. Alda and Aidan also seemed to find time to run their business from their sunny office while we were lazing around in our private wing of the house. Thanks very much to both of you for looking after us so well, we had a great time.
From there we drove north for a couple of hours to San Antonio de Areco, which is known for being the centre of gaucho culture. The open spaces and fresh air of the pampa are a pleasant break from Buenos Aires, but after a while the scenery is unquestionably a little boring:for hundreds of miles it is completely flat and grassy with occasional trees. The towns were agricultural centres and the shops seemed to sell mostly farming equipment, with limitless opportunities to buy gloriously big and shiny combine harvesters. Any potential boredom that the journey may have induced was alleviated by the lively Argentinian driving style. Overtaking restrictions and speed limits are so feebly conservative that they demand being completely ignored: the objectives are to conserve your speed, and spend as much time as possible on the opposite side of the road overtaking the lorries and prehistoric trucks while preventing other people overtaking you.
Areco was a pretty town and a popular weekend day trip from Buenos Aires. We were there during the week: it was lovely and quiet, but it also meant that very little was open
. A few businesses opened for an hour or two in the morning and maybe again for an hour after the siesta, but the gaucho museum was closed and even worse, the chocolate shop was too. We did visit the well-known silversmith, where everything was made by hand. They proudly showed us pictures of the Queen with the winners´ trophy from the Windsor polo tournament, which they had made. We saw the workshops and the amazing silver finery that gauchos would wear on ceremonial occasions. Gauchos were seem as little more than outlaws and would dress up to try to gain more acceptance. They ate an all-beef diet. The only vegetables that came near their lips were the herbs in mat
e (pronounced mah-tay): this is similar to green tea and is drunk by most Argentinians, most of the time. You put some herbs into a pretty round cup (originally a dried, hollowed-out gourd) with a silver straw to drink through, and then keep topping up with hot water. You see people everywhere carrying their mate gourd and a thermos flask. We had a gaucho meal of steak and delicious blood sausage one night, and were then relived to have pasta the next night and felt much better for it.
We hired a car and visited two places in the Pampas. First we went to stay with Alda and Aidan, the aforementioned neighbours of Mr Murrell. They have a house on an estate which was previously a large cattle estancia, and has now been divided into plots for people to build their dream ranch houses on. There were communal tennis courts, pools, a polo field and a golf course, but the main activity was riding, and everyone kept horses in the stables. The place exists mostly as a weekend retreat from the city and it was a really nice way for people to escape the polluted and busy streets of Buenos Aires and connect with gaucho history with huge open spaces, doing lots of riding and cooking masses of beef on big barbeques. Alda and Aidan were excellent hosts and looked after us very well, taking us riding and entertaining and feeding us. We went to see a polo match, played billiards in the old manor house and had fun exploring the estate and looking at the other houses people had built