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Travel Buzz
Ganchos & Gauchos - The Lifeblood of Buenos Ayres
By Denise Caiazzo

Saunter down the cobblestone streets of the San Telmo district in Buenos Ayres and tango music will waft around and through you at every corner. Enter any eatery in Palermo and tango will pervade. Step into a taxi and tango music will once again gently caress your ears and permeate your soul.

Ganchos

Buenos Ayres (yes, that’s how they spell it there) oozes tango. It is the lifeblood of this dynamic and vast South American city. Tango whispers the most personal stories of loss and suffering, of longing and desire...of a people who simply will not be suppressed by any political regime or the unavoidable disappointments and tragedies of life. If you listen closely, entwined in tango’s melancholy, you will also sense an irrefutable drive for life and an undeniable spirit of triumph. And always an expression of deep passion...which is clearly evident in Argentina’s “ganchos” and “gauchos.”

So, first let’s talk about its ganchos. In tango dancing, a gancho is a very sexy, fast hooking and releasing of a woman’s leg around a man’s leg or vice versa. It is a classic move that is guaranteed to capture the attention of any dance partner or onlooker. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to perfect my ganchos on a recent 10-day tango trip to Buenos Ayres.

Traveling with Dancesport of Manhattan, the host of the excursion, we toured the city’s distinct neighborhoods in the late mornings and had the great pleasure of taking tango lessons in the afternoons at the Metejon Tango School with some of the best instructors in the world. Often assisted by Spanish-English interpreters, they deftly led us to discover our own musical energies as we learned new turn patterns and fine-tuned our existing moves.

One outstanding moment that will be etched in my memory forever occurred when our teachers for the day — Carlos & Rosa Perez (who are among the most highly respected in the tango world and have danced together for decades) — gave us the gift of a demonstration. As Carlos embraced Rosa in that rustic loft, I witnessed an exquisite tenderness and intimacy. It was almost too private to watch. And when Rosa delivered her embellishments — a precise, almost imperceptible tap-tap of her foot here or a small, circular movement there — it literally brought tears to my eyes. Her feet were telling a tale of love, loss and life. There was very little dramatic flicking and wrapping of the legs, as it would not have been befitting of their station in life, but the connection, the heart and the energy of tango (and human relationship) were in full exhibition.

Another high point of the trip transpired in San Telmo.  This bohemian quarter is a must-see, with shops, crafts, cafes, musicians, dancers and performance artists all along its cobblestone streets. On Sunday afternoons, several streets are blocked off and Argentineans and visitors co-mingle. In the plaza, an impromptu tango called out to us and, naturally, we acquiesced. Now what could be more satisfying than spontaneously dancing tango outside on a steamy summer afternoon with a stunningly handsome partner surrounded by spectators and other dancers of all ages moving together to life’s primal beat? With each step, my heart welled up and overflowed with passion.

And just down the street, a trio serenaded all the “chicos” (friends) with an interlude of classical music and tango...a puppeteer enacted a sad tale of love lost...a dapper older gentleman poured out his soul in song...a mature couple entranced onlookers with their fancy footwork...and visitors and natives alike engaged in conversation, creating new connections and stories to tell.

As if all of this were not enough, later each day we enjoyed long, sumptuous dinners (be sure to sample the Argentinean beef and local wines, especially the Malbec-Merlot), and ventured off to a different “milonga” (tango club) each night. Even within tango, there are different flavors to choose from...Sunderland for classic tango and the grace of mature, local dancers; Salon Canning for a lovely atmosphere and a mélange of locals and visitors; La Catedral for a truly underground tango experience; Nino Bien, the place to be and be seen on Thursday nights; La Viruta very late at night on Sundays (starting at 1am) for the heart-pounding, breathtaking nuevo tango of Argentina’s next generation.

I could go on endlessly, but I hope I have adequately painted an enticing picture.  Tango will ignite a fire in you, if you only open the door to its wiles.

Gauchos

And now, if you will join me as we leave Buenos Ayres proper and travel just an hour or so out into the countryside. There at La Tarde Polo Club ranch, we meet the “gauchos,” Argentina’s cowboys.

These wanderers of the “pampas” (the plain) were generally nomadic through the centuries. They lived off the land and often tended cattle. Like the North American cowboys, gauchos are reputed to be strong, honest, silent types. There is, perhaps, more of an air of melancholy about the classic gaucho than the classic cowboy. Also like the cowboy, the gauchos were and still are proud and great horseriders. Furthermore, the gaucho plays an important symbolic role in the nationalist feelings of Argentina.

Embodying the gaucho lifestyle, La Tarde Polo Club offers a respite from the fiery passion of the city, and guides its guests to find an earthy connection to the land and a simpler life.

Our host arranged a very special “dia de campo.” From the moment we set foot on the soil at La Tarde, we exhaled out any stresses and tensions (and sore muscles) we may have carried with us. The warmest of welcomes by the gauchos and the beautiful hostess of the household in full regalia extended throughout the day.

Although some visitors go to La Tarde for an active polo-centric vacation, we opted for a more relaxing day. I sat for a long time on the porch of the main farm-style house, gazing out and sighing as the pastures met the horizon in every direction. At a leisurely pace, we toured the farm, greeted the animals, and even had pig races! Our task was to shoo the massive, intelligent and sometimes stubborn critters around a track and back to the pen to take first place — a unique experience, for sure. Some in our party took a dip in the pool, while others learned “chacarera” (folk dancing) with wide smiles of joy. And, I even had the opportunity to gallop off on a magnificent horse, arms wrapped around a burly gaucho — for safety reasons, of course.

The ranch at La Tarde houses polo ponies and offers one-of-a-kind vacations in which guests can learn the intricacies of the game from the experts. If polo strikes your fancy, attend a game while in Buenos Ayres. Argentina attracts many of the best polo players and ponies in the world.

After the dressage demonstration, dancing, pig races and pool-dipping, then came the “asado” (Argentine barbecue). Using only the freshest local ingredients and livestock raised on the ranch, the chorizos (sausages), morcillas (black pudding), chinchulines (chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbread), asado de tira (ribs), vacío (flank steak), and pollo (chicken) slow-cooked all day on the open, outdoor grill — and were simply to-die-for. Add a splash of chimichurri sauce, along with a luscious local wine, and we entered gastronomic ecstacy. These were the very meats and sweetbreads that I traveled specifically to Argentina to sample. Also, be sure to try the “mate” (a highly caffeinated drink that you sip through a straw from a hollow gourd — best shared with friends for luck).

And so, my ten glorious days in Buenos Ayres delivered many ganchos and a few gauchos, too. This is a place of pure passion. To appreciate this city to the fullest extent, consider taking some tango lessons before visiting. And then just let the music, the artistry, the history and the indomitable spirit of the Argentine people wash over and through you. Beware, you just may be changed forever. I was.

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