Avocado Republic — 09 November 2014
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“The Avocado Republic of Chile, Because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide.  Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful.  American writer Walker Rowe sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet.  What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. 


Walker Rowe

The Avocado Republic of Chile Chile Independence Day Dust and Dirt in Rural Chile
Chaos at the Local School The Market Earthquakes
Love and Romance in Chile The Chilean Concept of Time My Vegetable Garden
The Compost Pile There is no Heat in Chile Drinking Burgoyne
Chilean Food is Boring and Bland Rodeo in Chile The Caretaker
The Cactus Garden Watching the Southern Skies Oscar’s Adventures
Things Fall Apart Argentina’s Dark Culture Rene, the Communist
Chewing Coca Leaves The Mapuche Conflict Cuasimodo


Oscar and I went to the river today for a swim. When he said “river” I assumed it would be a typical Chilean river which, in the middle and northern part of the country, is maybe 1 meter deep or almost dry. But where we went was a bend in the river maybe 4 meters deep and a wide open lagoon. It was below a stone wall, so I could dive off.

Oscar did not even go in the water, although he told me that he could swim. Chileans have the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, but few people ski and not many swim. There are not many swimming pools here where Chileans can learn how to swim as kids. Only the upper classes know how to ski, because it’s so expensive.

The Puangue River is on the western side of the mountains that run into Curacaví. It is about a 30 minute drive.

There are vast and forlorn places like this across much of Chile, with no houses, no people, and no cell phone service. There was no agricultural of any kind, which is in stark contrast to the Curacaví Valley, where every piece of land is planted with something. Here it was all dust, rocks, and mountains. The reason for that is there was probably no water.

On the way back from river we stopped at the rodeo. The Chilean Rodeo is nothing like Robert Redford and the Electric Horseman. There is no angry snorting bull, no rodeo clowns, and no drunkards shouting obscenities from the stands.

The Chilean Rodeo is a more nuanced and is for people who have money.

Oscar and I had drank a few liters of wine, that added to my complete ignorance of the rules. So I did not understand who was winning. What I did notice was how handsome were the horses and how skillful were their riders. I was particularly impressed by a grandson and grandfather pair. They rode with confidence and looked regal in their dashing hats, boots, and parka. Their horse were well groomed fine specimens. The boy was a handsome lad of maybe 16. His grandfather looked like a family patron should look. The grandfather and grandson raced around the ring at full gallop.

When I got home I looked up the rules on the Spanish language page of Wikipedia.

There are two parts to the rodeo: the part you would call dressage in French or English, where the riders shows their skill with the horse and then the actual rodeo.

The rodeo includes two riders and horse and one steer (novillo). A steer is a castrated male, which makes him significantly less dangerous than a raging snorting bull. The steer must be between 1 and 3 years old and the horse must be the Chilean breed. That is a breed developed in Chile. It it short and stout. Further the animal must be registered, meaning its lineage it documented. The riders, huasos, must be dressed in traditional huaso gear. That is, the flat brimmed hat that marks a Chileans and a colorful woolen parka.

The ring is called a medialuna or half moon, but it only a crescent when the gate is swung shut when the steer first bolts from his holding pen. The gate opens and the medialuna becomes a circle about 30 meters in diameter.

The steer takes off and then the two riders give chase. One rider stays behind the steer and another closes in from the wide. The riders work in a pair. They rider drive the steer around the medialuna for two full laps. The goal is to keep control of the steer and corner it into a section of the ring called the atajada. They have three opportunities or they lose. The horses crash into the steer to knock it to the side and then ultimately pin it against the atajada.

Contact with different parts of the steer bring different points. If the horse knocks the steer in the head, which would not seem fair, there are no points for that. Knocking the cow in its haunches earns one 4 points. The riders then bring the steer to a stop and escort it back into its holding pen. I was sitting right over where they came in and out. When the chase was over, the steer calmly left the ring as if such an ordeal was an everyday occurrence.

Because the saddles, horses, and riding gear are expensive, the men riding the rodeo I thought must be landholders and farmers in the valley. Farm land in Chile is expensive and prolific and there is so little of it relative to the vast size of the country.

There is a rodeo for women too, but I have not seen that. The annual championship is held in Rancagua a city south of Santiago. Animal rights protesters turned up last year to protest the event, but they were only a few. It could be worse for the beast: there is no bull fighting in Chile as there is in Mexico, Ecuador, and Spain. So no animal is killed by the sword.

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. I hope one day human beings will finally understand that animals do not exist to be abused for human beings’ entertainment and nonsense . This business shows how dehumanized mankind is, a reflection of how poorly we treat each other. The consequences are visible. Human beings overpopulate the earth and destroy the planet.
    When shall we learn to respect life?

    • It’s the Chilean national sport! Well 2nd after football.

    • That day would make us no longer human….Don’t give us too much credit. No matter how much havoc a man can make, the world will spin, and life will go on without us. Life never dies, it adapts. As the old arts, give it time. What was once beautiful, is now ugly. As the arts you love will disgust the children of your sons and daughters.

      You deserve no blame and you’ve done no wrong. Neither have they.

      At some point it was very beautiful, with the pride of the horses, with their sportsmanship. It’s much like a dance. Imagine the discipline of the horse, how proud it must feel to fall in step, to hold that steer at bay. And the diligence of the steer, of its rashness and bullish fury as it fends the attack.

      It is a sad sport, but a great art. In its tragedy it showcases the beauty, all the fine points that make the animal powerful and strong, what embody its spirit.

      Someday it will be ugly, and you’re right.

      But now it will be as it will be: beautiful in the eyes of another.

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