LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 35
Page. 70 - 79
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Pictures: Federico Quintana
In the homeland of Don Segundo Sombra all remains as it was. The typical general store, the museum and the "Puente Viejo" (old bridge). The trees by the river, the church beside the square, the grocery store
on the corner. It's all there and little has changed in this remote rural spot in Buenos Aires Province. It is one a number of similar places scattered across the immeasurable plains of the pampa.
It is however impossible to ignore San Antonio de Areco since it became
a depository for "criollo" tradition. The role it now plays suits it well and the inhabitants know how to exploit it. Areco is pure history, (see LUGARES 6). A history which began in 1730 with the building,
of the San Antonio We Padua) chapel at the behest of a wealthy local landowner Joseph Ruiz de Arcllano. Later San Antonio was adopted as
their own by the locals, who were fast being consumed by the newly emerging world around them as the country was tamed on horseback.
Nothing was left of the original Italian heritage and background; what was oncc simply San Antonio had become San Antonio dc Areco. When in 1926 Ricardo Güiraldes inunortalised the life of one of the
fast disappearing gauchos. The character became a legend and his homeland inspired new sentiments. The powerful presence and writings of Güiraldes,
shone over Arcco and highlighted its pampa origins. To emphasise the importance of Areco the visitor will see signs reading "Lugar Significativo"
(Place of special importance).
Argentines, mostly from Buenos Aires, and a fair number of foreigners, visit Areco and are received with "gaucho" style hospitality. Men on horseback, gauchos with classic "bombachas" (traditional gaucho
trousers) and espadrilles, the local chatter in bars and horse-drawn carriages chased by barking, dogs. The mule drivers still cross the Areco river by the pink painted "Puente Viejo" just as their ancestors
have dome since the bridge was built in 1852. This historic bridge with its dignified arches, has seen carriages, on their way to Buenos Aires to the north east, pass by for many decades.
It is however shameful that the bridge is falling, into disrepair with little, if am thing, being done in the way of restoration. The town is filled with old houses which have been gracefully restored and invoke childlike curiousity from visitors. There is no melancholy
in San Antonio Lie Areco. Neither in its tidy tree lined streets, nor in the "Blanqueada", a famous 19th century bar which has seen many a local singer and barroom brawl Behind the porch and the well
ties the pigeon loft, an ombù mid a cinacina tree and other indigenous plants. The local museum, dating from early this century imitates
the style of a typical 18th century estancia and stands nearby in perfect Condition in the midst uf extensive woodland. It is encircled by a water-filled moat that must he crossed by a wooden draw bridge
and even has a lookout tower, essential for spotting indian raids. Its interior is spotlessly clean and tidy and contains a collection of paintings by Figari, the great Uruguayan impressionist painter
of the Pampas.
The most interesting ethnic market in Argentina is to be found in San Antonio de Areco. The artistry of the silversmiths and other craftsmen is unique. Another interesting aspect of San Antonio de Areco is its
cuisine, mostly based on beef. "Parrillas" such as the "Almacén Je Ramos Generales" (by far the most delightful) and many other restaurants serve food in the authentic Argentine fashion. Before departing it is always worthwhile to look in at "La Olla de Cobre", where you can buy delicious chocolates and sweets, or to delay your departure still further by enjoying a wonderful cup of hot chocolate.
Areco offers an open invitation to participate and become part of
its special life-style. The best way of doing this is to stay at one of the comfortable estancias offering quality accommodations. The idea is to immerse oneself in an authentic rural ambience devoid of all
formality. The visitor can enjoy the facilities on offer, the swimming pool, horse riding, walking, just sleeping late or helping with the daily chores of the estate. After only a couple of days you will not feel like an outsider anymore.
One of the first estancias to offer such services was La Bamba, owned by Ricardo Aldao. Aldao has wisely adapted the estancia to fulfil the needs of their guests, particularly larger groups. Others have subsequently followed in their footsteps and are prepared to offer
the kind of entertainment that their visitors are looking for: folkloric dancing, bonfires, displays of g'aucho skills and horsemanship and the traditional asado and delicious "empanadas". Most of the estancias
offer lodgings with large comfortable bedrooms stylish furniture and rooms decorated in the old traditional manner. What can be more relaxing in the still, inky dark night than to hear crickets chirping, frogs
croaking, the almost silent fluttering of an owl's wings; even the sound of leaves rustling in the wind contribute to making the perfect lullaby for tired souls.
The trees at Los Patricios include a wide variety of acacias. The huge garden in front of the house with the pool to one side has a one hundred year old maple casting a deep shadow big enough to shelter
500 people at 50 tables for an open air asado. Hector Juan Brane and Maria de Bary de Brane have been living in this colonial style house
for the past 18 years and have been taking in guests for over 10 years. Their children, following the family tradition, play polo. They run a polo school and can even offer a wooden practice horse for beginners.
Los Patricios is a 200 hectare estancia dedicated exclusively to farming. The road leading to it is paved and, even before the dogs begin barking,
the solemn expression of Romeo, a female ñandu, captures the attention of the newly arrived guest. Romeo has lived in the grounds since she
was born. She is very sociable and rather naughty, with the capacity to snatch appetising morsels from the plate of a distracted diner. On the other hand the Guinea fowl are free and independent, nesting
in the trees. A family of ducks living in the artificial lake, overlooked by languid willow trees, completes the Brane menagerie, together with the horses, the emblem of the Argentine countryside. The tack room,
with its very tightly stacked saddles, is worth visiting and the carriages, each lovelier than the next, complete the picture.
The passion for polo is the breath of life in what used to be the estancia of the father of Ricardo Güiraldes, Manuel Jose. It is his great nephew, also called Manuel Jose, who glorifies this sport, at which he excels. The original house of the estancia dates back to 1860 and is the one used for accommodating guests. Its historical and cultural value is part of the consciousness of the inhabitants and is a foundation stone of Areco's resurgence. The legacy of the
author is everywhere: his books and personal possessions. His room on the first floor, which used to be his study, is accessible by way of a narrow staircase from his bedroom.
The house is very pleasant with its porch shaded by a wisteria, a perfect setting for tea, while admiring the view of old birch trees in the garden. Behind the hedges lies the pool and beyond, between the east and the wooden corral there is an enormous ombu that eclipses the sun in the morning. The family atmosphere makes guests feel very much at home.
Eva Buelke is the owner of the estancia El Ombu de Areco, more widely known as El Ombu. General Ricchieri built the house with its lavish architecture in 1880 after the Campaña del Desierto (Desert Campaign); on the other side of the Areco River lay the estancia belonging to Roca, his good friend who fought alongside him against the Indians.
In 1936 Eva's grandfather bought this property of 300 hectares. It is still, as it was then, used for arable farming and raising cattle, which allows the visitor, if he so wishes, to experience these activities.
The Areco River runs within two kilometres of the house and can be reached by walking through a wild landscape of tall grass and mixed woodland. Overhead you will see Caracaras, chimangos, barn owls, herons, and a white feathered bird called Flauta de Sol (Sun Flute) due to its spatulate beak. In the river, according to the condition, you may find various local fish, moharras, catfish and tarariras. The
porch surrounding the house is absolutely beautiful with an abundance of climbing plants, columns, big heavy wooden doors and a light airy atmosphere. Flowers and more flowers surround the pool. Some of the bedrooms overlook the refreshing water. The bathrooms are in perfect condition and full of dainty details.
The dining room, always ready with its tastefully set tables, is testament to Eva's influence over every aspect of the estancia. She is by profession
an agronomic engineer, but has, for the last three years, dedicated herself exclusively to this new activity.