Argentina, a country of beauty and drama, is renowned for its delicious beef, rich wines, tango dancing and its folk hero - the gaucho.

The cowboy of Argentina, the gaucho, is the one who takes care of cattle on the large estancias, or ranches.  Originally a nomadic horseman, history, legends and ballads have helped define the cultural traditions of gauchos, imbedding their influence deeply into Argentine culture and tradition.

Because the gaucho played a major role in the country’s independence from Spain, he is respected as a symbol representing the values of bravery, honor and freedom of the rural people.

Gauchos often dress in a manner distinct to their region.  A typical gaucho outfit includes a poncho, which may also be used as a saddle blanket and for sleeping, a cotton shirt and loose-fitting trousers, called bombachas.  He wears a hat with a wide brim, or a beret-like hat known as a boina. Footwear varies, but most commonly consists of cloth shoes called alpagartas, or tall leather boots.  In addition to the familiar lariat used to lasso livestock, gauchos use bolas or boleadoras, three leather bound rocks tied together with long leather straps.  The most elaborate part of traditional gaucho dress is a wide belt called a cinturón, trimmed with coins and fastened with a large plate buckle.  Secured to the belt are a facón (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip) and boleadoras.

The saddles used by the gaucho are called montura de monte, which are similar to old English army saddles with a sheepskin on top and cinched using rawhide. The gauchos’ preferred mount is the Argentine Criollo.  The breed is famous for their endurance, life-span and ability to tolerate the extreme heat and cold of their homeland.

While on the range, the gaucho diet is composed almost entirely of beef and supplemented by yerba mate (ma-teh), an herbal infusion made from the leaves of a South American tree, a type of holly rich in caffeine and nutrients. Sharing mate is a ritual, following customary rules.  The gourd or cup is given by the brewer to each person, often in a circle.  The recipient gives thanks, drinks the few mouthfuls and returns the mate to the brewer, who refills it and passes it to the next person in a clockwise order.

Today’s gaucho still spends much of his days on his horse, and his way of life and culture reflect this.  While most gauchos now have more settled lives on estancias, their traditions remain intact; and their skill with horses has not diminished in the least. 



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