So, I had a full weekend of photographing Gauchos....and there, between my hotel and the Basilica, was the Transportation Museum, where I found Gato and Mancha.
PILGRIMAGE TO LUJAN
Miguel Angel Gasparini is the second generation resident artist, painter of the Gaucho, muralist, and teacher in San Antonio de Areco, and my good friend. While visiting him in his studio, I mentioned a book I had read many years ago, Southern Cross to Pole Star. He knew it well, of course, as it was the story of A. F. Tschiffely’s amazing 10,000 mile ride, in the 1930s, from Buenos Aires to New York!
“You know”, Gasparini beamed, “Gato y Mancha are in Luján”. (Gato and Mancha were the two Creole ponies Tschiffley rode on his epic journey.
After the ride, he shipped his sturdy companions back to Buenos Aires, where they lived out a long and comfortable retirement on a friend’s estancia). “They are in the Museum of Transportation in Luján” he added.
I was on the next bus to Luján!
I arrived in Luján around 10:30 PM, not knowing if the town even had a hotel. I walked out of the bus station onto a wide boulevard, with a large, impressive Cathedral at one end, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Luján. Across the street and a block toward the cathedral, I found a very nice three star hotel, the oddly named Hoxon. While checking in and practicing my Spanish, I mentioned that I’d been in San Antonio de Areco, photographing Gauchos. The clerk said:
“Gauchos? Wait until tomorrow morning. There will be 3,000 Gauchos right out in front of this hotel”.
As luck would have it, I had arrived on the eve of the Gauchos’ annual pilgrimage, and there would be Gauchos from all over Argentina, many of whom had ridden for days on horseback or in horse drawn carriages and carts, parading in front of the hotel on their way to pay their respects to the Virgin of Luján.
The patron saint of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the Virgen de Luján was being carried by ox cart to Santiago del Estero in 1630 when the cart became stuck in mud, and could not be moved until the statue was taken out. This was taken as a sign that the Virgin wanted to stay right there. A small shrine was built, and then, in 1887, construction started on what is now the Basilica.