As with all the places we’ve visited in Latin Amercia thus far, we’re fascinated by the indigenous peoples that were here before the Spanish arrived. And in San Antonio de Areco it is particularly interesting, not because of any lasting structures or even any tangible trace of an ancient culture, but because of what came out of the interbreeding between the native nomadic Indians, the ‘conquistadors’ and the black slaves – for this is how the emblematic colourful gaucho was born, a swarthy, hot-blooded mestizo.
The area of modern-day Argentina had 35 indigenous Amerindians, the Aonikenk, Kolla, Qom, Wichí, Diaguita, Mocoví and the Guarani, amongst many others and even the Mapuche who roamed across the Andes from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Today, barely 1.49% of the population claim to be descendants of the original peoples whilst emerging modern-day Argentina became the second country in the world after the US to receive the most immigrants from overseas, largely from Europe (particularly Italy), ahead of Australia!
Areco has been home to Gaucho culture, customs and traditions for many centuries but it took the publication in 1926 of ‘Don Segundo Sombra’ by Recardo Güiraldes, which follows the meeting between a Gaucho and an orphan in an Areco ‘pulperia’, to propel the town’s fame and future prosperity.
A pulperia is a traditional town bar and where better to sit out on the street on a balmy early summer evening than the historic El Mitre bar just off the main plaza, watching the passing parade of locals over a nice glass of local malbec. Yes, the occasional Gaucho would wander by, not in full regalia alas, more everyday garb – a broad-brimmed floppy boina, oversized blue shirt, dark blue bombachas, and a pair of alpagatas, touchingly holding the hand of his young daughter as they headed off for dinner. A nice end to a wonderful trip out to the countryside.