Everything that Patagonia is can be gleaned from the gaucho. At once raw but majestic, serene until not, beautiful yet callused, dignified while disenfranchised, timeless but threatened.
ExperiencING Guacho Culture DURING A VISIT TO PATAGONIA
On one of Tara and I’s most cherished early scouting trips while living in Chile and founding Knowmad Adventures, we had the good fortune of taking an adventure with gauchos Horacio and Cochello in Patagonia. Having recently befriended a lodge owner and horse trip outfitter, Kurt wanted us to ride up to La Junta where he has another small mountain cabin from which to explore the surrounding valley. As I was riding daily in the areas around the farm where we lived, and Tara grew up as a barn rat and competitive horseback rider, we were thrilled.
Rain pelting down on the tin roof, we awoke to torrential downpour. Not a word about the conditions were uttered though, and we set off through the rains with a string of eight additional horses trailing Cochello and Horacio. Forging swelled rivers and working the herd through dense forest of ancient alerce and coihue trees thick with mosses and epiphytes in the lusher northern sections of Patagonia, we eventually emerged into a spectacular valley.
Having held my own (in my estimation of course) helping string in the extra herd during some challenging sections, I looked to my new gaucho friends like a small child seeking some glimmer of approval, some symbol of connection or medal of honor for joining the fraternity, and a nod was given (or more likely imagined) causing my heart to jump and ego to swell. It’s funny how ambitious 21st century men from ‘developed’ nations are quickly humbled to the point of reverence with gauchos, as if we recognize in an instant that through it all our striving has only taken us further from the core of our own humanity, while these social and economic outliers continue to embody a type of manhood we now are reduced to taking voyeuristic bites of. Gauchos may offer approval and respect, but their brotherhood is closely held.
Sons of early South American pioneers, a gaucho is a cowboy in the South American pampas (extensive, treeless plains that are the abundant ecosystem outside of the great mountain ranges in Patagonia) who arrived in the mid-16th century, generally without women and children. The etymology of the term is up for debate, theories ranging from it being a derivation of the indigenous word huacho, meaning orphan, or from the Spanish term chaucho (derived from Arabic chauia, or herdsmen) of which would give it Moorish origins.
Regardless of where the term comes from, what it means today is generally a cowboy in Patagonia (southern South America) and Central Uruguay who works and lives by the land, often spending long periods of time on the range with his herds of both sheep and cattle. They are important symbols of freedom and national pride. The gaucho’s traditions – whether it’s passing around a gourd of herba mate or using a large woolen poncho that doubles as a blanket – are timeless ones and often symbolize a set of values.
For me, what the term gaucho means or exactly where it derived from is less important then what it stands for. Having had the pleasure of eating, drinking, riding, and experiencing a taste of their culture, to me a gaucho stands for dignity in the face of challenge and even denigration. It stands for simplicity and honesty, strength when needed, pride in autonomy and self-reliance, warmth to others but never insincerity. This video from our friends at Awasi (click the following link for more information on Awasi Patagonia lodge and a comparison of the best luxury Patagonia lodges) and Moncho, which touches on gauchos and their herba mate is a good glimpse into these traditions. To experience one of the great cowboy cultures of the world plan a visit to Patagonia.
Big Views, Jordan
Jordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a world-leader in high-quality custom trips and itineraries in Patagonia. He has won Travel & Leisure’s prestigious A-List Top Travel Specialist for Patagonia, Chile, Argentina and Peru two consecutive years. In addition to helping you put together a flawless custom Chile and Argentina trip, Knowmad Adventures guarantees best pricing at any of the Patagonia lodges. Give him a call at 877-616-TRIP or email Jordan@KnowmadAdventures.com.
“Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.