A Love Story

Driving west of Buenos Aires one gorgeous spring day, I was enjoying the open ranch land basking under a brilliant, warm sun. In time I needed a rest stop and saw a small cantina that advertised cerveza and Coca-Cola. It looked well-kept, so I pulled into the dusty small parking lot next to it. As I approached the patio that was furnished with bright umbrellas and tables I saw a plus size, red-haired woman. Walking up a step onto the stone paved surface, I said “Buenas tardes” with my Anglo accent. She smiled and replied “Buenas tardes” with a distinctly British accent. We both laughed.

I told her of my immediate need and ordered a cold Quilles, the beer on the sign. When I returned, there on the patio was my Quilles along with a small plate of tapas, a few olives, and bits of cheese and meat.

Her name was Gillian. When I asked how she came to be in this small town in the pampas, thousands of miles from her homeland, she told me two years before she had come as a tourist. On a tour of the pampas, she was entranced by the gauchos. Throwing caution to the wind, she found this job in the cantina and settled in to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle. She said the great weather won her over—no more cold, damp British Isles.

We talked for some time. There was no one else in the place, so she sat with me and I bought her a coke, as she didn’t drink alcohol. At one point, suddenly she looked across the road and lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. I followed her stare and saw a man—clearly a gaucho—headed our way. The black hat, dusty, loose-fitting bombachas pants, and stained white shirt showing a day’s labor on the ranchero, all spoke gaucho. He wasn’t very tall, but one could feel his strength and vitality. When he reached us, I stood and he gave her a kiss on the cheek before shaking my hand. His thick, leathery hand full of broken fingers was like grabbing a bowl of walnuts. He carried his left arm at a slight angle hinting of a previous injury that had never fully healed. His smile was explosive. I knew immediately why Gillian had decided to stay in the pampas.

Hector had finished his day with the vacas and caballos (cows and horses) and needed a cerveza to wash away the dust. Turning back to her, he asked her in Spanish how she was and what she had been doing with this Anglo. The latter question was delivered with a teasing smile. I bought a fresh round of drinks and asked him in my fractured Spanish a number of questions about life here and his work with the cattle.

He held up his hand as an example of his work. He’d been a gaucho all his life and had the calluses, bruises and breaks to show for it. Now, he spends most of his time at the ranch rather than chasing vacas around the range. The man was a real charmer. His eyes told me he truly cared for her and it was more than obvious she was totally in love with him.

I bought dinner and we talked, me stumbling through Spanglish, for a couple hours. As dusk began to gradually slide into the horizon I excused myself. I wanted to get back to Buenos Aires before it got too dark. The road signs were in Spanish and made driving a bit of an adventure. As I rose to leave, Hector gave me a bone crushing abrazo (hug) and a huge smile. Then, he put his arm around Gillian’s shoulder. It was a real joy to see two people from different worlds who came together and are truly in love with each other.