The wide, open spaces of the famous Pampas surrounding Buenos Aires provide the stunning backdrop to the legend of the gaucho.
A cultural icon, the status of the gaucho evolved over hundreds of years from displaced outlaw to defender of freedom. Now a symbol of bravery, honour and independence, the gaucho is an embodiment of national pride. In fact, a gauchada means a good deed or an act of heroism, courage or heartfelt generosity.
This romantic image of the gaucho was immortalised in José Hernandez’s epic poem Martín Fierro, which just about every Argentine knows by heart. A touchstone of national identity, the poem tells the story of the gaucho’s importance in shaping Argentina’s history.
‘His hope is his courage; his defence is his caution; his horse is his salvation; and he spends the sleepless night with no more protection than the sky and no other friend than his blade.’
With his facón, or knife, between his teeth and his horse between his legs, the gaucho lived a solitary life. Dressed in woollen ponchos and pleated trousers called bombachas, he’d roam the Pampas, sipping mate tea through a straw and hunting the cattle that lived on the extensive plains. Gauchos traded in leather, and because they couldn’t store their meat, they’d cook their catch over an open fire.
The asado was born: an Argentine tradition kept alive in every backyard across the country.Although the days of the nomadic cowboy are over, the gaucho remains an important part of the rural landscape. As free land diminished while the estancias grew ever larger, many became farm hands. Here they are treated with the utmost respect: owners of the estates often address their gaucho as Don.
The lone ranger of the Pampas is an iconic image of contemporary Argentina. You can still visit pulperias, or traditional bars, and stay on an estancia to witness the famous asado. You might even find a modern gaucho at a nightclub of Buenos Aires.
The legacy of the gaucho remains strong. His reputation as a hero relies on the traits of self-reliance, courage, indifference to hardship and a love of the land – the Argentine’s ideal of their national character.