It was a couple years earlier that my cousin had called and asked if I had been to
Argentina, and now I had the chance to visit. We had booked a cruise around the Cape of
Good Hope and would be leaving from Buenos Aires, taking a few days to visit Iguazu
Falls and spend some time in Argentina before the cruise left.
At the time when my cousin called he was looking for specific information. He
was going to the country with three goals: he wanted to get his teeth fixed, learn how to
dance the Argentine Tango and find out more about their management of grass fed beef.
It may seem like a strange combination but it had developed into a lively conversation
that piqued my interest then, and now I would peruse at least two of the topics.
Let’s clear this up, right now. I did not need any dental work, I did take a Tango
lesson and it proved I was at least as bad a dancer as I thought—maybe worse. My wife
assured me I was worse.
The trip to Iguazu Falls is covered in another chapter. The Falls extend into three
countries and the lessons to be learned from them would be diluted by combining them
with other distinguishing features of these countries. Enjoy them on another page.
As is often the case, we lump together parts of a region and think that by visiting
one place we have visited the whole area. People speak of going to Africa like they have
visited the entire continent when often they didn’t get a true taste of even one country.
People may think they have seen Canada when they have been to Banff and Niagara
Falls. We are guilty of the same thing when travelling; though restricted only by time and
budget, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we have gained a real understanding of
In that regard I spent some time on the Internet to secure guides for my time at
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Uruguay. I was extremely lucky and had great guides at each
location. While I did not have the wide-ranging goals that my cousin did and got two of
them out of the way early, the Tango deserves at least some discussion.
The Tango is to Argentina as the Maple Leaf and Mounties are to Canada. It is
everywhere. So while I did not need the lesson to learn how bad a dancer I was, I did
submit to taking one. I had the feeling that not subjecting myself to at least one session
would be akin to visiting Rome and not seeing the Pope.
The studio was what I expected a dance studio to be—up a flight of stairs in a
building that needed some cosmetic repair, and the inside had mirrors on at least two
walls. Chairs were placed around the outside of the room for seating students during the
introductory session, which included a brief history of the dance and the meaning behind
various movements. I was a sponge soaking up the explanations, determined they would
translate to the most graceful movements when we ‘hit the boards’. Alas they did not. Try
as I might I knew I was awful, but just like when you are waiting in line and someone
shows up behind you—you feel better. I could not believe it but when I looked around I
was by no means the most ungraceful creature in the room.
We had meet Jim and Esther Moo in the car on the way over to the lesson. Jim
was a gamer, but his enthusiasm could not make up for his lack of rhythm no matter how
hard he tried. I am not sure if Esther was not interested in acquiring the skill or just did
not want to be bumping into people while the music played, but in either case she was not
as enthusiastic and preferred to sit out the occasional journey across the floor. Jim would
have no part of that and insisted on attacking every opportunity with full enthusiasm.
Thankfully, the lesson ended with no serious injuries but our night of Tango was
far from over. The package included with our tour now had us off to a dinner theatre with
a musical performance of you guessed it—a Tango.
The theatrical show far surpassed the dance lesson for me. The theatre was a cozy
venue with tables shoehorned into every nook. The lighting was excellent and I was
served a great steak, albeit at 9:30 which is a bit late for dinner in my mind. It made for a
less than restful sleep, but that was my fault and no reflection on the quality of the meal.
The night at the theatre had me convinced, I was a fan of the Tango and Argentine
I had not been able to secure a visit to a working farm despite my best efforts.
What had been billed as a farm tour was in fact a visit to a one time working farm on the
edge of the city, presently converted to a petting zoo. It housed a great hall for the noon
meal and dance demonstration. I was disappointed but it was the best I could find.
It did not take long and the manager of the facility explained to me that the
working part of the farm was several hours away. This yard had formerly been the central
location but as the city encroached on it, the cattle were moved to pastures further away.
At present the tourists provided another stream of income. I appreciated his honesty and
he had a good knowledge of the cattle. We discussed management techniques for the
limited rainfall the ranch received, and it was not long before he and I had slipped away
from the tour and he was explaining the art of sharing a cup of yerba mate.
“Mate is always taken from a shared cup,” he said, “The straw is always turned
towards the person you are offering it to.” I admit I was a bit uneasy about sharing a
straw with this fellow but I thought he would be offended by my refusal—I wanted to
gain his confidence and I had so many more questions. The drink, he told me, would be
bitter and take time for me to get used to, but it was very good. I enjoyed it and could
easily have had it replacing my morning coffee. It is made from the leaves and twigs of
the Yerba plant and the same batch of chaff can be used for up to 15 times.
“That is why you see people carrying their mugs with them all day, they just need
to add hot water and they have another batch,” he said. “It is much higher in caffeine than
coffee and is somewhat addictive.” He chuckled and took a deep pull on his straw.
I was starting to feel better about the visit to the petting zoo farm and when it was
time for lunch, we were ushered into a large hall that housed several hundred people. I
thought the steak the previous night was good but the noon meal exceeded it—and the
precision with which it was served was beyond military. The quality of food was
surpassed only by the display of showmanship in the delivery. The meats were presented
on skewers and carved directly onto your plate; just about the time you thought you were
done another species arrived. Argentina is known for its beef but its pork, chicken and
lamb would stand with any in the world if this farm were used as the source.
The serving staff doubled as entertainment and between courses provided a brief
history of the country in the form of dance, and as expected included a Tango. The finale
was a free for all with the serving staff finding partners from the tables, and when I
looked to the dance floor and saw Sandra dancing with a guy in a John Deere hat, I knew
we were on a farm tour.
The afternoon show consisted of a mix of old time ranch skills and horsemanship.
The animal rights groups had obviously had their influence and the bola demonstration
was done on a rebar flamingo rather than a live calf, but it did make the point of how in
the right hand the tool could be a worthy addition to the cowboy’s artillery.
The skill of the gauchos was broad enough in range to make them credible as
actual ranch hands and not professional rodeo entertainers. The group also varied enough
in age to have me believing some of these guys actually worked cattle on the plains at
one time, while the younger ones would be more comfortable on a motorcycle if they
were really rounding up cattle.
I came away satisfied that I had seen at least the edge of beef production and had
discussed some of the management tools required in this part of the world. Talking to a
real farmer is always the best way to understand a country.
But we had not yet conquered every aspect of the country. This was a time that
our daughter Amanda was very involved with a knitting group, and while Sandra had not
paid attention to the derivatives, I was armed with a list of the amounts of wool required
for certain garments, as well as the variations depending on the weight of the wool, so
that I could carry out the shopping aspect.
I had one more stop in Argentina and that was a wool store. I met with marginal
success and when we boarded the cruise ship and compared notes, I had not found the
mother lode but I was going home with enough wool to arm Amanda for the next knitting