◊ festivals and traditions ◊
Today was my favorite day so far in Argentina. We went to an estancia (ranch) in the countryside, not far from Buenos Aires. We all slept in the bus for the entire trip (we woke up at 6 am!) Once we arrived at the estancia, a man dressed in strange clothes was waiting for us with empanadas (little meat turnovers) and mate (an Argentinean version of tea). We later learned that the clothes he was wearing was that of the gaucho (Argentinean cowboy). He had a wide hat on, a poncho, loose baggy pants and knee-high leather boots. He also had a wide belt with silver coins on it, and a big knife they call the facon.
The owner of the estancia and three or four gauchos took us all to the area where the horses were. I’d seen horses before, but these were impressive! One of the gauchos told us that they had 125 horses there. WOW! Each of us had the chance to ride a horse with the whole group lead by a gaucho. I had been horseback riding once a long time ago, but most of my classmates had never ridden a horse, so there was a mixture of excitement and fear among the group. Once we came back we all loved it!
Then, a gaucho directed us to a huge open place made out of wood where there where long tables and chairs. There was a small stage and after we all sat down, three gauchos got on the stage along with two guys with drums. Then the show began. The gauchos began dancing to the rhythm of the drums and their boleadoras hitting the wood floor. Boleadora is a tool used by the gauchos, made out of stones, and bound in leather strips.This dance is called malambo and only men dance it. There were three or more gauchos on stage where they bounced the boleadoras in a circular motion at a high speed hitting the floor with one of them at a time. The boleadoras followed the beat of the music. Since I play the drums, this was especially interesting to me. I really, really loved it. The three gauchos hitting the floor combined their sounds to create something spectacular, but it also looked very dangerous. All the while they continued to tap on the floor with their boots. I don’t know how those men did not hit themselves or the other dancers with the boleadoras. It was absolutely amazing!
While we were watching the show, several men were cooking a typical Argentinean BBQ or asado just outside where we were. I was sitting close to the huge grill, so I managed to take some pictures. The grill was close to the ground, and they were cooking all kinds of meat. Finally it was time for lunch, and what a feast it was! The servers brought steak, chorizo sausage, blood sausage, and tenderloin–a true meat lovers’ dream. We were told that Argentinean meat is considered the best in the world…and it tasted like that to me!
After the meal, we were directed to a place where we could sit to watch several gauchos demonstrate their horseback riding skills. I don’t know exactly what the game is called, but the way it works is that the gaucho and his horse go faster and faster down a dirt path towards a small golden ring hanging overhead from a string. When they reach full speed, the gaucho tries to “grab” the ring using a utensil about the size and shape of a pen or a pencil. Then they gave the ring to one of the girls in the group. I think this was their favorite activity of the day!
The first thing that caught my eye was that people in the streets, cafes, the metro, the parks, even the people who work in our hotel were holding this weird looking cup and sipping something weird from a metal straw. They looked like the people in New York on a hot summer day sipping their iced coffee!
I was really curious about what the big deal was, so I decided to ask Ms. Bettina, the clerk at our hotel, what it was that people were drinking and why they were drinking it in those cups. She said that everyone in Argentina drinks mate. She said it is an herb or yerba that they mix with water (hot or cold) and sometimes with sugar. Ms. Bettina explained that the cup is called a mate gourd and the straw is called a bombilla. She said that people have been drinking mate using the gourd and the bombilla as long as she could remember and that it was a tradition.
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t understand why people liked this ugly stuff and had to drink it out of the funny looking cup and the straw, but Ms. Bettina continued to tell me the tradition of mate. Believe it or not, there are rules for drinking it too! The people I saw were drinking it alone, but Ms. Bettina told me that most of the time people get together to drink mate and that it’s supposed to be sort of like a ritual. She said that usually one person, the host or whoever brings the mate, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water. The gourd is passed around, often in a circle, and each person finishes it giving it back to the person that that prepared it. The gourd (also called a mate) is passed in a clockwise order. When a person no longer wants to drink the mate, they say “gracias” to the host to signify they don’t want any more. This all sounds super interesting and super complicated!
Then Ms. Bettina asked me to wait a few minutes. She left the front desk and came back with a mate cup with the yerba inside. She poured hot water into it and gave it to me. I thought to myself “that it’s now or never.” I started to sip through the bombilla, but I could smell the foul odor before it ever got to my lips. And when it did taste it . . . YUCK! That was the most horrible thing that I had ever tasted! My face must have given away the fact that I did not like it. Ms. Bettina laughed and took the mate gourd from me and took a sip. I was so embarrassed, but she made me feel better when she went to the back, got some honey, and put it in the drink. “Try it again,” she said. I didn’t really want to, but she was so nice and I didn’t want to be rude! So here I went again. I started to sip through the bombilla, but this time it smelled sweeter. WOW! The honey made such a difference! I guess it is an acquired taste, but I finished the cup Ms. Bettina gave me and had another. I LOVED the mate so much I bought three packages of it to bring back home. I even bought a “mate set” (the mate gourd, bombilla, and the herb) for my mom. I really hope she likes it as much as I do, otherwise I’ll drink it all! With honey of course.
I thought I loved soccer, but for Argentineans soccer or fútbol, as it is called in Spanish, is more than a sport, it’s a way of life! Everyone talks about soccer all the time, there is soccer playing on TVs in almost all the cafeterias and restaurants we have been. Ever since we got to Buenos Aires, everywhere we go we see children playing soccer in parks and in the streets. They play with worn-out soccer balls, cans, balled up socks, rocks or anything they could kick! I learned yesterday that when Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona was a child, he used to play soccer with stones wrapped with grass and leaves! Now he is considered one of the best soccer player of all time!
Ever since soccer arrived in Argentina in the 18 hundreds from England, it has become the national sport. There are a lot of teams in Argentina, but the two main teams are Boca Junior and River Plate. They are eternal rivals or rivales eternos as Argentineans say! Most people in Argentina are either Boca fans or River fans.
This morning our we went to see the Boca stadium. WOW, it was amazing! It was a huge building painted with the Boca colors: blue and yellow. Argentineans call it “la bombonera”, the chocolate box. I asked the bus driver, Manuel, why the Boca team chose those colors and he told me that in 1906, Boca decided to adopt the colors of the flag of the first boat to sail into the port at La Boca in Buenos Aires. This was a Swedish ship. That’s why the yellow and blue of the Swedish flag were adopted as the team colors. Cool, huh? River’s team colors are red and white. They also have a huge stadium in Buenos Aires. Actually, it is the largest stadium in the country and people call it “el monumental.” Manuel also told me that the games in which Boca and River play each other are considered a must see. It’s like the “Subway Series” in New York and almost impossible to get tickets. Everyone, adults and children, women and men, rich and poor go to this game.
There were many shops that sold all kinds of things related to Argentinean soccer right across from the Boca stadium. I bought a River jersey for my brother and a Boca jersey for myself because I liked the colors and the story behind them.
Now I’m in my hotel room and I cannot wait to wear my jersey and play at the park with Argentinean kids. I think I’ll do that tomorrow afternoon. Bettina, the hotel clerk, told me that getting tickets to a Boca – River game is really, really hard. Oh…how I wish I could magically get some tickets to tomorrow’s match! Well…I guess the next best thing to being there would be watching the game at the cafeteria across from the hotel the Argentinean soccer fanatics!