Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tango and Polo in Argentina

I just couldn't resist escaping dreary November in Canada to the sunny warm climate of Argentina! This year, as every year since 2004 I have extended my summer and shortened my winter by taking advantage of the reverse seasons in South America. This is the first year I have come without clients, not that I didn't try my best to invite wine lovers or tango dancers to join me!

My vacation started in the small town of San Antonio de Areco - gaucho capital of Argentina! Every year around the 10th of November Tradition Days celebrate the life of the gaucho or the Argentina cowboy. Folklore Dances, Rodeo and Strings of horses bring thousands of people to this quaint town dating back to the mid 1700's. The strings of horses is a gaucho tradition where the cowboy taught their replacement horses in the pampas to follow a cow bell on a mare just from the sound. This arose from the need to keep the horses together without a tether. Today 36 strings of horses or Tropillas compete to stay in their formation in a space the size of a football field. 4 of the top strings are selected and the gaucho must demostrate that his horses are tame to the judge. Once a horse is selected by the judge the gaucho has to separate it from the rest of the string and then bridle it. These strings along with other gauchos from around the countryside participate in the town parade. Asados (BBQ) and dancing go on to the wee hours of the morning!

My love of horses and riding found me on a polo ranch about 7 km from the town. Initially I enjoyed riding these wonderful ponies (a cross between thoroughbred and the Argentina quarterhorse) through the pampas, but soon Pato, the owner of the 56 horse ranch convinced me to try Polo stick and ball. Soon my horse Bonita was fitted with leg guards and 4 reins and I will a helmut and a polo mallet and off we went to the polo field. Now one might think, as I did that hitting a ball the size of a baseball from atop a horse might be close to impossible, but with careful instruction from Pato to stand up in the stirrups and twist my torso with the mallet as an extension of my arm I was able to have contact with ball. Same rule applies in golf or any sport - keep your eye on the ball! Of course a smart horse like Bonita who moved her head to the side everytime she new I had a bad swing or who immediately doubled back when she knew I missed the ball or better yet, kicked it forward so I could make another swing made my experience with polo less frustrating than any experience I had with golf! Soon I was loping the horse and hitting the ball a fair distance. I don't intend on graduating to a level of playing in a polo match or chucker, but it is thrilling to know that I can participate on more than a spectator level in this sport of kings!
I love small , quaint, antique towns so it was difficult to board the bus or collectivo for the big city of Buenos Aires - population 16 million! Buenos Aires or Good Winds is home to tango - another one of my passions. I have be learning the tango with my good friend Trinidad since 2004 when we met on the streets of colourful La Boca where she was dancing with her partner. Trini soon taught me the basics and found me a lovely tango taxi (an escort I pay to take me to the tango halls). Every year I book lessons with Trini and dates with Juan Carlos so I can get the most out of my time on the milonga or tango floor. Again, I would never have imagined being able to close my eyes and follow the lead of an Argentine tanguero. I am getting so good at waiting and following (something unnatural for a person of my character) that I am able to have success dancing with the old tangeros who have been dancing all their lives. Some of them rated me a 9 out of 10 - quite a compliment! My favourite is Juan Carlos though, very comfortable to dance the 3 styles - traditional tango, tango waltz and milonga (a 6 step fox trot).

For the first time since I started Voyages Millefleurs Travel in 2000 I have taken the time to live my passions and enjoy my many friends in South America. Right now I am getting to know the family of my daughter's lovely boyfriend (novio) in Santiago, Chile but will soon leave them to their summer weather and asados to return to my good friends in Canada for a real Christmas with white snow!

Happy travels to all and to all a good night! Corinne in Santiago, Chile