We travel because we’re bored with the familiar.  We’re fed up with spotting a Starbucks on every street corner.  We can’t take another day of banal office gossip around the photo copier.  We’re tired of seeing  the same old big box shops springing up in the suburbs.

Finally we make our escape from the known.  A foreign country, fresh faces, different ways of doing things.

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Time for a travel escape!

In a lot of ways, Argentina’s just like Europe or North America.  They’ve got their McDonald’s fast food joints and Carrefour supermarkets.  Faded jeans, a tight gap t-shirt and a pair of Nikes is pretty normal attire.  People buzz around in Toyota Hilux pick-ups and tiny Renault Clios.

Argentina does, however, have its own way of doing things.  Here are a few odd, unusual, uniquely Argentine customs that pop to mind.

Mate.

Argentines are absolutely addicted to the stuff.  They all run around totting a mate gourda, sucking this bitter herbal tea through a metal straw known as a bombilla.  At service stations there are special hot water vending machines where, for 1 peso, you can fill up a thermos and make mate on the road.

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Mate: an Argentine tradition just as important as baseball and apple pie for Americans, baguettes for the French or cricket for the Brits.

Mate is the backbone of Argentine sociability.  Just like in Arab countries where there’s an art to making tea, slowing pouring the sweet brew into tiny tulip-shaped glasses, the Argentines  make a ceremony out of drinking mate.

Only in Argentina cups are for sissies and everybody passes around the gourda mate and sucks out of the same metal straw.

Yuck, you’re thinking, totally unhygienic.   Sharing straws with strangers.  Surprisingly, you get used to it.

Gauchito.  Throughout the country you’ll find small roadside shrines dedicated to this uniquely Argentine folk saint, Gauchito Gil.  At each shrine, cheerful red flags flap in the wind and offerings are scattered about.

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Gauchito can perform great miracles, but he expects something in return. Cigarettes and whisky will do.

Argentines believe Gauchito has the power to heal, but this saint expects something for his efforts.  Motorists leave bottles of whiskey, cigarettes, sweets, and even money.  Once we even found an old pair of shoes that had been offered to up at a Gauchito shrine.

Seems odd at first, but who’s to judge?  Americans toss millions of coins down wishing wells, also hoping for miracles.

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Roadside Gauchito shrines make great spots for a siesta.

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Siestas.  In most parts of the world, siestas have fallen out of fashion.  In our time is money culture, who can afford to slice off part of the day for a leisurely nap?  Argentines.  That’s who.

You will be hard-pressed to find anything moving on main street between the hours of 1PM and 5PM in most of small town Argentina.  Shops, office and even supermarkets are locked up tight and everybody’s at home snuggled up in bed frittering away the afternoon.  Great for sleepy Argentines, less so for hungry cyclists.

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Oh look, extended hours. Re-opening after the siesta at 4:30 instead of 5:00.
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Shop open a whopping 5 and a half hours per day. Could be a long wait to stock up on supplies if you’re a passing cyclist.

Yes, there may be a lot of cultural homogeneity, but Argentina is unique.  Just like every other country on the planet.  That’s why travel–with all its inconvenience and uncertainty–is worth the effort.

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Who knows what lies ahead?
Why travel? Gauchito and other Argentine oddities

6 thoughts on “Why travel? Gauchito and other Argentine oddities

  • Sharon Weber
    December 7, 2010 at 11:54 PM
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    Love reading your updates! Long siestas sound pretty good, but I’d opt out on the straw sharing. Sounds like your spirits are good and that you’re enjoying South America more. Keep riding strong.
    Sharon and Ken

    Reply
  • Jake
    December 11, 2010 at 2:38 AM
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    Hey, you guys are getting close to your goal. What happens after Argentina? Time to hit he job market? We backpacked in Argentina in 2008 and loved it, but I could not get used to their schedules. Dinner at 10 PM just doesn´t cut it for me.

    Reply
  • World Biking
    December 11, 2010 at 1:31 PM
    Permalink

    @Jake: Not quite time to go searching for jobs. Our plan is to cycle back north to Colombia, this time passing through thje Andes…Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Then we’ll see what comes next.

    Reply
  • Ingrid De Graeve
    December 11, 2010 at 10:36 PM
    Permalink

    Life is like a big bike race where the goal is to fulfill your personal legend.

    At the start, we are riding together, sharing the camaraderie and enthusiasm. But as the race progresses, the initial joy gives way to the real challenges: tiredness, monotony and doubts about our own abilities.

    We notice that some have withdrawn. They are still running, but only because they cannot stop in the middle of a road. They are numerous, pedaling alongside the support car, talking to each other and performing only their obligations.

    Eventually we distance ourselves from them and we are forced to face the loneliness and the surprises of the unknown curves with the bikes. And after a while, we begin to wonder if it’s worth the effort.

    Yes, it is worth it. Just don’t quit.

    By

    To both of you,
    just to remember in difficult moments or when it becomes a little too rough, that indeed … it is worth it!
    Find what you are accomplishing truely amazing! Being able to do this has to be just marvellous. Keep going and never give up!

    Warmest greetings,
    Ingrid

    Reply
  • Tamara
    March 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM
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    Amaya, you inspired me before I left Colorado for eastern Europe, and you continued to inspire me (although I was a bit frightened by your wind reviews of Argentina ) to get down here and do it. I’ve been cycling since Ushuaia, here now in el Bolson and it’s time to he’d back to BsAs soon to catch the flight back home. I just want to say thanks for all the sharing and beautiful information. You’ve made it easier and more possible for me to jump into this lifestyle. I love it! I’m hoping to meet someone I can do the next trip with, I want to hit the world and be out there for years!! Cheers to you lady!!

    Reply
    • World Biking
      April 8, 2012 at 7:15 AM
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      Thanks Tamara for the kind note from the road. It is an honor for me to haveplayed even a small part in inspiring someone to set off on a cycle tour. I hope it was all you dreamed of.

      Reply

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