The story of the Gaucho in Salta, Argentina
We spoke to Agustin, one of South America’s traditional ‘cowboys,’ about what Black Tomato travellers can expect when they take up the herding life in this remote corner of the world (if only for a few days).
Agustin has been a Gaucho (meaning ‘watcher’ or ‘wanderer’) for his entire life. These rugged frontiersmen — who call Argentina’s Patagonian wilderness their home — live their lives by the saddle; excelling at herding and horsemanship. This has led many to call them the South American equivalent of the cowboy. Inside their country, Gaucho are honoured as gatekeepers of their country’s history and traditions. But they’re no hideaways, being more than happy to share their way of life, and their stunning haciendas, with curious Black Tomato travellers. We spoke to Agustin about what makes his way of life so rewarding, and what you can expect when you meet him on your own Argentinian adventure.
When I ask 48-year old Agustin Arnaldo Leguizamon about his childhood, he recounts a rather dramatic story. At only seven years old he was thrown violently from his horse – breaking bones and shedding tears. Yet he dusted himself off and carried on. “After all,” he remarks, “we are Gaucho.”
This is a typical story of a people known for their ruggedness and devil-may-care attitude. It goes right back to when the gaucho fought for Argentine independence during the 19th century. As a child, Agustin inherited a way of life that places great emphasis on self-reliance and hardy behaviour. In the wild Salta region of Argentina’s south-west, daily life has always been about confronting adversity with pride and power. But as we found out when talking to Agustin, gaucho culture is not at as individualistic as it seems. Instead, it’s about sharing: sharing hardness, sharing responsibility, and sharing experience. It’s why the gaucho are so keen to share their way of life with travellers like us.
Where did the Gaucho come from?
The history of the gaucho is a little cloudy. The most reliable account suggests that, during the 17th century, people called Guaderios arrived in this spectacular region and began farming, herding, and riding across its rolling hills, craggy mountains, and peaceful haciendas. The rest is history.
“We are Gaucho.”
Ready for an adventure?
Salta isn’t the only Gaucho stronghold left today but is one of the most significant. The history and the culture is everywhere here and one of our more off-the-beaten-path stops we recommend. A couple of days here coupled with Iguazu Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world; or the ethereal Atacama where the land has more in common with the surface of mars than earth.
What are the Gauchos famous for?
Gauchos are masterful riders. They also have a reputation as brave warriors. As Agustin explains, during the War of Independence (1810 – 1818) they were granted the simple mission of “defending their family and every Argentine family that was under the command of San Martin,” the man who liberated the country. Agustin’s forefathers fought tirelessly to liberate Argentina from the Spanish Empire. Defiantly, they have kept this culture alive. It’s part of the Argentine national story.
The daily life of a Gaucho
The gaucho are ranchers. This means that their day starts early, at 4 am. From the youngest to the eldest the entire family chips in with herding and farming among the breath-taking landscapes of their homeland.
And this is a lifestyle that you can get a (rather large) taste of during a Black Tomato trip to Argentina. And it’s one suitable for the entire family, as Agustin explains:
“Our lifestyle is very important because it allows us to maintain and transmit our values to the youngest. Without this, they would not have a clue as to their mission and values in this life. It’s also important for us to show the rest of the people a pure and genuine way of life.”
A way of life that will see you saddling up in the stables of Patagonia, before striking out among glassy lakes, winding trails, and icy hills. Huge cliffs and rolling plains make up the world of the gaucho, and it’s clear why they’ve become known for their ruggedness.
Of course, we’re not all made of tough stuff. That’s why, with Black Tomato, you’ll be kipping in luxury lodges and settling in for some world-class spa treatments. That’s how we do things.
What will you learn from the Gaucho?
Aside from learning how to ride, the gaucho will teach you about the values of sharing and caring among harsh environments. “Being a gaucho is a way of being,” explains Agustin. “It’s also a slang way to ask someone for a favour. You’d say, ‘can you do me a gaucho.’” That’s because, living in these difficult surroundings, the gaucho have to rely on each other to survive. “We care a lot about each other. We always help our neighbours and communities. You have to out here. It’s not a simple lifestyle. You can’t do it on your own.”
It’s a powerful message to bring back home with you.
What will your gaucho experience be like?
As Agustin puts it, this experience – one of many we organise to Argentina – will be “pure.” The families share tasks and work with a shared purpose, so you’ll take part in the entire process of caring for the horses, the stables, and your journey across the wilds.
You’ll also learn a little about how to work the land and muster cattle, if you wish. “Of course, the real experience is found in the people themselves” muses Agustin. It’s a fully rounded experience for the entire family. Even if you don’t want to canter across the pampas.
We’ve always believed that travel is at its most powerful when you get to learn about another way of life. When you get to connect over shared experiences and encounters. Among the gaucho of Argentina, you’ll ride away with a whole new perspective on the world. Just try not to fall out of the saddle.