The 30th Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha is March 2nd though 6th, 2016
I first learned about the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha (Celebration of the gaucho heritage) eight years ago.
Once when I visited, 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. He was really proud of it.
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.
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 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 go 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.)
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's a good chance he's a pilgrim on his way to celebrate his country heritage.
Here is a link to the official event website.