Gaucho Argentino offers rides in three different locations. Corrientes, Salta and Los Andes. This is the first of three blogs about volunteering, riding, and living with Gaucho Argentino.
These blogs about volunteering in Argentina are written by Stine Andersen, for questions you can contact her on Instagram, or firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Gaucho Argentino, make sure to check out their Instagram: @gauchoargentinocabalgatas and @gauchodario.
After traveling around South America for 5 years and volunteering with only foreign ranch owners, it’s safe to say that Gaucho Argentino was a new experience for us. For over 20 years, Gaucho Argentino has been owned by Darío Gallardo who is a real gaucho, through and through. He founded this business after he had worked in the special forces and returned to his home in the Corrientes province of Argentina, where after a while he realised tourists were interested in experiencing and living the Gaucho lifestyle.
The Corrientes location is just an eight-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. We were picked up at the station in Esquina by Darío and from there, drove another 40 minutes to the Estancia we would be staying at. When we arrived, we met the other guests who were staying with Gaucho Argentino in Corrientes. We dropped off our bags and after a quick introduction and look-around, went on a horse ride around the property of the Estancia.
Darío breeds his own criollo horses. Approximately 300 horses are spread between different Estancias and fields, and with 5000 hectares, there is more than enough space for all of them. The horses were a pleasure to ride. They are healthy, forward-going, with a shiny coat, and well-trained. Oftentimes when out on trail rides, we have experienced horses that wouldn’t walk next to each other and get upset or kick. However, Darío’s horses live out in the herd, so they know each other well and there is no issue to mingle while out on a trail ride, which is great for sharing stories and cigars. All of the horses have great personalities and there is a horse for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or experienced.
Since the grass in the region is great, the horses don’t need any additional feed and have plenty of energy for lengthy gallops on the riverbanks. The riding in this area is spectacular. The wetlands provide everything from open grass fields for endless canters to sandy beaches at the river. Not only is the countryside amazing, but also the incredibly diverse wildlife. Hundreds of birds, caimans, deer, iguanas, armadillos, and capybaras make you feel like you’re out on a safari tour.
Shoes for the horses are not necessary on the soft and sandy ground of this region. The way the hooves are being trimmed is something we hadn’t seen before – they simply use a machete and with the help of a piece of wood, ‘hammer’ the bits off that are too long.
We were also introduced to a new way of catching the horses. Once all the horses are gathered in the coral, the Gauchos tie the lasso to the fence on one side, then herd the horses into the corner and with the help of the lasso, the horses will be lined up in a row, ready to have the bridle put on. It might sound slightly complicated, but it is an efficient and less chaotic way to what we have seen before on our travels! Make sure to check out Stine’s instagram highlights from GA Corrientes!
The Gaucho culture, which dates back around 300 years, is a vital aspect in this region of Argentina. The land has been owned by the family for decades and knowledge is being passed on through generations. The life of a Gaucho includes, among other things, working with cattle, sheep and horses, herding them, checking up on them, vaccinating them – the list is endless. Unlike what we are used to in Europe, the animals live out 24/7, and trying to find cows in a 1000-ha field can take a while.
One day, we loaded some horses onto the trailer and drove about an hour to another Estancia where we met other Gauchos who would join us for the day of work in the campo. Once all the horses were saddled, we took off. After riding for a while, the guys pointed at a family of wild boars that was walking in the distance. As we got a little closer, two of the Gauchos grabbed their lassos and started galloping towards the mother boar and her kids, so we would get a chance to see them up close. Even though they missed them by very little, it was amazing to see this little family out on their stroll in the wild. Just a few minutes later, another Gaucho came riding up next to us out of nowhere, holding a baby Nandu in his hand that he had just found. Gauchos are definitely always up for a surprise!
Finally, after almost stepping on a caiman in the shallow water that covered the grass, we found the first cows. They were gathered and the ‘jefe gaucho’, or Gaucho in charge, gave some orders on who was supposed to do what, and from there on, things went smoothly. We split up, some of us watched the group of cows, and the others went off to keep looking for other cows.
Having traveled in South America and worked in different countries with horsemen before, we had the chance to experience many different life- and work styles. When working with cows before, it had some sort of chaotic aspect to it and included a lot of yelling and shouting at the cows, running around to make cows go in the direction you would like them to, and so on. This time, however, there was none of that. There was no shouting, as they explained that this would stress the cows and cause them to run off. Instead, the Gauchos worked closely together and were always aware of each other and paid attention to each other’s signs and body language.
After a couple of hours, we had found most of the cows and gathered all of them in one place. And then it was time to take them back to the Estancia, which would be another two-and-a-half-hour ride. The work of a Gaucho is no piece of cake. Many hours in the saddle, while the heat and mosquitoes are not to be underestimated. Moving approximately 150 cows for several kilometres demands good communication and teamwork. A day out with the Gauchos is an experience that you won’t forget easily. There is an incredible sense of community and it’s almost like a ceremony. It’s not a 9-5 job you work and then go home. Everyone shares their passion for this life and for a culture that is more and more difficult to keep alive. The many hours in the saddle give time to have some long talks with the gauchos and they always show an interest in us when we visit. They might even make you take a video of the cows as an excuse to get your number. With a freshly prepared asado (BBQ) and cold drinks, we cheer to a successful day of work.
Rarely, everything goes smoothly when owning that many animals. During our stay, an illness broke out, transmitted by wild birds and mosquitoes. Many horses got sick and for days, it was a matter of hours to get injections to the sick horses. While out on a ride in the morning, we discovered that two important mares had gotten ill. We ended up cantering all the way home to get the injections, bringing them back to the horses as quickly as possible, finding the horses again, lassoing them, and injecting them. Luckily, we managed to get the medicine to them on time and both of them survived.
Apart from being at the beautiful Estancia where Darío’s rides are based, we also got to stay at a neighboring Estancia, about a 1,5-hour horse ride away. We rode there after lunch and were greeted by the owners of the place whom we had met on our first day when driving back from the station. The hospitality in South America has always been something that we appreciate a lot. No matter where you go, people will always make sure that you are okay, that you have enough to eat and drink, and whatever else they might be able to help you with.
During our stay at this Estancia, we helped the guys take care of horses with injuries, vaccinate them, played (or rather attempted to play) ‘Corrida de sortija’, which is similar to ring jousting, and in the evening, we enjoyed our wine while Darío played the guitar. Music, more precisely Folklore, is a part of the culture that can’t be missed. If you ever go on an adventure with Gaucho Argentino, two things are guaranteed - music and good wine!
The passion and soul Darío has for what he does is very special. There is a reason his wine is called ‘alma líquida’, or liquid soul, that is being produced (for private consumption mainly) in San Rafael, Mendoza. Money is not the drive for what he does, but it’s his incredible passion for keeping the Gaucho culture alive and giving other people the chance to get an impression of what this life is like. Working together with locals enables Darío to support the local community and keep the Gaucho culture alive this way. Hearing about the doors he has opened for people and families who were barely able to make it and can now live a sustainable life is heartwarming.
When asked who a true Gaucho is, Darío replied that a Gaucho is not who dresses like one. A Gaucho is a person who has the passion and feel for it, someone who has the soul for it, and it’s not something that you can fabricate. It’s not often you meet a well-traveled Gaucho who not only has seen other places but also understands the differences of cultures and people. When sharing stories from his life, it becomes clear that Darío is a person who has seen it all and knows how to use that experience well for a successful business. There has to be a reason why he says he could write eight books about his life!
Spending about 2 weeks volunteering in Corrientes with Darío was more than we could have imagined. You are introduced to a life that, like he said, can’t be described. It’s a complex life, with new and oftentimes challenging tasks thrown into your way daily. Having that many animals requires a lot of work and caretaking. The infrastructure of Darío’s business functions because of one important thing – the passion everyone shares for this life. You need to be able to rely on people, especially when you’re not constantly present at one location. Working with that many Gauchos in three different locations is not an easy task and requires mutual respect and seamless communication.
Corrientes is the perfect place if you are looking for the authentic Gaucho experience, incredible riding, never-ending canters, and great wildlife. Even if you are not that much into horse riding, there are plenty of other options for you to participate in, like sailing on the river, going fishing, going on a car safari or just chilling by the pool.
On Stine’s Instagram you can find videos and photos from the experience in Corrientes with Gaucho Argentino.
In the next blog post, you can read about our unforgettable adventure in the region of Salta with Gaucho Argentino, the horses took us from the desert through green valleys into the mountains, where we slept under the stars and took baths in the river.
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