29 January 2013

How I came to learn about the Gaucho Festival in Tacuarembó, Uruguay


I first learned about the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha (Celebration of the gaucho heritage) five years ago.

A friend of mine has a small farm about 30 minutes north of Punta del Este. He had a hired hand, an older man, who lived in an apartment built onto the barn.

On one visit the hired hand brought out his horse tack to show me. It had decorative patterns and the metal parts were made of silver and gold. It had been passed from his grandfather to his father, and then from his father to him.  It was a proud symbol of his family heritage.

My friend explained that in past generations it was not uncommon for a gaucho to incorporate his savings into his horse tack.

Later in March, I was having a coffee with this same friend who owned the farm. During our conversation he told me he was staying at the farm because his hired hand was taking some time off.

“Where did he go?” I asked.

“He went to Tacuarembó for the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha”, my friend replied.

"What’s that?"

My friend explained that every March the city of Tacuarembó hosts a large country festival honoring Uruguay’s gaucho heritage.  They have a horse parade, a rodeo, and all sorts of contests and exhibitions of gaucho skills including building fogóns (traditional gaucho structures). There are traditional gaucho barbecues, and at night they have gaucho music and dancing.

"How is he getting there," I asked? (I knew Tacuarembó was far away. I looked it up later and learned it was about 460 kilometers, 285 miles, from my friend’s farm.)

“On his horse.”

I pictured the old man on his horse riding across the Uruguayan prairie. “But isn’t that a long way to go on a horse? Wouldn’t it be better to drive?” I said.

“He’ll be fine.”

“Does he have money for an emergency?” I continued.

My friend told me not to worry. “He knows the country and country people. Now, if he would have left in a car with money, I would be worried. He would probably get in plenty of trouble then. But he will be fine on his horse,” he said.

So, that’s how I became aware of the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha.  More than 60,000 people come to Tacuarembó each year for this event. The attendees include people from all over Uruguay, as well as parts of Argentina and Brazil. (With a few arriving on horseback.)

Last year José Mujica, Uruguay’s president, spoke at the festival’s public ceremony. There was also a series of videos made depicting many of the festival events:
26th Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, 2012 – Horse parade 
26th Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, 2012 - Rodeo
26th Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, 2012 – On stage - music and entertainment 
26th Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, 2012 – building traditional homes  
Each video is about 23 minutes.

So if you are driving through the Uruguay countryside in March, and you see an older man on horseback riding in the direction of Tacuarembó - there is a good chance he is a pilgrim on his way to celebrate his country heritage.

The Next Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha is coming up March 6 through 10, 2013
Here is a link to the official event website.

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