DixPix Photographs

     

SOUTH CORDILLERA

 
     
  Lifestyles-  GAUCHOS, HERDING AND HORSEMEN  

 

As with the legends of the North American "wild west", life on horseback still has a mystique, in Chile and Argentina especially, which goes beyond the present realities.  This lifestyle, however, is still woven into the reality of a relatively large number of rural inhabitants of the Southern Cordillera.

 

For Independence day (Sept. 18th) in Chile, horse owners proudly don traditional costumes and parade, in this case through the small town of Pisco Elqui.  Few of these are likely to depend greatly on their horses for their work.  The term "gaucho" is largely Argentine, these would be more likely to describe themselves as "huasos". Click to see big picture (640x422 pixels; 107 KB)
Horses and mules are the main method of access through much of the southern Cordillera. Click to see big picture (640x446 pixels; 88 KB)
Once away from major population centers, roads are rare, and most parts of the ranges are reached only on horse trails. Click to see big picture (321x480 pixels; 78 KB)
In hiring gauchos or hausos for long trips, one of their trickiest problems is attaching western style gear to the animals.  Some find it easier to blindfold them during this process. Click to see big picture (313x480 pixels; 74 KB)
As seen here high in La Rioja Province, attaching baggage usually comes down the the mysteries of the diamond hitch. Click to see big picture (600x480 pixels; 127 KB)
The hitch is most easily applied with two workers, and must be tightened with force, as the savvy horse will fill its lungs to prevent cinching. Click to see big picture (640x423 pixels; 136 KB)
An experienced huaso such as this can handle the job alone, but it isn't easy. Click to see big picture (640x467 pixels; 146 KB)
In the high cordillera, mules are often better at operating at altitude than horses. Click to see big picture (640x435 pixels; 119 KB)
One major advantage to horses, is that they can cross rivers which are far too large to be forded on foot, in this case the Rio Teno in central Chile. Click to see big picture (640x408 pixels; 127 KB)
Some days on horseback are pure pleasure, easy riding and lovely terrain, this is high in San Juan Province, Argentina. Click to see big picture (640x388 pixels; 80 KB)
But the routes are often steep and difficult, here descending into the canyon of the Rio Lluta, northern Chile.  Once again, mules are often more sure-footed than horses. Click to see big picture (640x426 pixels; 129 KB)
Aptly named "Mal Paso" section of a remote trail in San Juan Province. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 140 KB)
And some times horses do fall, in this case into a river, but on many mountain trails the bottom is a long way down. Click to see big picture (631x480 pixels; 108 KB)
An important companion for most forays is the gaucho dog; smart, tireless and useful.  This is the Cisnes Valley in southern Chile. Click to see big picture (640x463 pixels; 121 KB)
Some dogs are expected to hunt their own food.  Here one has chased down a rabbit in Mendoza Province. Click to see big picture (530x480 pixels; 117 KB)
There are some perks for the gauchos working the remote areas, such as fishing breakfast in areas than nobody else gets to. Click to see big picture (333x480 pixels; 74 KB)
Part of the normal daily routine is to light a fire three times a day and heat up the kettle to make 'mate' (pronounced mahteh). Click to see big picture (578x480 pixels; 152 KB)
Yerba Mate is a bitter herbal tea, sucked from amid the leaves through a metal straw known as a bombilla, and passed around in a ceremony that has social importance in certain circumstances.  Click to see big picture (548x480 pixels; 81 KB)
Yerba mate itself is a bush, native to northern Argentina and adjacent countries.  Its official name is Ilex paraguariensis, and it is closely related to ivy.  It seems to be addictive. yerba mate flower
In the high Andes, firewood  comes from what looks like little, almost dead, shrublets, that prove to be attached to huge roots.  Alas, these take ages to grow, and are hence difficult to replace. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 143 KB)
A good part of the gaucho's responsibilities is taking care of the horses and mules.  Here is hoof trimming. Click to see big picture (640x442 pixels; 97 KB)
Most gauchos and huasos are not found in the high mountains, however, but employed in herding.  Cows come to mind, but most of the cattle herding is not directly in the Cordillera.  An exception is this one experimenting with an aquatic lifestyle near Huaraz, Peru. Click to see big picture (537x480 pixels; 111 KB)
Then there are the llamas and alpacas, the tame cameloids.  These are more commonly raised in Peru and Bolivia than farther south. Click to see big picture (599x480 pixels; 141 KB)
And while there are excellent horsemen in both Peru and Bolivia, within the Cordillera, herding is more typically by shepherds, or in this case shepherdess, who would be known as a 'pastora". Click to see big picture (640x401 pixels; 127 KB)
In the more arid areas, windmills are essential for pumping ground water for people and animals alike.  This is Rio Negro area. windmills
It is in the ranges of Chile and Argentina that the horse becomes important in herding, here in southern Argentina. Click to see big picture (640x345 pixels; 113 KB)
And in the the difficult terrain in Patagonia, it is sheep and goats that are the livestock of choice. Click to see big picture (321x480 pixels; 94 KB)
Herders may sell many of their animals on the hoof, but for their own use each must be a proficient butcher. Click to see big picture (640x433 pixels; 115 KB)
Gutting a ram isn't a pretty picture.  Most of these bits and pieces will be delicacies collectively known as 'interiores".  For a step by step guide see 'butchering a ram' Click to see big picture (291x480 pixels; 65 KB)
This is the basis of the gaucho cuisine, which as been reduced in the more civilized households to the "asado", basically a barbecue. Click to see big picture (390x480 pixels; 69 KB)
Using this simple model, however, it is possible to cook just about anything, including this goat, with minimal equipment.  And it tastes great. Click to see big picture (538x480 pixels; 159 KB)
But don't forget to share your meal.  In some times and places the damn flies can be unbearable. Click to see big picture (588x480 pixels; 72 KB)
Above all the gaucho/huaso must be resourceful, he should be able to throw a raft together from things at hand. Click to see big picture (366x480 pixels; 67 KB)
And get his livestock to market through whatever challenges. Click to see big picture (640x403 pixels; 93 KB)
At many times, riding through the countryside seems like an idyllic lifestyle, this is grazing range near Chile Chico. Click to see big picture (640x464 pixels; 108 KB)
But herding life based on remote stations, such as this one in Chubut Province, is hard work.  Despite improvements in access and communications, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep young people there, against the temptations of town life. Click to see big picture (625x480 pixels; 95 KB)
Increasingly, horses find their form in celebrations and ceremonies, such as this ritual re-enactment of the old wheat-thrashing method known as 'triage' in Chile. Click to see big picture (640x429 pixels; 102 KB)
Or in sports such as polo.  But this is getting into the treatment of 'recreations'. Click to see big picture (640x340 pixels; 111 KB)