A Gaucho’s Life in San Antonio de Areco
When thinking about Argentina, what comes to mind? Americans will say meat, Europeans will think about football/soccer, and South Americans will mention tango — but locals will talk about the mythical gauchos.
In the middle of the Argentinian Pampas, only a 60 miles from Buenos Aires, stands a little town, to all appearances very quiet, but keen to preserve the country’s habits and customs. San Antonio de Areco was founded in 1730, and it is today probably the town that best symbolizes gauchos’ traditions of the past. For 80 years now, this town has held the Festival of Tradition every November, which is considered to be the oldest celebration in Argentina.
An Origin Dating Back to the 30’s
The origin of the festival is linked to the history of San Antonio de Areco. Located at the edge of the town, along the Camino Real, the Ricardo Güiraldes Museum is one of the unmissable places of interest in Areco. Its name pays tribute to the famous Argentinian writer, poet and novelist Ricardo Güiraldes, whose family owned estancias in San Antonio de Areco.
His popular novel, Don Segundo Sombra, drew inspiration from the way of life of a gaucho arequero (Areco’s dwellers), and was so successful that the mayor of the town at that time decided to establish the Tradition Day in San Antonio de Areco in 1939. This celebration originally took place in Areco and Lujan, a town only a stone’s throw away from Buenos Aires. It was only in 1984 that an ordinance law was adopted and ordered that San Antonio de Areco become permanent headquarters of the Tradition Day.
The first celebration was organized in the main streets of the town in 1939. Only a few horse shows, such as rodeos, were planned. At night, a barbecue (asado in Spanish) was made and traditional dances and authentic folkloric music were performed.
The Festival of Tradition today
Today, the Festival of Tradition is much more than a simple day celebrating traditions of a period kept in old ages. This unique cultural event gathers thousands of gauchos from all over the country, and of all ages and origin. It always takes place the week of November 10 to celebrate the birthday of José Hernandez, Argentinian poet and journalist, especially famous thanks to the poem Martin Fierro, which, just as Don Segundo Sombra, refers to the gauchos’ life in the campo. This date was chosen in order to pay tribute to this literary icon, who devoted his life to defend the gaucho’s identity and his role in the independence of Argentina.
All along the week, interesting exhibitions, captivating concerts and elegant dances are performed at the four sides of the town. During the weekends, horse-riding competitions, horseback games and jineteadas are carried out. Jineteadas refers to rodeos, in the style of South America. The gaucho attempts to stay on a young, wild horse from 6 to 15 seconds. This event is one of the most attended in the festival as it provides gauchos with the opportunity to challenge one another and to prove their strength, dexterity and bravery.
The show’s climax is the parade of gauchos throughout the town. Horsemen and horses get together under the crowd’s applause and march in the cobbled streets of San Antonio de Areco. Today, according to the tradition, the Argentinian flag should be held by Oscar Peyrena, one of the most emblematic gauchos of the province.
The festivities don’t stop when night falls. In the streets, a delicious smell of grilled meat permeates, couples chat and get drinks while rhythmic guitarreadas(folkloric music) play all day and curious travelers listen to the stories told by locals sitting around a bonfire.
Have a walk in the streets of Areco during the Festival of Tradition, and you will be carried away by this surprising festival. Only an hour away from the crush of the capital city, San Antonio de Areco is a journey back in the past and is a good example of the country’s cultural diversity. Peasants, craftsmen, dancers, musicians, artists and gauchos try hard to revive the old local habits, so as to preserve this unique heritage among a population, eager to protect all the legends of Argentina.
The travel agency Areco Tradicion was created with the idea of introducing a traditional town strongly marked by the gauchos’ footprint: San Antonio de Areco. It was founded in 2013 by Bertrand Mahé, a professional photographer and lover of the large wild Argentinian landscapes and Andrés Ferrante, founder of the Portal Areco, a tourism website about San Antonio de Areco and its surrounding regions. In 2015, Sarah Reynier decided to leave Buenos Aires, where she had been living for two years, and join the team of Areco Tradición in San Antonio de Areco. To learn more about the Festival of Tradition, visit Arecotradicion.com/en/homepage/.