Cowboyin' Up in Buenos Aires

WATCH: Veronica joins in the traditional dances! See some awesome "Race for the Ring" action

Carrera de Sortija, or Race of the Ring at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Carrera de Sortija, or Race of the Ring, at Feria de Mataderos

Buenos Aires is a city fueled by meat, and Mataderos is the barrio, or neighborhood, that traditionally supplied that fuel.

The name means slaughterhouse.

So to celebrate that tradition and preserve many of the customs of the gauchos, who we would call cowboys, a Sunday afternoon get together has been held every weekend since 1986. This has grown into a huge event known as the Feria de Mataderos.

Feria de Mataderos Mural

Thousands of people come from miles around to enjoy the food, music, crafts, and particularly the feats of skill demonstrated by the gauchos.

As soon as we learned about the fair we knew that we would be joining them.

The buses in Buenos Aires are often highly decorated
The buses in Buenos Aires are often highly decorated

So we hopped on the number 125 bus for a 45 minute ride from our home base at the tango hotel/ school /theater to the outskirts of the Argentine capital.

Even though hardly any tourists make the trip out, a friendly gentleman on the the bus seemed to sense where we were headed and pointed out the stop for us to get off.

Then after walking a few blocks the sound of music and smell of food filled the air.

Browsing the booths at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

We began by browsing the rows of vendors selling anything and everything and, of course, cooking meat.

Some char-broiled chorizo caught our eyes and, with sausages in hand, we were fully engaged.

Yes sir, that is what a fair is all about.

Delicious food at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Entertainment at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

At a square where three streets filled with long rows of booths and stands met, a stage served as the focal point for the festivities.

A master of ceremonies made announcements and introductions, and at least half a dozen bands performed through the afternoon and into the evening.

Dancing at the Entertainment at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The crowd broke into both impromptu and traditional dances.

At one point one of the participants, in full gaucho garb, snagged Veronica by the arm and suddenly she was whirling around in fine cowgirl style.

Much different from the tangos back in town.

Veronica attempts dancing at the Entertainment at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Museo Criollo de los Corrales

Just off the square we found a museum on the history of Mataderos, Museo Criollo de los Corrales.

The displays included photos from the early days of the livestock markets and some household items from long ago, but mostly featured the tools of the trade of the cowboys.

Museo Criollo de los Corrales

For a minimal fee, about fifty cents if memory serves, we were handed a ticket to view the numerous outfits, saddles, spurs, guns, knives, ropes, wagons, and even a horse in the collection.

And, of course, because we were in Buenos Aires, dancing.

Dancing at Museo Criollo de los Corrales

Tile mural artists in Buenos Aires
Tile mural artists at work

Even with all of the gaucho culture we had absorbed up to this point, the day's highlight was still ahead.

We could hardly wait to make our way to the closed-off street where horses and riders were engaged in a competition of speed and precision.

But on our way we got slightly sidetracked.

Selection of baked goods in Buenos Aires

Candy booth at the feria in Buenos Aires

Somehow we wandered into the candyland section of the fair and it simply wasn't possible to pass through without having a taste or two.

Among the mountains of chocolate and sugary baked goods something stood out... candied fruit on a stick... with popcorn!

That's right, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, apples, and bananas skewered, then sugar coated and dipped in popcorn.

Figs and popcorn on a stick

Veronica must have died and gone to heaven, because if there's two things she can't resist it's food on-a-stick and popcorn.

When she spotted one with figs we thought we were going to have to call in the paramedics.

Luckily she survived with only minor heart palpitations and we could continue on.

The tiny ring used for Carrera de Sortija, or Race of the Ring at Feria de Mataderos

After our snack, it was time for the main attraction, Carrera de Sortija, meaning Race of the Ring.

This traditional gaucho sport is only found in the area around Buenos Aires and on the Mediterranean islands of Menorca and Sardinia.

A small ring, about the size of a wedding band, is suspended about ten feet high between two poles.

The object of the game is to grab that ring, using a pencil sized metal rod, while riding at a full gallop.

Carrera de Sortija, or Race of the Ring at Feria de Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Needless to say, accomplishing the task is rare.

We found a spot near the poles to watch and before we knew it horse and rider were thundering toward us at top speed.

As he neared the ring the gaucho stood in his stirrups and reached high with his tiny spear, then seemingly miraculously snatched the ring from the hook, bringing well deserved cheers from the crowd.

Carrera de Sortija, or Race of the Ring at Feria de Mataderos

Perhaps he had beginner's luck, or more likely skill, but it was many more runs before we saw another gaucho celebrate.

Each time we could feel the crowd's, and our own, excitement rise with the rider as he approached the ring, then deflate with the miss.

But as the competition went on most every gaucho managed at least one successful run.

Old cowboy in Buenos Aires

By the end we had lost track of which gauchos had multiple triumphs, so we couldn't tell who the winner was, but no one seemed to care too much anyway.

Everyone was more than happy just to have been a part of it.

We felt the same.

So we declared ourselves the winners and set out to find the bus back into the city.

David & Veronica,

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