caress it. Then he must make the colt feel the weight of the saddle and finally ride it. Prances, wild runs, an occasional tumble are part of the taming. Skillfully, bravely without harming it, the “domador” turns the wildest colt into his best friend: the horse.

 

The Estanciero, The Rancher
Another “gaucho” who, because of his economical position, was different from the commonly known one, was the “estanciero” (rancher). A man who was as skillful for the farming tasks as his laborers were, and he was dressed like them, although in a luxurious way. In the farm he wore a “chiripá” made of poncho cloth, luxurious vests, broad-brimmed hat and a scarf which closed the wide necked shirt. Fine “calzoncillos cribados”, hand made boots and silver spurs completed the attire and he often used his hair long, tied in a plait called “coleta”.
So we have Urquiza, and Rosas who was said to be the “most gaucho of all gauchos.”

 

The Marucho
The “marucho” was the person who took care of the oxen and the mules when they camped for eating, sleeping or during bad weather when the cattle could not move because of the bad state of the roads. As it was a light work, the “marucho”was a young man.

 

The Mayordomo, The Steward
It was the gaucho in charge of administrating estancias, and the farm operations depended on him. For this reason he had to do his job in a fair way. He had to be the first man who got up in the morning and made the “capataz” (leader) carry on his tasks. Not only did he direct the workers but he also knew very well the farming jobs, such as the “piala” (lasso), the “doma” (taming) or the “yerra”. He also used to go round the night posts to watch the farm and keep burglars away.

 

The Payador
The “payador”was one of the ways in which the “gaucho” used to show off. Acompanied by a guitar he used to sing, almost recite the poems that he improvised about any proposed subject. When two “payadores” met, they made duels of “payadas” so that one of them tried to defeat the other. These duels lasted according to the performers’ skills. That is the “payada de contrapunto”(singing match). The “payador” was a source of inspiration for the poet Rafael Obligado in the conception of his famous character Santos Vega. Sarmiento described the “payador” like this: “The singer has no settled place of living. His home is in the place where the night meets him. His fortune consists of his poems and his voice.

 

The Puestero
The “Puestero” is the farm worker who takes care of a post in the estancia. He may own of a flock of sheep or he may look after them sharing a half or a third part of the wool and the litter he obtains along the year with the owner of the flock.
The “puesteros” were the first Argentine farm family. They were men with families in charge of the post in the estancia. If the job was given to a single man, he had to make the compromise of starting a family, either by getting properly married or by stealing a neighbor’s woman.

 

The Pulpero
The pulpero was the gaucho who helped in a pulpería. Most of these men were very little learned. He not only sold wine, food and other alcoholic drinks, but also sold coffee during winter. In the summer he wore a shirt without vest, calzoncillos cribados and chiripá made of sheets or other light material. He sometimes wore flip-flop. The pulpero helped the servants who went for the necessary goods for the house like yerba, sugar or the ones who went for a drink.

 

The Rastreador
He was an expert in finding lost, robbed or fugitive animals or people. To do that he “read” with a great skill the tracks left on the ground and surroundings. He could discover in a simple track the things that nobody, at first sight, could see. He was an efficient police help because of the amazing ease with which he identified unknown people. The General Lucio V. Mansilla, in his book “A tour to the Ranqueles Indians” says: “…not only do they recognize by the footprints if the animal that left them is fat or thin, but also if it is blind in one eye or not…”

 

The Resero
He was the “tropero” (cowboy) of Entre Ríos and Corrientes. His job was to take the cows apart and then guide the herd. His names derive from “res”(animal) and “tropa” (herd).
They were so fond of wandering that it was said: “To arrive is, for the “resero”, no more than an excuse for leaving”

 

 

HABITAT

 

The Pampa
The Pampa: this name was given to the plain from the banks of the River Plate and the Paraná to the Andes foothills, and from the Patagonia to the south of Santa Fé and Córdoba.
“Pampa” is a quechua word and it means “open country”.

 

The Thistle
The thistle is a perennial plant of the compound family, with eatable fleshy leaves. They are weeds that spread easily because the wind scatters its downy fruits. They have thorny and prickly leaves. They grow in abandoned places and invade gardens, prairies and sown fields. They are destroyed by means of plowing, spraying or burning the fields. The thistles have straight stems that can reach two meters high. The roots spread all the time giving birth to new plants. Its numerous bunches of flowers are blue or purple.

 

The Ombú
The “ombú” is a tree of the fitolacaceas family. It symbolizes the pampa. It is a word of Guaraní origin: “ombú” means shadow or dark bulk. It is considered a big bush better than a tree. It has a thick and white bark, soft wood, alternate and simple leaves, with unisex flowers in bunches that are longer than the leaves. It grows very well in the pampean plain and its generous shade shelters the travelers and the humble “rancho” being itself a part of the landscape. The “ombú” is original from Argentina and no other tree has so much right to the name of “gaucho tree” as the “ombú” has. The country man looked for it when he was about to build his “rancho”, for its relaxing shade and its coolness protected him from hot and winter storms. The “ombú’ lives for centuries, straight and firm with its enormous green top. There is no hurricane able to blow it down and not a lightning bolt able to burn it up. Its medicinal leaves, boiled in water, are an efficient laxative.

 

The Pajonal
The scrubland is called to a place full of bushes, reeds or similar vegetation than grows in low and wet places. All kinds of straw used for the building and roof of the “rancho”: reeds, bullrush, reached great height and covered big areas; that group of plants, called straw for being long, thin and light, formed the scrubland.
A great part of the wild animals of the region lived in the scrubland. The “gaucho” also found a safe hiding place there when running away from the Indians or the police.

 

The Seibo
The “seibo” is a tree that belongs to the pulse family, the same as the French bean and the acacia. It is original of South America, it adorns the river banks when it is covered with its thick bunches of big red flowers. The “seibo” flower has been chosen as the “National Flower” of Argentina and Uruguay. The “seibo” spreads out easily through stalks and seeds. It is grown as ornamental species in parks or gardens.
There are other “seibo” species, some of pinkish and others of dark red flowers. In 1942, the seibo flower was declared the National Argentine Flower.

 

The Carpincho
It is the biggest rodent that inhabits several regions of South America. It is very similar to the pig for its stiff, rather bristly hair and the general shape of its body. This animal lives on the banks of rivers, lakes and swamps. They splash into the water when a danger threatens them. They are coveted by tigers and hunters, the latest not only want their meat but also their skin, as they always find an easy market for its sale. The main characteristics of these animals are: regular head, small ears, short neck, round and small eyes, round snout, short legs, short and big teeth, it does not have a tail and it eats vegetables.

 

The Hornero
The baker is a bird of the Funáridos family. This bird is very well known and appreciated in South America and it has been pointed out as the national bird of the Argentines. Its nest has the shape of a baker’s kiln, there comes its name.
This bird has dark dun feathers, it is 15 to 20 cm long, its beak is short and its tail is long. It flies in short flights. It eats insects, worms, grains and seeds. It shows a great happiness when it rains, because it can continue the building and leave the prints of its legs in the mud, as ornament of its nest. This animal has a great ability to build extraordinary nests made of mud, and sometimes straw. It builds its nest on the crosspieces of the telegraph posts, on the cornices of the houses and on the forks of the trees. It puts the nest in such a way that the entrance is not exposed to cold winds or rain.

 

The Owl
The owl is an animal that lives in the whole American continent. It eats insects and small rodents. It is a predatory nocturnal bird. It has a plain round face, a hooked beak and its eyes are placed at the front. Its feathers are yellow, painted with white, gray and black. It is accused of announce death, specially in the places where ill people live.

 

The -andú
The “ñandú” (South American ostrich) is the South American typical bird. It inhabits the valleys of Brazil, Chile and Argentina to Magellan.
It is very quick and at full speed it makes amazing dodges using its short wings. It eats grass and grains, it is an excellent swimmer and it is easily domesticated. The eggs are coveted because of its size as well as its nutritional value. Several female ostriches use to share a nest, where there can be more than 30 eggs that are incubated by the males. The pampean Indians call it “churi”, “suri” or “choike”. This animal is very similar to the ostrich, it is different from it because it has three toes and a feather-less neck. The `ñandú’ has been long coveted by its feathers (irreplaceable for the confection of feather dusters), by its meat and skin. Its depredation has put this species under danger of extinction. The “gauchos” dedicated to the hunting of the South American Ostrich by means of the lasso with balls. The hunting is done is spring and the beginning of summer. During the hunting of the ostrich the Indians showed their skills and bravery. They would ride their horses at full speed behind the fast birds and throw at them the lasso with balls, so it would certainly get entangled in their legs and the prey would roll on the ground. Today they are hunted by means of traps to avoid destruction and keep the life of the animal.

 

The Peludo
The “peludo” is a variety of armadillo that lives in the pampa plain. It has its back, head and tail covered by a shell formed by mobile pieces. Since this shell is very flexible, it lets the animal make a roll to hide its most vulnerable parts and defend himself from its enemies. This shell is covered by dark, sparse, hard hair. It has very powerful nails with which it digs tunnels at an extraordinary speed. This little animal has, under its shell, a very tasty meat. It is usually hunted at night and especially when there is a full moon. The people of the country call “peludear” to the act of hunting the “peludo”.

 

The Vizcacha
The “vizcacha” is a rodent that was easily found in early times. Still today, in some regions, although it was restlessly followed, is a real plague for the sown fields. Its meat is apt to be consumed and is exported to European countries, and its skin is traded in the skin industry. It is not easily seen because it lives in colonies in underground dens: the vizcacheras. In the Plata area, the izcacheras can have more than 15 entrances. These entrances lead to deep and branched tunnels that sometimes cover between 10 and 20 meters where more than 40 vizcachas live. The vizcacheras are a real danger for the unaware rider who runs the risk of rolling together with its horse.

 

The Well
The well is a store destined to keep drinking water, i.e., good for drinking, cooking and washing. The walls are totally covered by bricks joined with mortar and plastered with a mixture of sand and soil, that prevents the leaking of water. A special tube collects the rain that falls on the roofs of the houses, and takes it to the well, where it is stored for a long time. After awhile, this water must be boiled before drinking.

 

The Corrals
The corrals substituted the pits or ditches and consisted of thick posts of hard wood. The posts were put close together, in a circular way and buried up to a certain height. The gate was made by other crossed posts, tied with “guascas” (stripes of leather). Later, eight or nine wires tied to the posts were added to the building of these corrals. These corrals were built in a circular way so that the wild animals would not hurt themselves.

 

The Estancia
The `estancias’ constituted the firm basis of the cattle raising. The rancher is the owner of the estancia, the one who gives the orders to the post men and these men must fulfill these orders correctly. An estancia has several posts, where foremen and laborers live. It is like a small village and a house is miles of distance from the other.
Juan Carlos Dávalos, in his book `Los Gauchos’ says: `The estancia is a confederation of independent districts where the rancher is the president, the foreman is the legislative power and the post men are the immovable governors. The estancia can naturally change the owner, the governors -or the post men- will not change of feudalism for extremely grave causes.” “From the political point of view, the rancher is still the leader. From the social point of view, the gaucho is still free. This way, there is still a friendly balance among them that is, in substance, the loyal subordination of the masses to the best ones in view of a common good: everybody’s profit.”

 

The Fort
The fort was a small military village. It was settled in dispute lands and its main characteristic was to have a structure to protect itself from possible attacks. It consisted of a group of “ranchos” (shafts), a “mangrullo” or vantage point, a house for the officials and soldiers, and a fence made of mud, stone or posts. This village was sometimes built on a slope and surrounded by a wide and deep ditch.

 

The Jaguel
Jagüel: it derives from the “quichua” “jagüei”or “jagüey”.
It is a pond or ditch that receives and stores the rainwater or the water of some natural kind of spring.
The “jagüel” was one of the ways of giving water to the animals in dry seasons. The water was taken by hand or by means of pushing from the horse’s saddle strap and it was poured into a water pipe that carried it towards the drinking trough. The pouring bucket was made of a calf’s leather.
Little by little, the system to take water from the “jagüeles” was being developed. The wood pipe “jagüel” had a system of pulley wheels and it was always moved by a horse. It filled a weir, which filled the drinking trough. This system made the horse’s job not so heavy, because the wood pipe slid on a roller.

 

The Mangrullo
The “mangrullo” was a rather tall tower with a platform on the top. It was used in “fortines” and farms to prevent the approach of strangers and the Indian attacks.
The defense was completed with one barrel or more, according to the importance of the equipment and the area that it was due to watch and defend.

 

The Palenque
The tethering-post was a post, buried up to certain height near the “rancho”, it was used to tie the horses and other animals, so they could not run away if their owners weren’t watching them.

 

The Posta
The “posta” was a kind of hotel on the road. The travelers arrived in carriages and stagecoaches and sheltered there, where they could refresh themselves, eat and rest for the night. These lodgings were located about every five kilometers. An overseer or master of the lodging, who lived there with his family, was in charge of the “posta”.

 

The Querencia
It is called “querencia” (homesickness)
– To the act of feeling affection for somebody or something. To the tendency of the man or animal to go back to the place where he has been brought up.
– To that place itself.

 

Men as well as animals get accustomed to living in a specific place. For them, that is the “querencia” and when they are taken to other place, they get homesick and try to go back as soon as possible, even from long distances. The man uses to call “querencia” to the place where he has his house, his family, those things that he loves the most.

 

The Rancho
The shack was the room of almost every inhabitant of the plain and it was made of “chorizo” and “paja quinchada.”
They called “chorizo” to the mass of straw and mud with which the walls were built, and “paja quinchada” to the mass used for the roof, they were bunches of long pieces of straw tied up with a reed or “quinchos”, there comes the name.
The walls and the roof were supported by a structure of trunks chosen more or less straight and cleverly distributed, so that the room was steady. The “rancho” sometimes had a shelter that was a kind of gallery. It served as an auxiliary room. It was built next to the “rancho” with four, six, or eight posts buried on the ground. These posts supported a roof made of branches or straw that protected against the sun and rain.
The “rancho” (shack) of the plain had a two-sloped roof and only one room, which was the bedroom and kitchen of the whole family.
Some time ago, everything was fastened with wet thongs of leather. When these thongs dried they were adjusted in such a way that could be unfastened only if they were cut. The “gaucho” could not get the wire and the nails.
In the regions where there was plenty of straw, the walls were not made of mud, but “quinchadas” (made of straw and reeds).
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A structure is built with posts and canes (A) that, according to their position, are called like this:
(1) they are the “esquineros” (corner posts); (2) the “cumbrera” where the “tijeras” (scissors) (3) are fitted, these rest on the corner posts. The “costaneros largueros” (4) rest on the corner posts. The reeds are put on the scissors (5). The roof of “paja costura” (straw) will be put on the canes. All this rests its weight on the “horcones” (6).

 

The Tapera
It was given the name “tapera” to the ruins of a house or village that has not been inhabited for a long time. The wind and rain destroy it little by little; the roof falls down and in the end only the walls with the openings of doors and windows remain.

 

The Galera
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Also known as a stagecoach or messenger, the galera was an antique coach which transported passengers and mail. It had four wheels, a long wagon, a back door, side windows and seats for several people. The top part of the roof was destined to the luggage. The rider sat in the `pescante’ (coachman’s seat). The number of animals that pulled the cart varied according to the weight to be transported and the requirements of the way.

 

The `galera’ could also have one or more `postillones’ -men on horse, who pulled the cart having the lasso tied to the girth-. It rode at a gallop or at half speed, so it covered long distances in a few days. To keep this rhythm of speed, the cart animals had to be frequently changed. This operation was done at the staging posts.

 

The Carreta
In areas far from sailable rivers, the carts were the first means of communication known in our country. They used to transport either load or passengers between cities and towns. The wagon of each cart, narrow and long, with the roof made of leather or of `quinchada’ was mounted on two very high wheels that made the cross of rivers and streams easier. The cart was pulled by oxen, -generally three teams-, that is why it rode very slowly, covering hardly fifteen kilometers on a whole riding day. Owing to the dangers of the plain, mainly the danger of the Indians, the cart riders used to travel in groups making a troupe of ten, fifteen and sometimes more vehicles. The people were armed and at night the carts were placed forming a circle, making a trench. A permanent guard was in charge of watching the field, to raise the alarm if necessary, to the people sleeping either inside or under the vehicles, or in the middle of the circle, warmed by the campfires, which were always lit to keep wild animals away. The laborers were under the orders of a boss or foreman, absolute chief and brave man who was recognized as an only authority in that solitude. Some carts looked like real houses, since they had a room furnished with a bed, table, chair and everything that was needed by the passengers who could afford the ticket.

 

 

CLOTHES

 

The Pilchas
Pilchas (articles of clothing). The articles of clothing and the pieces of the saddle or harness were generally called “pilchas”. To be “well empilchado (dressed)” meant -and still means, for the word is still used- to wear good clothes or to have a luxurious saddle, or both things.
Depending on their occupation, social position or likes, the creole would dress as it is described below:

 

The Botas de Potro
It is a tube made of raw leather in one piece, without sewing, that tightens leg and foot, that was worn as rural shoe. It is taken from the back extremities of donkeys, colts, calves and mares, made of the leather of the wild cat or of the back legs of the puma or “yaguareté” (kind of jaguar). From all these varieties the favorite of the “gauchos” were the ones made of colt leather.
The “bota de potro” was worn by our rural laborers from the XVII century. This kind of shoe, functional and rustic, was extremely worn by muleskinners, cowboys, “sebeadores”(people who killed the cows to use only the leather and the “sebo” (fat). With the enormous development of the cattle, colts were substituted by calves and cows, which were slaughtered for the “sebeada”, and whose pieces of leather were small and light and were not as interesting for commercial purposes as the leather of bulls and bullocks. Then, due to economical reasons, the boots were made once again of horse leather, not with the leather of the colt, but with the leather of the mare, a very cheap animal at that time. The “bota de potro” disappeared because of the high prices of the leather of the horse and cattle, and due to the development of the industrial shoes for rural use: the “alpargata”, that was cheap and easy to get.
To make the “bota de potro”, the leather of the back legs of a horse was taken in one piece, it was cleaned of every piece of skin and then it was crumpled. This tube of leather adapted to the leg and foot of the man, the curve of the paw formed the heel; the toe was left open to let the rider leave his toes bare and so he could rest on the famous “button” stirrups. A similar kind of boot, much softer and considered a luxurious article, was made of leather of the wild cat or tiger, leaving the hair with the original color.

 

Botas fuertes
It is a kind of leather shoe of a semi-hard leg, that cover the foot and the leg or part of it. Silver spurs were also attached to the boots.

 

Alpargatas
Rural popular shoe from the River Plate region. Kind of tennis shoes made of canvas with a sole of rope, of a Basque origin, worn by the rural workers.This piece of clothing, as well as the “boina”, was brought by the Spanish or French Basque to the River Plate region in the third decade of the nineteenth century. It is the functional inheritor of the “bota de potro”. It was the favourite shoe to play the famous game of “Pelota a paleta”. This shoe was so light and strong that it was worn in some regions of Spain, as Cataluña.

 

Unlike other pieces of clothing, the alpargata, became an essential pilcha for both sexes, but above all, the unquestionable companion of the bombacha.

 

The Calzon
They were pants made of rustic fabric, tight in the hips and thighs, they didn’t have any pockets or a fastener in the waist.
The length of the legs was up to the lower edge of the knee. On the sides they had an opening that could be closed with buttons but the man of the plain used to wear it open, so that the underwear could be seen. Sometimes, this opening and the lower edge were embroidered.
The “calzones” of the official’s uniforms were adjusted in the lower edge with a silver or gold belt and a clasp called “charretera” or “jarretera”.
The “calzones” were worn by the men of the plain and as military uniforms in the XVIII century.

 

The Calzoncillo Cribado
They were a kind of underpants that the “gaucho” wore under the “chiripá”. They were peculiar because they were very loose, so they let the laborers to move easily to deal with the farming tasks. They generally ended in a frayed edge that made the typical ornament. The underpants covered the “bota de potro”.
They were made of linen or cotton. The legs ended in a frayed edge. Before some 10 or 12 centimeters of the edge of the legs they had a line which was frayed and embroidered with the same thread. This line used to be between 3 and 8 centimeters wide. There was a fastener in the lower edge and in the center of the front part of the shirt, which was used to join the shirt with the underpants, so that the tails of the shirt were introduced into the underpants and both pieces of clothing were joined this way. The waistband, at the front, had three or four buttons and at the back, a double fastener to adjust the width of the waist. The calzoncillos cribados were a Spanish inheritance. The gaucho started to wear this piece of clothing in the XVIII century.

 

The Chiripa
The “chiripá”. From the quechua “chiripac”
Single oblong piece of woolen or other type of cloth, worn by the “gauchos” instead of pants. It covered the hips, thighs and legs.
The “chiripá” began to being worn at the end of the XVIII century, substituting the “calzón”. The first who wore a similar piece of clothing were the Indians catechized in the missions as a consequence of the immediate need that the Jesuits had of organizing the people, dress them up according to moral principles and religious decency. The “chiripá” worn between the legs as a diaper, was at the beginning a “poncho” or half a “poncho” made in the loom, so it had loose ends in the edge and it was of a plain color with stripes of other colors. As time went by ranchers, farmers and laborers in general substituted it by the sober and functional “bombacha”.

 

The Bombachas
They are loose and comfortable pants worn specially for farming tasks. They can be considered the substitutes of the “chiripá” and today they are still chosen by ranchers and farmers in general. The most common colors are dark gray, black, “gabardina” (kind of khaki) and “bataraz” (checked, black and white). To show off, when wearing “alpargatas”, they used to leave the button of the cuff undone so that the cuff covered the foot almost completely. This article of clothing appears some five years after the Big War, during the Crimea War, in which France and England joined Turkey to protect it from the Russian conquering purposes. Its troops wore articles of clothing that were similar to the ones worn by Turkish soldiers, specially the loose pants. When this war ended, before it was supposed to, the remaining uniforms were exported by these countries to the market of the River Plate region, where they were sent to the local troops, and mainly to the “pulperías” of the countryside, where they were widely accepted by the people of the rural area.

 

The Shirt
It was an article of clothing worn to cover the torso. The men of the plain wore it under the jacket. It was made of fabric, cotton or linen.
The neck was in one piece and scooped. The front part, the neck and cuffs were embroidered with color thread. The sleeves were very wide and the cuffs were closed with cufflinks.

 

The Chaleco
Originally, this article of clothing was long up to below the waist, it had pockets with a cover and a button to close them. It was tailored and with a small fold. The back was made of a lighter and of a worse quality fabric, and the front part was made of the same fabric of the “calzones” and jacket, or of a finer one such as velvet, embroidered or with ornaments of the Spanish type. The vest was closed high up with both upper buttons unfastened. For a more practical use in the countryside they were shortened, so that it did not cover the “faja” or “ceñidor” and the belt. As time went by, the vest substituted the coat and jacket, which were not so appropriate for farming tasks. At present there are vests made of different materials, and the ones made of “carpincho’s”(variety of rodent of a very valuable leather) leather are widely coveted.

 

The Chaqueta
It was an article of clothing worn by the “gaucho”, it had a collar, small lapels and side pockets, which were quite small and had covers. It was made of baize, velveteen, and sometimes the collar was of a different color than the rest.
It began to be worn by the people of the plain in the XVIII century. First it was quite long and tight in the waist. Then, as it was not very comfortable, especially to ride, it was shortened and the length reached slightly beyond the waist.

 

The Poncho
The “poncho” was an oblong piece of wool cloth with a hole to pass your head. The gauchos turned it into an essential article of clothing to warm themselves on their trips along the wide plain. They used it as a sleeping bag and as a hut in the improvised camps of the men of the plain.
During a knife fight, the gaucho wrapped his left arm with his poncho forming a kind of shield that let him stop the cuts or wounds made by the enemy dagger. The gaucho never left his poncho. He carried it folded, on his shoulders or wrapped around his waist and tied on th eleft, so that the knot did not bother his right hand’s movements. Each region of Argentina has its own poncho, with typical colors and shapes. They are hand-knitted or woven in looms. Some of the varieties of this article of clothing are the “Apala”, the “Patria” and the “Calamaco”. “Apala”: It is a wool poncho, made from the wool of the vicuna with its original color, with light and dark stripes.
“Calamaco”: It is a cheap, short, red poncho.
The “Patria” poncho is made of baize, adopted by the national army. The front side is blue and the inner side is red, made of the same fabric.
Everyhting makes one think that the Araucanian Indians were the inventors of the poncho. They called it “phonto” and from Chile they spread it along the Andes, However, the poncho knows a similar ancestor called “uncu” which was worn by other American Indians. It was a shirt without sleeves, very loose and wide. It is also possible that the word poncho is a word of the vocabulary of the Spanish Navy. The poncho is made up by two 7 feet long by 2 feet wide pieces of cloth, sewn alongside, but not sewn in the middle, where a hole is left, big enough to pass the head. Almost always it has loose ends.

 

The Faja
It is a fastening element worn to support the “calzones”, “chirip‡” and then the “bombachas”. It is a long band made of woolen cloth or cotton, sometimes made of silk, 10 to 12 cm wide, finishing with loose ends. There are “fajas” of different patterns and colors. It is folded around the waist, from left to right beginning from the right flank. One of the ends is left hanging so that it rests over the thigh of that side.

 

The Tirador
The “tirador” is a wide belt made of fine and soft leather or of a resistant fabric. This belt was ornamented with fine embroideries of colorful threads or thongs of leather. They had several pockets with a wide cover which were closed by means of coins. This belt was hanged on the waist or below it; at the front it had big coins or pieces of metal, at the ends it had buttonholes that were used to fasten the “rastra”. The clothing of the men of the plain, did not almost have any pockets, and they developed a system to take the coins with them and avoid being robbed. So they pieced, soldered and sewed their coins with thin thongs of leather, using them also to close the pockets or to fasten the belt in the ends.

 

The Rastra
The “rastra” substitutes the clasp of the belt or the suspenders. It consists of a plate of different sizes, made of metal, silver or gold. Usually the monogram -the initials- or the full name of the owner is engraved on it and it sometimes has openwork patterns and ornaments that brighten up the drawing. There are some rings welded on the back part of the plate. These rings are attached to four or six chains, divided in halves. Each chain ends in a kind of button -it is usually a shield, a gold or silver coin, a horseshoe- that are fastened to the corresponding buttonhole at the end of the belt, so that the belt is fixed on the “faja” or “ceñidor”. The variety of “rastras”, either in size or in quality, is enormous. At the beginning the fastener had two or four coins or pieces of metal, then the chains that joined them were lengthened and new coins were added so that the “rastras” were formed. Of all articles of clothing that the gaucho wears for ornament, the “rastra” is one of the few that are worn today, and perhaps the favorite of the men of the plain.
Today, there are also two-button fasteners, with or without the central piece of metal, called “yuntas”.

 

The Culero
It was an article of clothing made of tanned leather of “carpincho” (variety of rodent) or deer, that protected the “gaucho’s” thighs in certain farming tasks. It was oblong and it was tightened to the waist with buttons or clasps, the same as the “guayaca” The “culero”, with the development of the tasks on foot or the “pialada”, became a kind of apron, long up to the ankles.

 

The Scarf
It was given this name to an oblong piece of cloth of 75 to 85 cm of side, made of a light fabric or silk, either printed or plain, but always very colorful. It was used for different purposes and according to the use it had a different name:
“Serenero”: The scarf covered one’s head and it was tied up under the chin, always worn under the hat. This way they used to protect their head, ears and nape from the rain, the sun, cold or dew.
“Vincha”: the gaucho folded the scarf and fastened his hair (usually in a plait or ponytail) tying it up behind the head. “Golilla”: To go out, to go to the “pulpería” or for farming tasks on foot, the gaucho wore the scarf around his neck, just as an ornament, covering shoulders and back.

 

The Hat
The gaucho adapted this universally worn article of clothing, calling it in different ways according to its uses and shapes.

 

The “chambergo” or “gacho”: Soft hat, made of wool or felt. It has a broad brim and regular crown. It was worn by the peasant on horse,
The “panza de burra” (belly of the she-donkey): It was called like this because it was made of the leather of the belly of these animals. This hat is a legacy of the carriers’ culture. It was worn in Spanish America, from Mexico to Chile during the XVIII and XIX centuries.
The white hat of Cuzco: Short-brimmed, with a round crown made of the wool of the llama or white vicuna.
The “pajillas”(Panama hat): Hat made of straw from Ecuador or Panama. It has broad or narrow brim and tall or short crown, with a silk chinstrap. Ideal for the summer.
The hat of Pisón or “Frigio” commonly known as “sleeve hat”: It was a hat made of wool or cloth in the shape of a conic tube, worn by gauchos and suburban peasants, from the end of the XVIII century until the middle of the XIX century.

 

This hat was made from the leather of the bellies of the she-donkeys, there comes its name. The leather was cut in a round shape, with the hair. It was put on a post., to get it molded in a conic shape and a thong of leather was tied around it to keep that shape. The border was folded to form the brim. Once dry, the same as the “bota de potro”, it was worn till to get it molded. It was worn over the forehead and the chinstrap (woven with thongs of leather) was fastened under the nose or behind the head. This hat was usually white.

 

The Boina
It is a round cap of a woolen or knitted cloth, flattened, that is perfectly tied to the head. It is worn bent forward or inclined over an ear. In the center of the beret there was a string ending in a pompon, which fell on one side, making this article of clothing elegant. The most common colors were black, red, white or blue.
The “boina” arrived in the River Plate region during the Big War. The ones who wore it most were the Basque (Spanish and French), who, accustomed to the gaucho’s habits, resisted to leave this piece of clothing that is a true material symbol of their national identity.

 

The Boleadoras
Object for hunting or weapon for the war used by the gaucho in former times to catch ostrich, cattle and other animals. He carried them attached to his waist with two or three kinds of knots, usually he had one or two sets, one of them slung crossways over the shoulder. The handle always on the right side and always ready for use.
For the man of the plain the knife is a European legacy that was brought by the conquerors of the River Plate region. If we took into account the characteristics of the weapon, in the way that it is carried: into the boot, on the waist over the kidneys, so that the handle could be seen on the right, etc, we could call this legacy Andalusian gipsy.
The knife was everything for the “gaucho” and with its generic name we include all kinds of knives that he used.

 

The Spurs
Tool used by the rider on the heel of his boots to encourage his horse to go faster.
They may be made of different metals (iron, brass, bronze, silver). We can usually see, among the peasants, some spurs that, because of their making and the quality of their ornaments may be considered as true works of art.
The spur together with the sword was, in the Middle Ages, a main characteristic of the Knives.
The gaucho, not knowing those knives traditions, also made his heels with the named “chilenas”, “lloronas” or “nazarenas”.
However, these spurs used by the gaucho are not similar to those used by those knives of the Moroccan school, that were of the “sacicate” type. i.e. formed by a long sharp metal point.
They are similar (and that could be considered as a background) with the ones used by the German School since the middle of the XVI century, and the German as well as the English developed them even to their most modern shapes, so it can be noticed that the parts are the same as the ones used in Latin America (with the logical variations of the local preferences).
“Lloronas” (crybabies) or “Nazarenas”: They had big legs, knot, “pihuelo” (kind of ring) and a sharp pointed wheel.
They were called like this because of the shrilling sound that they made when the person was walking. They were characteristic of gauchos and peasants in the River Plate region.
Chilenas (Chileans): Spurs made of iron and silver with big sharp pointed wheels in the shape of stars.
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Empeine (spur strap that fastened the instep) – Alzaprima (spur strap or chain ) that fastened the heel – Pihuelo (kind of ring that joined the wheel to the knot)
Bajo empeine: (spur strap) – Arco (arch) – Rodete (knot)
Rodaja or Roseta (sharp pointed wheel)

 

The Rebenque
The whip was and still is an inseparable “pilcha” (accessory) of our country men. It was used as a tool for defence and work. The gauchos carried them hanging by his wrist from the handle, but when they needed their hands free they hanged it by the knife handle, that appeared from his right side.

 

 

FOOD

 

Typical food
To analyze the characteristics of criollo cookery we must take into account two quite different situations:
-The gaucho in campaign, having a wandering life, adopted a very limited diet: roasts, dried meat (charque), water and mate.
-The Estancia and the Rancho: There, a wide variety of ingredients are used. This gives birth to a way of cooking, which is famous around the world for the good taste of its delicacies in spite of being quite simple.
The typical dishes and cooking utensils are described in this chapter. We also offer you several recipes of today’s Argentine cooking for those who would be willing or curious enough to approach the kitchen counter.

 

The Asador
The “asador” is an iron bar or grill, of a rectangular shape, more than 1,30 meter long, 7 millimeters thick and 4 millimeters wide. On the top part of the bar there is a crossbar or a hook, which is used to hold the meat and prevent it from slipping to the ground. To this bar you can hold the “costillar” of a veal, the body of a mutton or lamb or a portion of meat with embers of firewood, the driest and most aromatic, the better. As the meat gets roasted, the iron with the meat is moved from its former vertical position to a marked open angle, until the “asador” (the person in charge of making the “asado” is also called this way) places the “asado” horizontally so that it slowly finishes roasting. The gauchos sit in front of the meat, everyone cuts the portion he prefers and eats, using their “facón”, as an only tool, and usually getting help from half a piece of coarse bread. To do it, they take the meat with their teeth, and cut upwards with the knife. Although it looks easy, not anyone knows how to make an “asado al asador”; skill and special knowledge are needed to prevent the meat from overcooking on the outside, remaining raw on the inside.

 

The Chifle
The “chifle” is a horn of a bovine, generally a bull or an ox. On the chifle base there is a wooden lid fastened with screws, sometimes the lid may be covered by metal. On the other sharp side it was closed by a wooden cap, which could be fastened. This was a useful container for transporting water.
Near each end the “chifle” had a string fixed, a twisted leather string or a chain to be hung from one’s waist, back or from a nail on the wall of the rancho.
Some “chifles” are ornamented with raised figures and are valued as a work of art.

 

Horno de Barro
The “horno de barro”(oven/kiln made of mud) was built on a platform with a dome shape, near the rancho and the ramada. It was used to cook home made bread or “galleta” to be eaten by the family.
This kind of oven is made of mud or bricks and has a big opening called the mouth. The “tronera” is a hole smaller than the mouth which is made on the superior part and allows the smoke to go out. You load the oven with firewood on the mouth, start the fire and when it is very hot you clean it and introduce the dough.
If you put a straw or paper and it starts burning, the oven is ready.

 

The Mortero
The mortar was the domestic tool used to crush or break the wheat, salt or charque. It was also used for the mazamorra, locro, or other typical dishes.
The most common mortars were made of algarroba or break-ax wood. A trunk was hollowed up to a certain depth and the substance to be crushed was put into the empty space. Then it was crushed with a pestle -a tool with a heavy round end-. There were also mortars made of stone.

 

Carbonada
Criollo Carbonade
The criollo carbonade is a typical dish of our country. This exquisite preparation is one of the most usual ones of the home kitchen. This dish may be prepared in different ways depending on the regions of the country.
Recipe
Cut the meat in cubes and put it in a pot with fried sweet pepper or hot lard; stir and add enough hot water and let it boil. During this procedure add fresh squash in cubes and if you want some rice. You can also add chopped onion, tomato and all the vegetables you want, like sweet potato, potato and corncobs. This preparation must turn out well moistened.

 

Carne con Cuero
“Asado con cuero”(Roast with the hide on): When the gauchos made a party they prepared a roast with the hide on. Still today, it is the best way of honoring others that the people of the plain have, especially when they receive foreign visitors who want to know old typical customs.
To prepare it, a cow or a heifer is killed without being followed it, for tiredness spoils the taste and freshness of the meat. Without taking off its hide, it is aired during the whole night. In the early morning, a fire is made, and when there are only embers left, it is slowly roasted with the hide up on huge grills.
The asado is ready when the hair is easily removed by pulling. According to the custom, the meat is often turned over so that the hair is well toasted. Then it is taken out of the fire and served cold. Made this way, the meat acquires an exquisite taste and everybody who tried it for the first time likes it.

 

Charque
Dried Meat
The “charque” or “charqui” was thin meat -lean, without fat-, cut in thin stripes and dried in the sun or outdoor. The meat prepared this way lasted for a long time. Before being cooked, the “charque” had to be macerated to make it softer. This kind of food was essential in our old countryside, since fresh meat was not always available in the stores.

 

Chicharrones
The “chicharrones” are the rest of meat that are left when you melt the fat taken from the animals -fat in mass-. To do this, it is necessary to chop the fat with some part of meat in very small pieces and to boil it until it releases all the substance. Then, in every piece there is a fibrous residue left called “chicharrón”.
The “chicharrones”, hot or cold, with a sprinkle of salt, make one of the most pleasant dishes of the gaucho. To make the “chicharrón” cakes the chicharrones are rolled out with flour. They are delicious.

 

Empanadas
The empanadas or turnovers are placed in a preeminent position in Argentine home cooking. These preparations are common to many regions of our country, and in one way or another they consist of a filling enclosed in some dough. They cannot be absent in popular festivities.
Many provinces have their own recipe with some variations they can be made of ground beef filling or sweet filling. According to the area’s preferences they are prepared with onion, chopped green olives, chopped eggs, etc. There fried and baked turnovers. The fried ones are cooked in hot lard and the baked ones are put into very hot oven for few minutes.

 

Locro
“Locro”(Meat and vegetable stew):
The “locro” is one of the most characteristic dishes among the typical ones. This nutritive and healthy dish is prepared with corn or wheat, which is mashed in the mortar and then macerated for about ten hours. It is boiled in sufficient water with salt and then you add meat, beans, pumpkin, sweet potato and also pork. About four hours later you add a kind of frying which is prepared with fat or oil, chopped onion, pepper, paprika; and after some minutes you can seat to enjoy this deliacacy.

 

Mazamorra
“Mazamorra” (Hominy):
The “mazamorra” is a typical meal made with cornflour or simply crushed corn with sugar and honey.
Its preparation consists in boiling crushed wheat or corn in water for several hours. It has to be white corn, and, to make the grain soft; it must be macerated over the previous night.
Then, while it is boiling, you have to add a bit of bicarbonate of soda or of a preparation called “lejía”. In the country, they made “lejía” mixing ash with water.
Mazamorra with milk and sugar is a delicious and very nutritive dessert. It is also eaten into the broth or directly with a piece of cooked or roasted meat.

 

Pasteles
Filled Fried Pastries
They are a frequent company for the cooked mate of the evening or for the brewed mate.
They are made in several ways and with different kinds of dough. Today you can make them with puff pastry that you can buy in the stores. You can also use the dough of the “tortas fritas”, cut in big squares, some 8cm each side. For each pastelito you will use two squares of dough, in one of them you will place a little cube of sweet potato jelly or quince jelly. You have to cover this square with the other one, seeing that the corners of the bottom square do not coincide with those of the top one, so that you make an eight pointed star. You must moisten the part around the cube of jelly with salty water in order to stick the doughs, pressing with your fingers to mark the cube. They are fried in abundant lard and then sprinkled with sugar.

 

Pororó
The word “pororó” comes from the guaraní “pororog” which means noise, loud racket. That is why “abati pororog” (from “abati”: corn) means that it exploded while toasting.
It is also called “ancua” and to prepare it they use a pan where they put the corn. Heat makes the grain pop, turning into a white rose, very tender and tasty, which is eaten after being sprinkled with sugar or coated with honey.

 

Tortas Fritas
Fried cakes were, and still are, a gift on rainy days. When the weather was bad, people could not go out to work in the country. So, the housewife made a mixture of flour, water, lard and salt; she handled it well so that the dough would be smooth and then she cut some balls giving them a cake shape. These cakes fried in the lard of a cow or sheep, were an excellent company for the mate. They are served warm and sprinkled with sugar. There are so many recipes as cooks to prepare them.

 

 

WORK

 

The Gaucho’s jobs
Wiring: Before wire fences were used, the cattle used to walk along the farms and it was impossible to control them. That is why neighboring farmers used to organize rodeos so that each owner could pick up his animals. Different kinds of fences were used according to the areas, they could be made of stone (“pircas”), thorny bushes (“cina-cina”), or prickly pear (“tuna”), it was also possible to find ditches.

 

The rancher Ricardo Newton, brought from a trip to England in 1845, the first wire fence which he put in his farms to keep his animals inside. Then his neighbors asked him to get the same fences for them so that their farms would also be safely and practically wired.

 

The wire fences are held by hard wooden posts strongly buried in the ground. Seven or eight meters separate the posts but between the posts, keeping a distance of approximately one meter, there are several sticks.

 

The wires go through the holes that the posts and sticks have. The distance between these holes vary between 0,14 and 0,30 meters, and the distance is reduced as long as the holes get near the ground. The wires are stretched by means of a special tool.
The corner post is the one that marks the corner. It is made of hard wood and the end buried into the ground has one or two sticks in a cross held by screws or wires. There are different kinds of wire fences and they are chosen taking into account the way that the owner of the farm will use them.

 

Amadrinar
To “amadrinar” is to train the horses for them to follow the lead mare. The animal is put a rope over its neck and it is joined to the lead mare. The horse is kept this way until it gets accustomed to be close to her day and night and to obey the sound of her cowbell. Once this has been achieved, the animal will obey its owner, who will call it with a whistle to saddle it up.

 

The Desvasada
La desvasada es un típico trabajo de campo que consiste en recortar los vasos o cascos del yeguarizo, para prevenir el crecimiento. Este trabajo se efectúa a cuchillo o con un instrumento llamado desvasador.

 

The Doma
“Domar” is to domesticate an animal, train it to obey the man. This job is a demonstration of a great strength, skill and nimbleness, and the gaucho used to domesticate the wildest colts. In spite of the animal’s bucks, the trainer could dominate it, either by using his whip or by making it fall with the chest of another animal who charged against it. Once the animal has being roped, it is put a strong halter, its legs are tied so that it cannot move, and then it is saddled up. This way the animal is in good conditions for the trainer.

 

Enlazar
To “enlazar” (rope) is to throw the lasso at the animal’s horns or neck. The “piala” is the greatest demonstration of the gaucho’s skill and nimbleness. It consists of throwing the lasso to a runaway animal, getting profit of the fraction of second in which the animal raises its back legs to run. The animal’s legs are let into the noose of the lasso so that they get stuck and the animal cannot move any more.

 

The Shearing
To shear is to cut the hair or wool off an animal. This farming job is done once a year, usually at the end of spring, when the weather becomes hot. The shearing was don either inside a large shed or in the open, near the corral where the flock of sheep was kept. The shearmen made a row and the men in charge of roping the sheep’s legs brought them the sheep to be sheared. They quickly took the thick woolen blanket off and then the sheep were freed.

 

The Rodeo
The “rodeo” consists of grouping the cows, bulls and oxen that make the cattle inside a corral. Once they have been gathered, the farm workers ride around them so that they do not spread out again. This job was done wither to count the cattle or to move it to a neighboring farm.

 

The Señalada
The branding is the act of marking the cattle. When it is done to small animals a knife or scissors are used. The marks have different names according to the shapes of the cuts. The same mark can be used by two or more owners, provided that the marks are put in a different place or ear, so that no mistakes are likely to be made. During this ceremony, females are made a cut in their tails and lambs are castrated.
Any branding is done in autumn to keep wounds from getting infected by hot and flies. To destroy a mark, a counter-mark is used, i.e. the same mark is applied next to the old one, but upside down. If the animals have been branded, the mark is duplicated. The animals that have been counter-marked or counter-branded are considered unmarked again, and so they are free to be marked or branded by their new owner.

 

The tusa
La tusa era y es una de las atenciones que el hombre de campo le brinda al caballo.
Consiste en recortar con unas tijeras especiales la crín de este animal. Cuando el animal es redomón, el tuse que se le hace se llama “mechón domador”; es el largo mechón cercano a la cabeza. El tuse bajo con martillo es para el caballo ya manso, con larga agarradera cortada en ángulo. Se tusa el animal dejándole flequillo cuando se trata de una cabalgadura para señorita. A las yeguas se las suele tusar al ras, generalmente se les corta la crín para la venta.
El tuse de chacarera, es el que se deja clinudo al animal que es de tiro o pecho al que se le hace un tuse en la nuca, que es la calza para la cogotera o anillo del bozal. El tuse de media caña, consiste en dividir dos mitades: el lado izquierdo se tusa derecho y el lado derecho se deja con crines largas, cayendo.

 

The yerra
Branding is the act of marking the cattle with a branding iron. In former times it was called “hierra” and it was the greatest farm event. It is carried out in autumn, because there are no flies or bugs then. This ceremony was performed either inside a corral or in the open. It consisted of marking the animals with a heated branding iron so that they could be easily recognized by their owner. Once the cattle have been gathered, a man on horse ropes the first animal and takes it to the place where the “pialadores” are. These men make the animal fall and then they tie it, always on the right side since the branding mark is put on the left side. Once they have finished this job, they either mark, castrate or de-horn the animal. A long time ago the marks were very big and they were placed on the animals’ back shoulder blade, today it is advised to place them on their jaws to keep their leather from getting spoiled. Nowadays, with the use of modern corrals and other structures, the typical branding has almost disappeared. The mark is a sign of property that farmers print on the animals’ shoulder blade. The branding iron has a drawing, letter or conventional symbol that shows who the animal belongs to. As regards small animals, such as sheep or pigs, the marks are made with a knife or scissors on one or both ears.

 

The Boleadoras
Lassos of three balls called “Tres Marías” (Three Marias) or “Potreadora”(tamer). It consisted of three weights made of stone, iron or other material. One of these units was lighter and the other two of a similar weight, but never of the same weight so that, when being thrown, they would separate. These balls were covered with leather tied with twisted or plaited thongs of raw leather. The gaucho carried them tied to his waist or on the back or head of the soft leather pads under the saddle of his horse. Lassos of only one ball called “bola loca” (crazy ball) or “bola perdida”(lost ball): it consisted of a round or oval stone tied with a meter of thong of raw leather, which was thrown as a sling or used tied to one’s wrist to hurt others during a hand to hand fight.
Lassos of two balls called “ñanduceras” or “avestruceras” (ostrich’s): they were made of lead or iron stones, covered with leather that was put when wet, so when it dried it adjusted perfectly. They were tied to a long lasso and they were used to ball ostriches, does and guanacos that is the reason for its name. Lassos of three balls called “Tres Marías” (Three Marias) or “Potreadora”(tamer). It consisted of three weights made of stone, iron or other material. One of these units was lighter and the other two of a similar weight, but never of the same weight so that, when being thrown, they would separate.
These balls were covered with leather tied with twisted or plaited thongs of raw leather. The gaucho carried them tied to his waist or on the back or head of the soft leather pads under the saddle of his horse.

 

The Cuchillo
The “cuchillo” (knife) is a tool for all purpose and it is the weapon of “gauchos” and people of the plain. It has a triangular blade and a cutting edge on one side. It was used to slaughter and skin, to cut “guascas”, to eat. The knife is a tool made of steel iron with one cutting edge. It has a blade of different sizes and proportions. This blade ends in a tip and its opposite end is fixed into a handle made of metal, wood or bone. There were also knives fixed into stones or leather rings, sometimes coated with woven threads of raw leather. The knives did not have “gavilán”, they only have a kind of knot between the blade and the handle called “button of the blade.”

 

Parts that make the knife, their derivations or varieties and the sheath:

 

Blade: The blade of the knife consists of a tip, the cutting edge and the spine. The tip is the sharp end of the tool. The cutting edge is the sharpened part of the knife. It extends to the whole blade, and it is more delicate when it reaches the tip. The last third part near the handle is rather thick and it is called “gavilán.” The gaucho used this third part of the cutting edge as an axe.

 

Spine: The spine of the knives is the thick part opposite the cutting edge. In some knives, the spine was also sharpened and so this part was called “contrafilo” (opposite edge). The spine usually has carved patterns, just as drawings or for stopping a cut during a fight.
The blade of the knife is fixed into the handle through a pivot or rod.
The blade and the handle are separated by a piece of metal, of a horizontal shape known as “empatilladura”, with its “gavilán” (in the daggers and “facones”) and buttons (in the knives and “puñales”). So, the “gavilán” is a fitting that is fixed in the handle to defend oneself from the strikes of the enemy.

 

Gavilán: Straight “gavilán” is the part of the knife that is fixed transversally between the handle and the blade. Each end of this part usually finishes in a button, in a tip, or in the shape of the heads of lions or snakes.
An “s” shaped “gavilán” is the transversal piece in the shape of that letter. A croissant shaped “gavilán” is the one that has this piece in the shape of an arch or horn, and whose ends look at the blade of the knife. The “gavilán” that consists of an oval piece of metal, transversal to the blade, does not reduce the power of the weapon, but it does stop the strikes of the enemy.

 

The sheath it is a cover made of leather, metal, bone or other material, that is used for keeping the steel blades. It consists of three parts:
-Body of the sheath: it is the cover that protects the weapon. It can be made of tanned leather, metal, etc. The ones that are made of metal may have engraved or carved patterns.

 

-The grip, with its “boquilla” (opening) is the part where the weapon is introduced to put it away. The “boquilla” has in its upper border a triangular fitting that is used to keep the sheath fixed to one’s waist, so that the sheath does not slip. This fitting is called “agarradera” (grip) or “gancho” (hook).

 

-The tip is the lower end of the sheath. It ends in a rounded shape so that it prevents the carrier to hurt himself. It substitutes the “facón”(gaucho knife); it is a weapon with a wide blade, about 25 centimeters long without “gavilán”. It has a cutting edge and the tip is upwards, the spine of the blade next to the handle is wide. It is an ideal tool for the man of the plain, it is carried as the “facón”, over the kidneys, with the handle next to the right elbow. It is a weapon similar to the knife but with a wider blade, the width is kept almost to the middle of the tip so the cutting edge makes a sharp curve (called belly for its similarity to that part of the body) that is its main characteristic.
It is a knife wit a small blade that substitutes the “facón” when the last one, because of its size, is very uncomfortable to use. It was used to castrate, grind the tobacco and for an endless list of the most varied uses. It was carried on the right flank, passing over the front part of the “tirador” (suspender), next to the “rastra”.
A word derived from “faca”, which means “big knife”. It has a very long blade, with the cutting edge on one side and a small opposite edge at the beginning of the spine. It has a very sharp tip. It always had a “gavilán”, big or small, straight, in the shape of an “s” or of a croissant, according to the owner’s preference. Some of them were seventy -five centimeters long. Sometimes the “facón” was substituted by the dagger. It is similar to the “puñal”, and bigger than the “facón”, it has a cutting edge and an opposite edge, that the gauchos usually made from old bayonets and rests of swords. It used to have a kind of longitudinal conduit on both faces, that the men of the plain justified them as appropriate to facilitate the bloodletting. It was similar to the “facón” but very big, the blade would reach a length of 80 cm, it was used to hunt, as a weapon or to kill animals. Due to its size it was impossible to carry it on one’s body so they carried it in the “caronas”(saddlecloth) of the saddle, there comes its name.

 

The Lasso
At the moment of using the lasso, the rider holds with one hand, a portion of the rolled up lasso, and with the other hand the slipknot, trying to keep it wide open. Then he twirls it above his head and throws it, making it fall and rope the animal.
Elbow throw: the lasso is thrown in the direction opposite to the common one.

Throw of the lasso from the right side: the animal is roped by placing oneself on the animal’s left.
Crossed throw: The rider runs by the animal, on the right side, throws the lasso and moves quickly to the left.

 

“Pescuecear”: It is called like this when the animal is roped by its neck.
“Guampear”: It means to rope the animal by its horns.
“Pialar” is to rope the animal by its hands.
“Pial” from the right: the rider places on the right of the passing animal.
“Pial de revés (Pial from the opposite direction)” It is called this way when the animal runs in the direction opposite to the twirling of the noose.
Shoulder blade “pial”. To do this, the lasso is thrown, on the underside, against the shoulder blade of the animal.
“Pial” on the back: it is made by throwing the lasso on the animal’s back, from either side, roping its hands from the side opposite to where the lasso was thrown.
“Pial” on the ribs. In this pial, the lasso is thrown over the ribs of the animal, sliding to the front along the body of the animal, until reaching its hands.

 

 

BELIEFS

 

The Quack
The “curandero” (quack) or “doctor” used a real vegetal and animal pharmacopia. There was almost no “weed” that was not useful to prepare his beverages and infusions. The “unto” (unguent) without salt greasy product of the pig- the same as the “injundia” of a hen or lizard fat that covers the bowels- were irreplaceable for rubbings, and the hot waste of certain animals were good for poultices. It was the most natural and also the most rational thing for an ignorant person. But there were people who widened the system to such extremes that used to be awfully dangerous for the patients, since to those medicines they used to add others, result of spells and witchcraft which practice they believed necessary.

 

Heal with Words
“Cura de palabras” “Word treatment”
Out of the various traditional beliefs, only a few deserved so much faith as the “cura de palabras” (word treatment), i.e. the ability of curing illnesses by means of the simple effect of some words, whose secret was jealously kept by their owners. These words, that the “curandero” (quack) pronounced mentally or in places where nobody could hear them, had, according to their supporters, the wonderful gift of curing illnesses, either in people or in animals. It was a cabalistic formula, whose secret, owned by a few, could only be transmitted at a point of death, since not doing it at that time meant for its owner the lost of the curing virtue. As an exception, still today can be found in the countryside people who claim to have that power, although now reduced to the curing of toothaches, earaches, and especially, the “embichadura” or the curing of wormy animals.

 

The Lobizon
The people of the plain believed in the existence of human beings that could turn into animals and then recover their former shape. One of the main reasons was to be the seventh son of a family and have been born on a Friday. The “lobisón” (the man who would turn into an animal) would turn into a wolf, pig or other animal that often went to graveyards looking for food. It appeared at night and it was very frightening as it attacked people. If someone would succeed in hurting it, it would immediately loose its animal shape.

 

The evil light
The greasy matter that decomposes in the earth center produces a kind of phosphorescence that can be clearly seen in the night darkness. That phosphorescence is called “fuego fatuo” (will-o’-the-wisp). But the “gaucho”, who ignored its origin, considered it a supernatural thing gave it a name: “Luz mala” (Evil light) and considered it a representation of a “alma en pena” (sad soul). According to the beliefs this was a dead person’s soul that left its grave and meandered along the living people’s world to take revenge for having died unfairly or to claim for having been buried in “sangrado” i.e. in the graveyard or cemetery. The “Luz mala” inspired superstitious horror and its apparition was commented in every “fogón” (fire). Old legends heard from older people were remembered and there always someone who told a “trance fiero” (unhappy event), where he had to face the “Luz mala” because it had followed him for a while and he had promised to lit a candle in his memory so that it would let him go.

 

The owl
The owl is a victim of superstition, it is said to be the announcer of disgrace and it is looked at with noticeable dislike. When these birds’ night shout is heard, people often pronounce the words “Cruz Diablo!” as a defense protection against bad luck, and doing this they feel protected against any unpleasant incident.
However, there are few animals capable of doing what the poor and inoffensive owls do: they eats rats and other vermin and sometimes they attack and kill poisonous snakes. Furthermore, they are the night guardians, since any strange movement in the country makes them produce shrill howls that alarm the resting villagers.

 

 

HOBBIES

 

The campfire circle
The campfire circle was an idiomatic expression of the River Plate Region that was organized around the “mate”.
The fire is made with logs either inside the “rancho” or in the open air. Over the campfire the water for the “mate” is heated or the “asado” (grilled meat) is cooked. The campfire calls everybody, with the “mate” as the main character of the meeting. Around the fire old stories of evil light and ghosts were told or the news of the day were commented. People played the guitar and sang, and they forgot about the pains and sorrows.
This idiomatic expression is still used and it is very common to be invited to join the “mate” circle or simply to join the conversation or guitar playing by the phrase “arrimate al fogón” (join the camp-fire circle).

 

The Guitar
The guitar, that resonance box with the shape of a woman that we all know, had at the beginning only four strings. Vicente Espinel added one more at the end of the XVI century. In fact, it is not exactly known who added the sixth one or when it was added. The strings used today are six: three of them are catguts or made of plastic, and the rest are bas strings. The guitar completes the image of the “gaucho”, the same as his “china”(female companion), his horse or his knife.
The traditionalist Ricardo Muñoz, in his magnificent history of the guitar, says of this instrument: “The guitar is the nomad’s instrument par excellence, it was his companion during the hard walks. The Spanish, tanned by the sun and winds of the plain in his endless campaigns throughout Europe, never abandoned the guitar. Even in the fight he used to sing his feats and loves. The immigrant, during the endless sea journeys, finds in the moan of the guitar’s strings a great relief for his miseries. The “vihuela” (old guitar) probably came to America this way, and then it was perfected by Espinel. It took so deep roots in these lands that the almost legendary “gauchos”, the nomads of the plain, and the “payadores” take it with them everywhere, always ready to sing their troubles and loves, their wild freedom, their quarrels, feats and adoration to the theater of his victories… From the “payador’s” guitar there sprout notes of feeling and bravery, notes full of delicacy and emotion. In the guitar, it always vibrates the artistic sensitiveness of those who identify with the deepest shows of the popular Argentinian music. The “gaucho” found the deep, simple, sweet feelings of his poetic and dreaming soul: the guitar… There was no party without guitar; with it the “gaucho” sang his simple but warm airs of expression and accompanied with rhythmic or accurate strums the popular songs or dances of the time. He used to sing his loves to the girl standing by the mortar, or from the catlike, dappled, bay or sorrel well dressed horse that he skillfully rode. He used to sing his troubles around the fire and playing his guitar he improvised the purpose of the meeting, his sorrows, happiness or victories won in the open air or among the rocks of the fields…”
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Chair Race
The chair polka or chair race was another of the typical games of our people and it was generally played during a “jineteada” (taming).
It consisted of the meeting of several men on horse forming a circle around several chairs. The number of chairs was always one number smaller than the number of players. When the music began the riders had to race around the chairs; when the music stopped they had to get off their horses and sit on one of the chairs. The one who did not get his chair was out of the game. This way, taking the one who was left standing up out of the game, and taking off a chair every round, the game went on until only one winner was left.

 

Race of rings
This game is another typical way of entertainment brought by the Spanish conquerors that has lasted till these days.
It consists in passing on horse below a wood frame from which it hangs a ring hardly tied. At full speed the rider must take the ring inserting it into a little stick. If he gets it he receives a prize and the audience’s applause.

 

Game of cances
The game of canes is one of the oldest “gaucho’s” games, of a Spanish origin. It consisted in imagining combats on horse, escaping, making circles, semicircles, in groups or lines.
The rider had to pass in front of the opposite band, an enemy went after him and threw a harmless lasso with balls at his horse; the caught rider had to join the opposite band and stay there. So, a third rider went after the one who had thrown the lasso with balls, and, at the same time, threw the lasso at his horse, so he had to join the opposite band. The game was over when all members of a band were in the place of the enemies, and the enemies in the place of the others.

 

The duck
The duck is a typical game of the Argentinian countryside. It was born as an amusement of the “gaucho” and today it is a national sport. It has this name because it was played with a real duck. The dead duck, filled with leather, stood for a ball that had four handles of plaited leather.
The land was chosen and once the players were all together, the rider who took the duck appeared in the middle of the court. The players, riding their horses, began to follow the duck. The aim was to take it and keep it. The one who achieved this was followed by the other players, who galloped along tens of kilometers in all directions.
The practice of the duck was prohibited in 1889 for being dangerous and violent. This sport reappeared in 1938, replacing the former duck by a leather ball with six handles. The open land left its place to perfectly delimited courts. Four riders make two opposite teams. The referee throws the ball and the game begins. The one who first reaches the ball cannot take it but hand it over to a companion. The ball is taken with the arm outstretched so that other player can take it. The scores are made by putting the ball into a ring with a net fixed at the end of the court.
To attend a game of duck is very exiting and today it is a very pleasant show and less violent than in former times.

 

Cockfight
The cockfight was one of the greatest public ways of entertainment among the people of the plain. The one who was fond of rearing these animals of fight, prepared them with dedication and hard work. The training consisted of a series of exercises that helped these real winged beasts to be in optimal conditions for the fight.
The fight of the cocks lasted between forty and fifty minutes. If there was not a winner after that period of time, a draw was declared. By the judge’s order, the players put the cocks facing each other in the cockfight court. Once the cocks had watched each other for a while, the players let them attack using their beaks. The act of the cock taking the enemy with its beak to prick him later with his spur is called in the cockfight jargon “mordida”.
The bets to the good luck of one animal or the other were not to be missed.

 

The Taba
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The “Taba” is a game of a Greek origin that was introduced in our country by the Spanish. It soon spread among the peasants when they met in the “pulpería”, in their relax time, or at horse races. The “taba” is a bone of the animals’ leg, with a hollow side and a plain side. The “taba” court is delimited by a pair of stripes drawn on the ground. The stripes are separated by a few meters. The game consists in throwing the “taba” from behind one of those stripes, so that it falls beyond the other stripe. If the hollow side is upwards you win, that is called “suerte” (good luck); if it falls downwards you lose.
But the real attraction of the game is the bets made either by the players or by the ones who are watching the game.

 

 

NATIONAL DANCES

Our typical dances arrived with the Spanish conquerors. They have different figures where the dancers show off with soft and lively movements that fill us with nostalgia, beauty and tradition. Among the different regions of the country, the plain had its own dances, such as the “gato”, the “cielito”, the “mediacaña”, the “triunfo”, the “pericón” and the “malambo”.
The dances of two dancers have choreography full of love advances. Each dance of two dancers has a complete sense and the dancers are actors within the musical rhythm.
The dances that need a bigger number of couples are the “pericón” and the “mediacaña”. These dances have slower movements and a great variety of figures in its development. It was not always possible to count on a great number of couples, although it was the dancers’ preference.

 

The Chacarera
La chacarera es una danza alegre y pícara. Se baila de pareja suelta y el zapateo es constante. Se aquerenció en toda la Argentina, especialmente en Santiago del Estero y también fue muy bailada en Bolivia y Uruguay. De esta danza hay una variante llamada chacarera doble.
Las danzas más clásicas y preferidas por los bailarines son la zamba, el gato y la chacarera.

 

The gato
The “gato” (cat) is a merry typical dance that was danced in our country around 1820. It possibly came from Peru.
It represents a discreet game of love where the gentleman pretends to court the lady and tries to win her. He performs his best tap dancing for her and does amazing capers until in the end he gets her response.
This dance may be danced by one or two couples and, together with the “malambo”, it was, undoubtedly, the most famous dance in the plain.
It was also known by other names, such as: “Gato mis mis”, “Mis mis” and “Perdiz”.
It was strange that the “gaucho” did not know how to play the guitar a little and sing the verses of the “gato” or the repeated chords of the “malambo”, that is why it was one of the most chosen dances.

 

The Malambo
The “malambo” was born in the loneliness of the plain around 1600. Among our dances, it is an exception because it does not have lyrics, the music of the guitars accompany this dance that only men perform. The dancer shows off with the tap dancing, the “cepillada” (brushing) (to graze the floor with the sole of the foot), the “repique” (the hit with the heels and the spur) or the “floreos”. His feet hardly touch the ground.
The dancer’s movements, when crossing his legs, tapping energetically making capers with the lasso and the balls, are amazing. The “malambo”, the same as the “payada the contrapunto” (poetic competition) was, in the traditional dances, a real tournament of the “gaucho’s” skills.

 

The Mediacaña
La mediacaña is a creole ballet dance which is both sexy and independent with slow to lively movements in the character of a courtesan. It is galant and happy.

I had been a reluctant traveler to the Tambupata Jungle Resort of Peru, but my always curious husband insisted it would be like one of those fabulous safaris you see on the Travel Channel, and I was persuaded.  The word “Resort” and the price convinced us that it would be luxurious “roughing it.”    This was our first truly adVenturous tour to a very remote area, and we had imagined being pampered in a Tarzan setting.  Well in advance  we got all the immunizations known to modern medicine (except one) and started our malaria pills.
After a week in Lima, we boarded a small jet to fly over the Andes, a beautiful flight, but the snowy peaks seemed a little too close to our questionable plane to put me at ease.  We landed in the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, and the plane’s engines stayed on while we disembarked. (Later we learned that the tiny airport didn’t have the facilities to restart the plane!)  Arriving tourists were divided into two groups: those who were already immunized against malaria and those who had to receive an injection before claiming their luggage (no choice!)
Our tour guide met us and threw our luggage into the back basket of a sort of motor cycle with a place for two passengers to perch behind him,     and before we could think, we were zooming away on the main dirt road to the docks.   Not knowing how far we must go before boarding first-class ship for a delightful four-hour journey up the Tambupata River, I asked our guide to stop somewhere for me to go to the bathroom.  His alarming response was, “There is no place.”  “I’ll just wait until we reach the ship,” I responded.  “The boat has no bathroom,” I was informed.  “Well, you have to find a place.  The trip is four hours!”  After much deliberation, Juan headed for what was either a small restaurant or a large, white adobe brick home arched over with brilliant, fuschia bougainvillea flowers, and persuaded the owner to let us use his facilities, which were in an outer addition to the building.
Just five minutes later the enormous  river’s swirling, brown muddy expanse came into view.  It was wider than the widest river I had ever crossed in the United States, lined on each side with dense jungle vegetation. The “ship docks” were a roughhewn platform where we and ten other tourists, were helped into a large, wooden, flat-bottomed canoe, with 18 folding chairs lined up beneath a blue plastic tarp!  For a fleeting moment I thought this was the dinghy to take us to the ship, but   I quickly realized this was it!

3f3c7810The 35 horsepower, outboard motor whirred reluctantly, and we were off on our four-hour journey upriver.  The boatman explained that the river had already risen forty feet in the last week, beginning its swells because the rainy season had begun upriver.  This would slow our progress against its swirling, brown currents.  For about an hour we puttered along, staying too far away from shoreline to suit me because I’m not a strong swimmer and  there were no life jackets aboard.  We stopped to pick up several local passengers and part of our food supply for the Resort.  Eight open, cardboard flats, each containing three dozen eggs, were stacked on top of each other in front of our young, bronze “captain,” who was dressed in khaki shorts, a torn tee-shirt, and thongs.  (At several points along the journey he hopped over the eggs to reach a tool as we held our breaths.)  While the motor sputtered quite reluctantly in restarting, we were zipped down-river with the current at lightning speed.
We journeyed another two hours upriver in the hot summer afternoon sunlight, never passing any sign of human civilization, only a thick wall of verdant palms and other exotic vegetation on each side of the enormous river. The  peacefully  beautiful scenery moving by and the cool breeze lulled us to semi-sleeping state of peace, in spite of the alligators (caiman) we were passing on the mud shores and the huge logs we were dodging in the raging waters.  We were jolted fully awake by the screechy microphone announcement above the motor’s noise that we would be stopping for a Terrorist Check Point.  “Are we being captured?” I  and other tourists asked, alarmed.  “No.  We have to give all the names of our passengers to the Army here, in case anyone is missing later. There is Terrorist activity everywhere up here,” was the matter-of-fact response.  We looked around for a city to possibly escape to and abandon our journey, but the stop and check point was only a small wood dock with a solid wall of jungle vegetation behind it.
Two guerilla army Peruvians took our names and said a few words to our “captain” in Spanish, looked over our cargo of eggs and fruit and vegetables, and waved us on, releasing the small, single rope which held our boat to the dock.  We were swiftly shot down-river and out of sight by the powerful, raging current, asJuan pulled the motor’s starter cord.  The engine coughed and nothing happened.  He repeatedly yanked the cord as we regressed at about three times the speed we had been making the intended passage upstream.  For a moment I expected Juan to pull out a radio or telephone and call for help, when it was evident that the motor would not start.  He appeared alarmed and stood back and began to make a piercing whistle with his mouth. Repeatedly he whistled loudly, directing the sound toward the impenetrable palm forest.  Then we passed another tiny outboard motor boat and saw a man starting his engine to rescue us.  We sailed swiftly past him, but he finally caught us a few miles downstream.
Our “savior” wore an unbuttoned white shirt flapping out behind him and exposing his enormous brown belly hanging over his dirty, baggy jeans.  His wide-brimmed, cream-colored Panama had was crumpled and stained from years of service.  He clamped a stubby, fat cigar tightly between his teeth to the side of his mouth.  As he spoke in Spanish it bobbed up and down.  He tied onto our boat and cut his motor.  With one thonged foot astride each boat he leaned over to work on our motor while his brown backside nearly popped out of his low-slung jeans.  He beat on our motor with a hammer and turned something with pliers repeatedly.  After a few minutes it began to sputter and burst into life.  With a grin and a handshake, the man was gone, and we were on our way upriver again, having lost many miles.
We had to make two more stops for locals to get on or off at “nowhere” in the middle of the jungle, and we passed a few cane huts here and there, but Juan wisely never stopped the motor again.  Finally about six o’clock, he announced that we had reached our destination, and he docked at another wooden post.  Two friendly men in khaki shorts and thongs greeted us and held our hands as we disembarked precariously onto the mud bank, each of us carrying his own luggage.  As I looked up the forty-foot high river bank, into which mud steps had been machete cut, I was thankful that we had wisely been advised to leave our big suitcase at the airport and take only a small bag of necessities.  We trudged up the steep embankment, relieved that our luxurious Resort was awaiting us above.

3f6d2870At the top we entered the constant twilight of the dense jungle where sunlight cannot penetrate.  We carried our bags down a brief trail to a large clearing.  There before us stood our amazing Resort, the scientific research station of the Tambupata Jungle, where erudite botanists come to study native plants and remedies to make pharmaceutical wonders for the world.  One large, circular structure of canes and screen with a peaked, round roof of more canes, formed the dining room and bar.  Ten smaller huts just like it were lined on either side of a torch-lit path.  We gathered in the open-air meeting area of the bar to receive hut assignments.  To their dismay, Jane and Bob, on their honeymoon, learned that all the huts were double and they were assigned to the same one with us.  Our hut was the farthest from the dining area, but the “best” because it sat at the back edge of the clearing, only about five feet from the dense jungle.
The four of us entered the screen door of our shared cabin and discovered it was a double, partitioned by a bamboo screen six feet high, with another open six feet of air space before the peak of the straw ceiling.  Each side had its private bathroom with a small ceramic sink, a flush toilet (no paper allowed in it), and a tin-lined shower stall with plastic curtain and cold running water.  The two bathrooms backed up to each other.  Our bedrooms consisted of bamboo walls with screens at shoulder height, twin beds made of wood poles and a mattress made up with clean sheets.  Each bed was draped with a tent of thick mosquito netting.  The small wood table held two clay candlesticks for lighting.  We felt like children at camp, and I was immediately frightened of what creepy-crawlies would emerge after dark.  I looked carefully and saw none and no snakes inside, but in my mind’s eye I could see every corner wiggling!

2b6b77d0We hurriedly returned for supper in the dining hut.  We gathered in the bar for drinks and instructions and to meet the resident ocelot, who sleeps in the bar. Only a few brave men petted him.  He yawned and growled and bared his sharp fangs, and we declined the offer to feel his stiff fur. Dinner proved to be a wonderful affair with excellent, freshly prepared food and delightful service by several native men, dressed in shorts and Hawaiian print shirts.
The added attraction was the largest porcupine we had ever seen persistently gnawing his way through the ceiling bamboo overhead.  We had wondered about trash service in the jungle, but noticed that all left overs were just tossed out the door in back of the kitchen, where vultures swooped down in delight!

3f5ba620This was our only opportunity to get to know the other tourists who were leaving before dawn to go to a place famous for butterflies.   We learned that our cabin-mates had been sent on a pre-honeymoon to this place by her father who thought they should test their relationship before marrying.  They too had thought that “Resort” would be five-star accommodations!  None of us had realized that the luxury price was because most of the money funded the research of this station.
By the time we all dispersed for our cabins it was pitch dark, and none of us had brought our flashlights to dinner. In the jungle dark is total blackness! We were grateful for the few blazing torches which lined the little path, but we could barely see our feet.  We had many ideas, but no way to verify, what creatures might be on our dirt walkway.  Entering the hut was entering the Void, and we fumbled around trying to remember where the candles and matches lay.  With one tiny candle in each bedroom, we could barely make out that there were no immediately evident varmints cohabiting with us yet, and we hurried to shower.  There was no place to put the candle, so we had to take turns showering while we held the light for each other.  Laughing about our spoiled city ignorance, I stepped into the stream of cold water and immediately shuddered loudly, almost simultaneously with the giggles and shudders totally audible from the other side of the thin tin shower wall.  We felt so sorry for the honeymooners next door.  We all tried to be silent and private, but there are no secrets in grass huts!!!
We bedded down in our respective mosquito nets, hoping we wouldn’t have to make a bathroom run before dawn.  The jungle was silent, and we quickly drifted off to sleep.  About midnight we were awakened with screeches, chitterings, squawks, quacking, scampering, and constant noises louder than New York’s Times Square!  I heard scurrying and scraping across the wall just on the other side of my head and prayed the furry feet were on the outside. I screamed and four people were instantly awake, probably more in other huts. Terrified, I ordered Bill to turn on his flashlight and see what it was, but nothing was inside.  We settled down more calmly and tried to sleep while listening to what sounded like a flock of screeching geese in the jungle just past our screen, and more heavy scuffling overhead, and some loud gnawing.  Cringing, I covered my ears with my pillow and finally fell asleep.  It’s amazing what an illusion of protection a heavy mosquito netting can give.
At breakfast the next morning I commented about the geese or ducks I had heard all night.  Luis, our jungle guide, laughed.  “Those are not ducks. They are capybara, the world’s largest rats.  They are the size of pigs.  That’s what you heard.  Most of the jungle animals are nocturnal.”  (Wonderful!  And I have two more nights to sleep in this place!)  The first night was filled with apprehension and dismay, but by the last night we mourned that we would have to leave. That little haven in the world of Nature became the wonderful resort it truly is, and we return to it often in our favorite memories.

All you need is a gimmick, and tourists will flock to the place and pay a ridiculous amount of money for the “experience of a lifetime.” Not even the savviest traveler is immune to the lure (especially if it has a good write up in The Lonely Planet, Footprints or any other number of respected travel guidebooks.)

We bit the bait in Ecuador. Everybody raved about the train trip from Riobamba to Alausi, passing through la Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) where the trip ends with a dramatic series of picturesque and breathtaking switchbacks in a steep ravine. How is this different than any other train ride you can take in any country with a couple of mountains? The aforementioned gimmick. On this train, you ride on the roof.

Our daily travel budget was about $15.00/each, so to pay $15.00 for a hair-raising train trip was lunacy. We knew, though, it was the chance of a lifetime (as someone had mentioned before), and we convinced two Danish friends to join us in the adventure. Kim, Janne, Cesar and I awoke early to assure ourselves a good seat on the roof.

At 5:00 am, the chilly mountain air and rain didn’t deter us. We clambered up on the car furthest away from the engine (having been told that the smoke and noise can detract from the pristine trip). We huddled together to keep warm. Every language could be heard: Hebrew, Swedish, German, English, Spanish, Danish and more. We were the proverbial “Train of Babel,” joined together by a gimmick.

Everybody cheered when the train chugged out of the station with toots and whistles. It putted past small villages, farms, green fields and mountains. Children ran to the tracks, hoping to catch candies and treats we threw to them. For a dreamy three hours, the train slithered through mountain passes. Suddenly, it stopped.

We looked ahead to see the engine continue on, leaving the cars behind. Did the engineer notice he had left us? Everybody was baffled. Some of the train workers were investigating the tracks ahead. One pulled out a hammer and began to work on the rickety wooden tracks while others searched for rusty nails nearby. This was a pretty good indication of the state of the train and track –run down by over-use and bad weather. Lack of government funding rendered it a death trap, only to be fixed with a couple of hammers and rusty nails found in the vicinity.

About half an hour later, the tracks looked parallel once again, and the engine returned for the rest of us. The little red warning light probably would go off in most people’s heads by this time, but intrepid travelers have a “conviction complex,” convincing themselves that anything out of the ordinary is simply part of the adventure. Usually, this is the case. Usually.
We resumed our positions on top of the train when word reached us that we had to return to Riobamba because the tracks ahead were washed out completely. I was a little relieved to know they weren’t going to ask us to shovel through the landslide. The train reversed and our car lurched toward a precipice. It stopped.

My heart raced and stomach knotted. We were ready to get off when the train started again, and our car came within a foot of the cliff’s edge. “Stop! Para! Arrête!” along with many other colorful words resounded in the canyon.
The engineer and his crew headed over with another hammer, and the process of re-building the tracks ensued. At this point, we decided walking was a better option. Many travelers, including the four of us, jumped off the train. Kim, normally a cool-headed Dane kept muttering, “I think I should die. I think I should die.” We collected our things, damned all travel guidebooks and gimmicks, and set out for the nearest village. From there, we would take a bus back to Riobamba.

95c96710Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Colombe, dismayed and drained. A sea of children brilliantly dressed in purples, pinks, reds and blues ran to us. Initially, we were slightly annoyed by the attention, and we began digging in our backpacks for candy to appease the crowd. Soon we were surrounded by twenty townspeople, curious about our travels and homes, the frivolous bags of candy unnoticed. Within minutes, they invited us to a wedding and the town’s festival.

The children escorted us to a small church with townspeople spilling out of the entrance. Streams of toilet paper decorated the ceiling, swooping across, making arches in cutout patterns. The ceremony was in Quechua, and everybody involved in the couple’s life had a role in the ceremony, speaking or singing, giving advice and suggestions. A community of people invested in the happiness of the young couple. Colombe was resolved to support the couple in their life and commitment together. Choirs of children sang and ran in and out of the church, excited about their role in such a significant event.
After the ceremony, the town festivities began. We gathered around the basketball court. Children carried our bags, held our hands, and bombarded us with questions about our lives. They were excited to tell us the English words they knew and talk about their lives in Colombe.

9607da70The hours flew by. We ate, sang, and danced with the people. There wasn’t a moment in which I didn’t have the soft hand of a child cupped in mine. They shared everything with us, and we felt foolish with our bags of candy. Humbled by their graciousness and generosity, we offered the only gifts of value we could – hugs, kisses, smiles and friendship.

96296710Colombe, being so small, didn’t have a place for us to stay. We had to take the last bus to Riobamba. The townspeople accompanied us to the bus stop. They gave us hand-made post-cards from Colombe and waved goodbye. The bus rumbled down the highway; Colombe and our new friends became dots on the hillside. Out the window, we saw the rickety old train chugging toward Riobamba. I smiled. Maybe gimmicks weren’t so bad after all.

First time to Jamaica – it’s a state of mind as much as a destination. Sure, I knew it for many of the preconceived notions I already had. You know, things like rasta, reggae music, dreadlocks and lazing’ on the beach under a sky that is perpetually sunny.
It came as quite a surprise when I discovered just how lovely Jamaica really is, both for the romantic couple, the partying 20-something or the retired golf junkie.

Getting off the plane I jumped in the car and was reminded that Jamaica was, after all, an English colony for many years. In fact, it was only a mere 40 years ago that Jamaica gained independence from the British. Much of the British influence still exists though, but none quite as noticeable as the fact that they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in the United States. And then, of course, there is the culture. The culture is refined too (afternoon tea and scones) with a Caribbean flavor that makes it just right.

And, tradition, well that’s part of life in Jamaica.

Other British influences abound as well; for example there’s James Bond – who can forget Ian Fleming lived here and wrote many of the Bond books here. Other influences are the 200-year-old great houses that housed the rich and oversaw the plantations. The few great houses that still exist on the island today taunt the visitor into a deeper look at the lifestyles of long ago. In fact, the great houses are as much a part of Jamaica as the sun and easy-going attitude. Many tourists have heard of Rose Hall because it is known worldwide for the legend of the White Witch, who was originally named Annie Palmer, the husband-murderer who ruled with cruelty and eventually met with a violent death. I visited Greenwood Great House in Montego Bay, which was owned by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s family, but there are others as well such as Brimmer Hall Plantation and Seville Great House in Ocho Rios or Belvedere Estate in Montego Bay.

The great houses link the past with the future in Jamaica and as I toured Greenwood I realized how little I knew about the history of the island. As I looked outside from the second story porch at Greenwood I could see the ocean down the mountain in the distance and imagine hearing music from 100 years ago when the owner of the house entertained guests from miles around – the dancing, the singing and the food. It was so simple in a world lit by candles and cooled by the ocean breeze.

Unfortunately, all things must come to an end and in 1831 during a brutal slave revolt hundreds of these homes were burned to the ground. Of the dozen that still exist, several are maintained for visitors and a few have been converted into bed and breakfasts. The houses are sprinkled around the island as a reminder of what used to be. As I toured Greenwood I searched in every nook and cranny for a ghost. They have one there, or at least that’s the rumor. In fact, there’s an old photograph on the wall of a past owner sitting in the chair on the verandah and there is the distinct outline of another person who was not present the day the photograph was taken, not physically anyway.

An island with so much tradition is bound to be ripe with stories of hauntings, I searched everywhere however, and was met with a tight lip. But even without the ghosts Jamaica is a place where you can do and find just about anything and you can feel the presence of an old-world Caribbean charm. Several days after I arrived I found myself floating down the Martha Brae River on a raft reminiscent of Tom Sawyer on a Sunday afternoon. The raft, a 30-foot bamboo raft, is a popular Jamaican experience holding two adults as they laze away the day for a little over an hour.

fa3a7da0Food Jamaican Style

Jamaica is also known for jerked chicken, pork and fish. Therefore, you must try it in some form – I enjoyed the jerk chicken. You can’t miss it since jerk stands are all over the island. I drove to Walkers Wood, famous for their jerk seasoning. It was a sunny morning and I was eager to find out what all the excitement was about with their product. Two hours later and loaded down with three of their 20 seasonings, I walked away with a better understanding of the jerk process and with the knowledge of why Walkers Wood is the best in the business.
Walkers Wood
St. Ann, Jamaica
876-917-2649
www.walkerswood.com

Jamaica is also equally famous for rum, Blue Mountain coffee and a homegrown liqueur called Tia Maria. Tia Maria is said to be a cocktail that was created in honor of the country’s independence in 1962.
Celebrity Spotting

Johnny Cash lives in Jamaica and a few other celebrities who prefer to remain anonymous. Several well-known figures such as Ralph Lauren and Robert Zemekis have villas at Round Hill Resort and Spa and Paul McCartney used to visit often with his first wife Linda. Even James Bond has a Jamaica connection because Ian Fleming, author of the popular books, lived at Goldeneye. Goldeneye is where the famous James Bond Beach is located.

The property is literally a place out of a James Bond movie (since they did shoot on the beach there), but the real specialty is the history. The house was built in the 1940s on a bluff overlooking a secluded cove and, with that seclusion, came house guests as well-known as Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and Donald Sutherland. Nowadays, Chris Blackwell owns the place and there are private villas with a number of rooms available for rent. The activities abound too; jet ski tours, hiking, biking, snorkeling and kayaking.
Island Outpost – Goldeneye
Oracabessa
St. Mary, Jamaica
876-975-3354
www.islandoutpost.com

Even more sprinkled with a history than Goldeneye is the traditional favorite among celebrities, Round Hill. Round Hill is old world charm with just the right amount of Caribbean thrown in for good measure. I wanted to move to Round Hill and spend my days in any one of the villas – there are 29 to choose from – all open air and many with showers and tubs in the back of the villa outside among the trees.

The property was once a 100-acre pineapple, all spice and coconut plantation, which explains the signature spa treatment, a pineapple scrub specialty that’s a must when you visit.
Round Hill Hotel and Villas
Montego Bay, Jamaica
876-956-7050
www.roundhilljamaica.com

Finally, after all the driving, exploring and discovering the tradition of the island, I made my last few days traditionally Jamaica enjoying the sand and sun. The place for that was Swept Away in Negril. It’s an all-inclusive resort that is as eclectic as Negril and just a few miles away from the town. Swept Away caters to those who want to get away and enjoy nature amid a spa, tennis in the afternoon and a good amount of time spent sunning on the beach or swimming in the crystal-clear water.  There are 134 rooms at Negril’s Swept Away, but you wouldn’t know it because the property sits on 18 acres of tropical grounds facing the crescent shaped Bloody Bay on 1,000 feet of white sand beach.

Jamaica is a large island, about the size of Connecticut, so you probably won’t be able to see everything in one trip, especially since almost one-half of the island is 1,000 feet above sea level. So pick a few towns like I did; Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril and sit back and relax as you explore the rich colors and strong traditions that Jamaica has to offer.

Don’t Miss:

Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios is Jamaica’s only dolphin attraction. The property is set on a natural cove, surrounded by four acres of tropical rain forest. You can swim with the dolphins and touch them or just relax on the white sand. There are other exotic animals too; stingrays, eels, sharks, snakes, macaws and other unique tropical birds, fish and reptiles.

Dolphin Cove
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Telephone: (876) 974-5335
www.Dolphincovejamaica.com
Currency:
The exchange rate fluctuates, when I was in Jamaica it was US$1.00 = JA$45.00.

Getting There:

There are many airlines that service Jamaica, but Air Jamaica is the best choice with many departure cities in the United States.
Sidebar:
Climate: The average annual temperature is 82 degrees, but it may get as low as the 50s in the mountains.
Population: 2.5 million
Official Language: English and Patois (Jamaican Creole words and speech patterns used by most of the population).
Where to Stay:
Swept Away
Negril, Jamaica
1-800-Couples
www.couples.com
Royal Reef Hotel is small with only 19 rooms, but it has everything you will need. Located on the north coast, the hotel sits on the beach with two swimming pools, a jacuzzi, restaurant and bar.
Trelawny Jamaica
876-953-1700

Where to Eat:

If you don’t eat anywhere else you must try Cafe Aubergene. The restaurant has a European feel, the music was great (for example, Grace Jones in French) and the food, the most important part, was the best I had on the island. Try the Soup of the day and the Prawns in “Grand Marnier” curry sauce.
Cafe Aubergene
11 miles from Ocho Rios on the Kingston Highway
876-973-0527

If you want to learn to dive, there may be no better destination in the world than the Cayman Islands. The islands of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac offer the ideal environment and conditions: a long history of world-class recreational diving; crystal-clear, calm, and warm waters; colorful coral reefs; wall and wreck diving; a huge and varied fish population; lots of dive operators experienced in training and with high safety standards; varied topside activities; and a wide range of accommodations and dining at many price levels.

“My daughter learned to dive here and absolutely loves it,” says Angela Martin, Director of Tourism for the Cayman Islands. “You couldn’t ask for a better learning and diving destination.”
“Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a diver from the first time you saw Jacques Cousteau on television exploring the magnificent depths or maybe you’ve just begun to think of diving as your next great adventure. Either way you won’t be disappointed,” says Regina Franklin, executive director of the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA). “Scuba diving also provides the perfect reason to plan a vacation.”
Learning to dive is easy and fun. And you can make it even easier and more fun by getting certified in the Cayman Islands.

Learning to Dive the Cayman Islands Way

Since the first dive shop opened on Grand Cayman in 1957, the Cayman Islands have been recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean. The Cayman Islands now feature more than fifty dive operators, as well as live-aboard diving opportunities. In addition to the professionalism of the dive shops and the great resort options, the lure for both new and veteran divers lies underwater. Less than a quarter-mile offshore on all three islands, the reef begins just below the surface and drops to more than 6,000 feet (of course, diving depths are limited to much less).
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Abundant fish, healthy reefs, and dramatic walls are the first things most people notice about diving in the Cayman Islands. After spotting that first brightly-colored fish on the equally exotic reef, it’s easy to see why so many people become hooked on diving in the Cayman Islands. But there’s so much more, including:
*The unique variety of unusual and approachable marine life, including the rays at famed Stingray City, green and hawksbill sea turtles, eagle rays, schools of tarpon and silversides, barracudas, angelfish, puffer fish, scrawled filefish, flying gunards, moray eels, angelfish, and many others that allow divers (and snorkelers) to come close.
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Calm, current-free conditions, with generally exceptional visibility year-round.
*Protection of marine life through enforcement of Marine Parks and conservation laws.
*Popular dive sites (including several wrecks) marked by permanent boat moorings (more than 200 on all three islands), which prevent anchor damage to fragile coral and other marine life).
*The variety of instruction, photography, and video opportunities and services available.
*The range of professional dive operations and support services to make time underwater safe and fun.

*The Cayman Islands Watersports Operators Association’s insistence on safety, education, and conservation.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in the Cayman Islands, Stingray City provides the only consistent opportunity in the world to dive, snorkel, and swim with more than two dozen ‘tame’ Atlantic Southern Stingrays (which also seem to enjoy the experience). Often called the ‘world’s best 12-foot dive,’ Stingray City is located on Grand Cayman’s North Sound. The site was ‘discovered’ around 1986, when local divemasters noticed the congregation of rays that seemed to allow human interaction. This area had been known for years by local fisherman, who watched the rays gather to feed on scraps of fish from the cleaning of their catches. At the neighboring Sandbar site, the rays gather in only three feet of water, greeting snorkelers and swimmers. From your first dive, the thriving marine life will hook you in a way that keeps you coming back to the Cayman Islands long after earning your C-card.
Anyone can dive. It really is a simple sport to learn, it’s good for you, and it’s something you can pursue for life. Once you take that initial plunge, we guarantee you’ll want to get your certification card, but if you’d rather take it slowly, you can begin with a Resort Course. This is a brief “Experience Scuba” course which usually includes a couple of hours of instruction and a shallow dive with an instructor. Most resorts and operators in the Cayman Islands offer this program. Once you decide you want to be a certified diver, you must earn a C-card (certification card). With this card, you can rent or buy scuba equipment, obtain air for tanks, and participate in other exciting diving activities throughout the world.
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The certification process is interesting and easy. It is divided into three parts totaling approximately thirty hours: classroom (using a book and visual aids), pool (confined water), and open-water instruction. The classroom and pool sessions generally take place at the same time, while the open-water dives (at least four of them) serve as the final test.
Many people choose to complete their classroom and pool sessions at home and then head to the Cayman Islands for the open-water dives (followed by more diving-it’s addictive!). Others choose to do everything while visiting the Cayman Islands, where dive operators are experienced in completing the certification process while still giving you plenty of time for vacation fun. Couples and families where one or more are already certified find that the Cayman Islands is ideal for veteran and new divers, with all returning home certified.
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Topside sites to see in the Cayman Islands include the Cayman Turtle Farm with 15,000 endangered green sea turtles; Cardinal D’s Park featuring more than 60 species of native birds, blue iguana and miniature ponies; the Mastic Trail, where a guide can lead visitors over distinct topographical regions, discussing the vegetation and wildlife that make the Cayman Islands unique; and the newly restored Pedro St. James, the country’s oldest stone structure and the birthplace of democracy for the Cayman Islands.
Further outing options when you’re not in scuba school include the Cayman Islands Museum, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, walking tours of several districts, biking, horseback riding, visiting one of many caves on Cayman Brac and conching (snorkeling for conch and then preparing a snack).

Topside Time (diver lingo for any vacation time not spent underwater)

The Cayman Islands also offers a great variety of activities to fill your topside vacation time. Banana boats, catamarans, ocean kayaks, sailboats, waverunners and windsurfers. Plus glass-bottom boat trips, sunset cruises, semi-submersible and fully-submersible submarines and an authentic replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon. And, in case you didn’t know, the Cayman Islands is a fishing mecca with experienced captains and their crews operating excursions that include some of the world’s best fishing, swimming, and a fresh-caught lunch or snack.

No Time Like The Present

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You’ve considered it before. Now you’ve read this and your interest is peaked. Do it now. Dive in. Start the certification process to learn to dive. Book a learning to dive trip now to the Cayman Islands or start the process at your local dive retailer and tell them you want to do your check-out dives in the Cayman Islands. They may be able to help you plan your trip or you can do it yourself by contacting one of the resorts or operators on the next page. And if you’d like a little more information before you start, you can call the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism at (800) 346-3313 or visit two very helpful websites: www.caymanislands.ky and www.divecayman.ky.