Let There Be Cowboys - Bagualeros Part 4
A bagualero is someone who goes hand to hand with wild cattle, using human skills…with a gun you have too much advantage. But body to body you can lose; you’re risking your life."— Sebastian Garcia Iglesia
Deep in the terrain of South America’s Patagonia where dazzling turquoise lakes, regal mountains, and wild, sprawling forests appease the earth simply by existing - truly, a spectacular example of the earth’s majesty - life is sometimes, say, not so simple . Ask a bagualero, cowboys who roam the wilds in search of baguales, feral cattle and horses.
Riding The Wilds For The Wilds
When cattle or horses have inhabited the wild, they are called alongado or bagual, and at this point, have become extremely dangerous. The bagualeros (cowboy) attempt their bagualendo (retrieving the cattle) as tradition would have it - with their horses, dogs, machetes, and their hands - it is with high risk of injury to self they hunt, not for pleasure, but for food and selling.
It is not saying it lightly to claim the bagualeros roam the wilds. These parcels of land are remote from civilization such as nearby Parque Nacional, Torres del Paine, Chile’s famous park that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. No, these wild and northern ice fields separate Patagonia from Argentina. To the east are furious winds that rage to such intensity, it is extremely difficult to navigate. To the west, it is dotted by a series of islands. Most areas are accessible only by boat or are a day’s ride on horseback.
On the bagualeando, the rugged Chilean terrain sides with the wild cattle. It is there they have roamed, they understand the land, it is their turf. The bagualeros must move with precision and study the land, they must take every precaution; they are vulnerable to the chance of falling off precarious cliffs or being mauled by feral cattle, possibly fatally.
Following Family Heritage
Author Alexandra Fuller (“Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight: An African childhood) wrote a superb article regarding the bagualeros of the wilds in Patagonia. With highly proficient photographer, Tomás Munita at her side, her story constructs an inspirational account of family values and tradition following Sebastián García Iglesias, 26, an agricultural engineer, as he traverses the remote lands of his great uncle, Arturo Iglesias. Arturo was born in Puerto Natales in 1919, his family a genesis of early settlers dating back to 1908 where they had opened a general store. Years later, the family moved to a home they in Estancia Mercedes, eloquently set with the backdrop of the sea, and bordered with high, peaked mountains. In 1960, Arturo established a new residence at Estancia Ana Maria. So far away was this dwelling, it was accessible only by boat or a ten-hour ride by horse, including the crossing of a marsh, which would easily cause the horse to sink up to its belly. Further away, and yet even more difficult to reach, Arturo established yet one more residence far within Estancia Ana Maria, in a region called Sutherland.
It is this place, Sutherland, where heads of cattle escaped Arturo’s property, became feral, and bred; this place, where he spent summers rounding up what he could with his dogs and horses, sometimes sending them to market by boat, and other times, traversing them by land. Years later, the property, no longer wanted by the family, was sold to a wealthy cattle rancher who gave Sebastián the permission to hunt for baguales one last time. The sweeping history of Sutherland rests within Sebastián's soul; not only would this become a journey met with awareness of the perils that could lie in store, it would also become a journey of the heart. The expedition would take place with Alexandra Fuller, photographer Tomás Munita, Sebastián , 3 other bagualeros, 20 horses, and 30 dogs.
I would encourage the reading of Fuller’s article. Her humorous and unequivocal detail remind me of why I so enjoy her books. Photographer Tomás Munita displays breathtaking scenery and expertly captures the human spirit through his lens.
The following video is a first-hand account of the journey.
Captivating video, amazing footage.
Suggested Reading: National Geographic's "Cowboys on the Edge" by Alexandra Fuller
- Cowboys on the Edge - National Geographic Magazine
In the wilds of Patagonia, cowboys called bagualeros pit themselves against the meanest livestock on the planet.
- For Patagonian Ranchers, a Family Gathering Means Barbecue and Rodeo
Chile's gauchos turn the annual work of branding and castrating animals into a celebration of their way of life.