San Antonio de Areco
Driving to San Antonio de Areco from Buenos Aires made me feel that Kansas is hilly. It is FLAT out there in the plains! At one point, our driver stopped and we could see the flatness fall away on both sides: can you see the curvature of the earth? If yes, then we saw it.
San Antonio de Areco is a sweet little town. It is chock full of BnBs and restaurants, and is often full of people from Buenos Aires, getting away for the weekend. It's only 100 km from the city, and we had a perfect day for a tour: sunny but not too hot.
First, we met Juan Manuel (think Robin Williams in a burly version of Kevin Kline's body) at la Esquina de Merti (corner of Arellano and Bartolome Mitre), and had coffee, juice and a snack. The city was asleep, except for the people attending mass. Juan Manuel said there had been a folkdance event until very late, and so many people were sleeping in that day.
He told us about the city's history. Then we toured the main square, took a look into the beautiful church there. I have already managed to forget most of what we learned. The main takeaway for me as an anthropologist, was that the Spanish considered the indigenous peoples to be sub-human and so there was a crisis of identity when Spanish and indigenous people intermarried. The criollos wanted acceptance and status, but were considered inferior. The gauchos, living in the provinces and working the land, raising horses, etc. created a culture that was more polite, gentlemanly, more elevated than the Spanish manners, in an attempt to put themselves on a more even playing field with the ruling classes.
I learned a new term: la gauchada: a favor. Because the gauchos valued how people treated each other, you can ask a favor. You are basically asking them to follow their gaucho code of keeping your word, being respectful and doing the right thing, it is almost impossible for someone to say no to this. I haven't tried to use it, although I asked some friends about it. Even the ones who are porteno-porteno, felt you should grant favors asked this way.
La Olla de Cobre
Then we visited a chocolate factory, La Olla de Cobre (The Copper Pot). They are apparently famous for their alfajores, YUMMY cookies filled with dulce de leche (or something else) that I can no longer eat because I can't eat gluten. The others had samples and seemed to really enjoy them.
They also make their own chocolate. I bought some dark chocolate and some chocolate-dipped candied lemon slices to bring home. I like a bit more POW in my chocolate. This was a bit smooth and not as dark as I usually eat. However, I barely got any of it because my son liked it so much, so I know it's good!
The Draghi museum and workshop
For me, the high point of the San Antonio de Areco part of the tour was the Draghi workshop and mini-museum. It was very cool to see the amazing silverwork that the Draghi family has created, and even cooler to see partially finished objects that were works-of-art-in-progress. Wow and wow. I also enjoyed looking at the traditional silver pieces for personal adornment, for display of wealth on your horses, and for the home. I would have liked more time to look around, but three different tour groups were trying to not get in each other's way.
Estancia El Ombu
After visiting San Antonio de Areco, we hopped back in the car, and jolted our way to Estancia El Ombu. Apparently, the road to the ranch is SUPPOSEDLY paved: the government has produced funds to pave it twice, but it is a dirt road. That money disappeared into someone's pockets, and the proof was the dusty, bumpy way to the ranch. And we think we have graft here in the USA!
El Ombu was lovely. You can rent rooms there, and there is a swimming pool, horses to ride, and great food if you want to get away from Buenos Aires for longer than a day.
For us, we had time to have a snack, a leisurely amble around part of the ranch on horses, a long lunch with three salads, drinks, and more meat options than any of us could eat; and very good dessert (they made me something special because the regular dessert had wheat: VERY yummy).
After lunch, there was gaucho guitar and song, folk dancing, and a Indian horse whispering show. We ended up as part of the show. I am not adding the video in (although thank you Connie for the footage!), but I may change my mind later on.
I was skeptical about the price of this tour, but I have to say, I feel they did a great job. As I am less than excited about driving in Argentina, the thought of being picked up and dropped off right from the hotel was very attractive. Luis was early (Argentine and early!), a good driver, and a very nice person on top of it all.
Juan Manuel is one of the chattiest people I have ever met. I have never had Monty Python and Shakespeare quoted to me in almost the same sentence. He lives in San Antonio de Areco, but is from Buenos Aires and has traveled extensively. For the people in my tour who didn't speak Spanish, having a tour guide who is completely fluent in English was helpful. He was almost as excited about participating in the tour as we were, and he does it a few times a week.
Guillermo and the tour office were very fast in replying to inquiries. They sent very specific, clear emails, and are clearly well organized. I still don't quite understand why most of the payment had to be made in U.S. dollars at the tour (it felt like a spy mission), but we were able to pay the reservation fee online.
I picked this tour because everything was included in the price. Other tours had you show up at San Antonio under your own steam; or got you to the estancia, but didn't seem to drive you home. Tips and the drinks we had in San Antonio while Juan Manuel gave us the history of San Antonio de Areco, were our only expenses for the day. The only question that we could not answer: were we supposed to tip the driver and the tour guide? At $200/person, we decided that we had spent enough and left it alone.