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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > April 2015 > TWO SIDES TO ARGENTINA

TWO SIDES TO ARGENTINA

From the Patagonian plains where gauchos roam to the city of Buenos Aires, where all life is a theatre – explore a country divided by its landscapes but united by its passions

Two sides to Argentina

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Dressing gaucho-style in Patagonia

PHOTOGRAPHY PHILIP LEE HARVEY

PART ONE: BUENOS AIRES

Two horses with clipped manes thunder from the shadow of a tall building, cast across a perfect lawn. Galloping flank to flank, their mahogany coats gleam with sweat in the spring Buenos Aires sunshine. Gripping tightly with their knees as they raise mallets aloft, the riders descend on the ball like cavalrymen charging into battle. With a deft flick of the hand, leaning at an angle so acute he seems almost certain to fall, one of the players sends it sailing through the air.

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A tango dancer in La Boca – a historic blue-collar district of Buenos Aires.

The Campo Argentino de Polo in the Palermo district, nicknamed the ‘cathedral of polo’, is where the sport’s most prestigious tournament, the Argentine Open, takes place. This stadium is to polo players what Wembley is to footballers and rock stars. But for some, the show doesn’t really begin until the day’s final game has been played, and the spectators descend on the champagne bars and hospitality tents lining a long promenade between two grounds. Essentially a catwalk, at dusk it fills with polo groupies – deeply tanned women showing off new boob jobs vie for attention with leggy off-duty models hired to promote the event’s sponsors by striding about in branded t-shirts, matching hotpants and towering platform shoes. Men mostly sport floppy mid-length hair, Ralph Lauren shirts and blazers, and leather loafers. The trouser-of-choice for both sexes is a pair of tight white jeans: proudly announcing the wearer’s invariably tiny bottom.

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A player for the Chapaleufú polo team swings into action in a game against Ellerstina at the Campo Argentino de Polo in Buenos Aires

It is a look made famous by the cover of Jilly Cooper’s racy novel, Polo, and the wealthy set she fictionalised is much in evidence here. Polo is a pursuit for the very, very rich. In a single game one player uses around eight ponies, and the best are phenomenally expensive – selling for up to £100,000. Add to this the cost of transporting your stable and grooms along the annual global polo circuit (Britain and continental Europe during the northern hemisphere spring and summer, then on to Argentina and Palm Beach in the US), and you get a feel for the eye-watering sums involved.

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