Gauchos and Romantic Notions

Argentina is slowly opening the doors to travelers, reminding me of my unforgettable Journey years ago. Many of our clients followed our trail to Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Salta and the extraordinary countryside. Our winter is their summer, if you need enticement.

Discovering a story during my Journeys is an essential characteristic of my travel. One of my Argentine ambitions was to meet a Gaucho. There are few people in Argentina as romanticized as the Gaucho. The nomadic and colorful horseman and cowhand of the Argentine and Uruguayan Pampas who flourished from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century and has remained a folk hero similar to the cowboy in western North America. We stopped many times to catch the attention of a Gaucho galloping along the side of the road, they seemed intent on their Journey and ignored our greetings!

The Gaucho in some respects, resembled members of other nineteenth century pastoral, horse-based cultures. Among them, the Peruvian chalan or morochuco, the North American cowboy, vaquero in Spanish, the Chilean huaso, the Venezuelan or Colombian llanero, the Mexican charro or the Portuguese campino. Folk heroes and outlaws.

The Gaucho first began to appear during the War of Independence. Argentine patriot forces were constantly clashing with the Spanish in the country’s pastoral ranges, often outnumbered and outgunned. Like the cowboy, Gauchos were and remain proud masterful horse riders. Typically, a Gaucho’s horse constituted most of what he owned in the world. During the wars of the 19th century in the Southern Cone, the cavalries on all sides were composed almost entirely of Gauchos. In Argentina, Gaucho armies such as that of Martín Miguel de Güemes, slowed Spanish advances. Moreover, many caudillos relied on Gaucho armies to control the Argentine provinces.

Gauchos played a fundamental role in the war, which ended in 1818, and it was around that time that legend and lore of the Gaucho came to be a part of Argentine history and literature. After the war, they drifted to Argentina’s fertile lowland Pampas which would become their new working home. It was during this time that their distinct culture emerged. They found work marshaling cattle and accomplishing ranch tasks for the owners of prosperous Estancias. Gauchos are still prevalent in the pampas, herding cattle and employed by local Estancias, where travelers may stay.

In Salta, a Gaucho is traditionally dressed in a bright red cape, knee high black boots and loose fitting black trousers or bombachas, for horse riding, a poncho, which doubles as a saddle blanket and as sleeping gear, belted with a piece of cloth known as a tirador. Their large knife hangs from the trousers, Gaucho attire is topped off with a traditional broad rimmed leather hat. Gauchos dress quite distinctly from North American cowboys and used bolas or boleadoras – (three leather bound rocks tied together with approximately three feet long leather straps) in addition to the familiar North American lariat or riata.

One may first notice the distinctive hat from a distance as they trot along farmland roads. They still roam the countryside on horseback and many were in the avenues of Salta as well; mystery still travels with the gauchos. Similar to the lore of Western cowboys, Gauchos enjoy a reputation as silent and strong, honest and hardworking; however, certainly when provoked, capable of fierceness.

Classic Gaucho’s more likely benefit from romantic notions and idyllic prose than our Western cowboys, their myth and history is celebrated yearly and honored through the countryside. To woo the fairer sex, they composed a dance called Malambo, festivals are held every summer showcasing the dance which is incredibly fast and has complex footwork.

In Mendoza, Cecilia Diaz Chuit, the owner of Cavas Wine Lodge, introduced me to several local artists and I returned home with a treasured painting of the dancing Gauchos!

Nomadic in nature, they traveled for work from estancia to estancia. A simple diet of beef, which is plentiful in Argentina, red wine and the ubiquitous mate – a caffeine-packed beverage. Gaucho culture declined in the end of the 19th century, the rugged lifestyle was viewed as uncivilized and they were dismissed by the masses. Many continued their tradition of wandering and are employed as handymen, sheep shearers, or as I discovered in Colome, as ranch managers who ride with guests.

Gaucho Folklore is still prevalent and in Salta you will see the legendary Gauchos riding their steeds through the countryside. Hundreds of roadside shrines to Gaucho Gil are visible for miles, the red flags fluttering in a breeze. Gaucho Antonio Gil or El Gauchito who lived in the 19th century, deserted the Army; while evading capture, he robbed the rich and shared with the poor. Eventually he was captured and strung up by his feet in order to be beheaded. Gaucho Gil prophesied to his executioner: “When you return home you’ll discover that I have actually been pardoned and you’ll find your son gravely ill”. He pleaded to be properly buried, which was unusual in those days for a hoodlum, in exchange for which he would assure the recovery of the executioner’s mortally ill son. But his pleas didn’t work and Gaucho Gil was beheaded. When the executioner came home he found both prophecies to be true, he hastened to return to the execution place, in order to properly bury Gaucho Gil. Soon the executioner’s son recovered – a miracle had occurred, and a legend was born. Word spread, and the shrines were built and are still maintained; gifts are left at the roadside shrines in an offering of devotion and gratitude. The red scarves and flags characteristically waving in the breeze are thought to represent Gaucho Gil’s neck scarf soaked in his blood.

The Gaucho Gil shrines are a still tended to; he was a colorful figure admired and revered, a folk hero, inspiring music and fables, a mystical symbol of bravery in his native Argentina.

At Colome, I rode twice with my Gaucho, Ruben Belazquez, an afternoon ride across sweeping grasslands and an early sunrise trek up and down steep ravines. We traversed the pampas, negotiating streams and climbed a gigantic boulder on the gentle natured Peruvian Paso ponies – Ruben who didn’t speak much English, he carefully watched to ascertain my comfort and riding proficiency – and pronounced me to be: es muy bueno! I confidently navigated a few challenging bluffs – with a nudge and a command to my pony, I galloped upstream past Ruben, fluttering pampas grass swatting my chaps. It was a magnificent Gaucho morning! Es muy Bueno!

Gauchos are indeed a reality, whether they be on an estancia or tearing through the rugged hills on a country road. My Argentine Journey was a masterful success in so many ways and in particular, my jaunts with Ruben allowed me to say I had met a Gaucho. I trailed a couple of finely dressed Gauchos in Salta but didn’t have the courage to ask for a photo. Or, as I’ve oft mentioned, sometimes mystery is better than reality; don’t you sometimes find that to be true about people you meet?

“Challenging to find guides that appeal to three generations: teens, parents, grandparents; yet you did it, Gwen! Thanks. Buenos Aires with your guides was spectacular.”  Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin (Clients for over 18 years)

Six Senses Zighy Bay – Impressions

First Impressions are Everything. Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on Oman’s northern Musandam Peninsula, a scenic 120-minute car Journey through an other-worldly landscape from Dubai. Unlike anywhere else, the Omani village inspired resort is set between sand colored craggy mountains on one side and a long sandy beach on the other, remote yet accessible.

Six Senses Zighy Bay- my ocean front suite with plunge pool

At the deserted border crossing into Musandam, I was somewhat apprehensive, my driver held my passport, he exited the car and mentioned, don’t speak unless the guard questions you. I considered my geography. On the sandy roadside ahead, a division of armed soldiers sat on tanks under the cover of a full military camouflage net. I was in good hands with the Six Senses driver. Trusting our partners is implicit in our Journeys, I frequently travel alone and sometimes in my enthusiasm for adventure, I may not focus on all the ramifications of my Journey! As an example: a blond woman traveling alone, many men in ‘outlying areas’ are stunned I am not traveling with a group or a family. Men in Muslim countries seem particularly emboldened to question my travel status. I’ve enjoyed many amusing encounters and offers…my enormous black sunglasses belie the fact that I could probably be the mom to some of these inquiring locals! And I will talk to practically everyone I meet along the way – there is always a story lurking. However, I am rarely ‘alone’ my guides and drivers are my trusted companions, I still remain in touch with some guides and drivers who have accompanied me in remote locations. Of course, our local teams are in place for our clients, but my travel is a little more free form and I need to assure clients, yes you will be safe here.

Six Senses Zighy Bay is very secluded, near fishing villages on a section of land that juts into the Strait of Hormuz in between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The steep winding road through jagged fiords opens to the sparkling sapphire Gulf of Oman. A white crescent beach, thousands of date-palm trees, and a stone village sit on the edge of the sea.

Multiple hotel arrival options: speed boat, 4×4 or paraglider. The most exhilarating arrival is as a passenger with their paragliding professional. Launch from Zighy Mountain soar through the jagged mountain range from 1000 feet upwards and enjoy the breathtaking views before making a soft landing on the white sandy beach.

I’ve always wanted to soar, and I’ve always thought of myself as fearless…the winds were up on arrival, preventing the ultra-exotic para-glide cliff jump. Jad Frem took me to the spectacular restaurant at the top of Zighy Mountain, we stood on the cliff edge, my heart stopped, and I knew I would never have jumped from this mountain top, I was quietly relieved.

Jad instead surprised me with a breakfast hang gliding experience. I found it rather terrifying – sadly, I can no longer say I am fearless…the soaring experience through the jagged Hajar Mountains lodged my heart in my throat for 20 solid minutes. We did glide through a wispy white cloud; a very pleasant experience, warm and moist, a momentary distraction from my terror! Our trusted hotel partner, Jad, wasn’t going to let a little wind mar my visit. We rely on our teams to pivot and please our clients on their Journeys.

I loved my escape to Six Senses Zighy Bay, it’s a restful authentic experience in the midst of small local villages. Six Senses has fashioned a resort laid out like a traditional Omani village. Low buildings of natural stone with jareed (date-palm stick) roofs and generous pool terraces. Sandy paths, lined with fig and pomegranate trees connect the villas. My pool and Villa opened to the sea. Mini tree climbing goats wander the property, it’s truly a restful zone of tranquility. Activities abound if you must: hiking goat paths, paragliding from surrounding cliffs, canyoning in a rocky wadi. You can also cruise the seas on the Dhahab, a 90-foot restored dhow. Oh, and more delicious date varieties than I’ve ever tasted!

Jad wanting me to see more of Oman, arranged my departure in a seaplane back to Dubai. Encouraging me to depart in my shorts, I fearful and respectful of the modest culture was very uncomfortable travelling with my legs exposed – in Muslim culture and even in the heat, I cover up!

Driver stacked three weeks of baggage into the black SUV, another adventure ensued, the seaplane was waiting on a beach in a few inches of water. What a visual contrast, a well worn wooden fishing boat, a turbaned man in long white robes and my seaplane. The rare landing attracted a cluster of barefoot ancient grizzled men and shrieking little boys. I’m sure they expected Madonna to emerge from the SUV, their disappointment was not evident; they offered to schlepp my enormous bags across the sand into the seaplane and waved farewell.

First Impressions bestow lasting memories. Jad assured I wouldn’t miss the exotic arrival and even made the return an adventure not to be forgotten. Another ‘story’ for my journals, another memory to savor. I had completely forgotten my border apprehension, I’ll never forget the grizzled old man waving and welcoming me at the beach. I hope he also treasures a memory of the day a seaplane landed on his village shore.

Highly recommend Six Senses Zighy Bay, add a beach visit when passing through the UAE or Dubai. Some moments are planned, some unexpected, isn’t that why we travel?

A colorful look at Oman.