Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where the Countryside Runs City Hall

Lately, I've spent weekends in the countryside surrounding Buenos Aires getting to know gauchos, horses, polo instructors, and smaller towns and cities. I am writing about them at the moment and wanted to share with you. Highlights of the trips include:
1) A mini Notre Dame just outside BA in a town that is like the 50s movie "Carousel" with a bit of Europe and Mexico blended together.
2) English gardens with fountains and pools and groves of bamboo in the middle of the Argentine Pampas
3) Main Street in Carmelo straight out of an old Western with vintage bikes and cars and row boats
4) The Four Seasons Resort outdoor shower
5) Gaucho songs on guitar sung by Oscar the Gaucho at El Ombu estancia in San Antonio de Areco
6) A bitter chocolate shake in San Antonio de Areco
7) The ferry from BA to Colonia
8) Driving dirt roads in the Uruguayan countryside
9) Steak in Uribelarrea, the town where Coppola filmed his latest
10) Horseback riding through the enchanted forest at Bella Vista, the country home of Felicitas Guerrero, legendary 19th century belle of BA who met a tragic end

While researching the towns and ranches and polo fields, I happened to have a class on the history of Argentina. I read about the generals and presidents while I got to see a couple of their country homes. And I got a real sense of what a role the agricultural elite play here. With GDP supported by meat and grain mostly, the people I met who breed cattle and horses are some of the few with access to capital. It's a strange nation where the countryside is more powerful than the city centers.

I went to Iguazu for the weekend with a friend from Seoul and we got wet and wild with some raucous Argentine grandmas on a boat ride. We stayed in a hostel and waddled home after dinner on across the Brazilian border. The falls are powerful. The animals were hiding and nature was somber under all the concrete and steel of the park. We had fun in the heavy rains on the sole dirt trail, road the color of red clay with the occasional Tucan overhead.

Iguazu was the polar opposite of the weekends spent with polo lessons and uniformed servants in country manors. Late night bus rides after school to shuttered ranch/villas with underground tunnels and watch towers from colonial days. Every estate had its story and its organic vegetable garden and cattle and horses. Some were more famous than others, some more rustic, some aging and some with a shiny makeover. They're all going in the guidebook on polo and ranches near Buenos Aires.

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