Just west of Cotopaxi volcano and north of Quilindaña is the strategic location where the hundred year old hacienda was built. . Originally built by the Incas, this farm has lived multiple life times, it has seen many volcanic eruptions and survived.Time passed all around the hacienda but somehow this place feels untouched, unmarked by the human hand, a place where you feel small and powerless against nature. Isolated in time by a 4 hour car ride to the closest town on a small dirt road , filled with loose rocks, huge puddles of mud, three river crossings and a great 4×4 experience you arrive at El Tambo, where the mythical rodeo takes place.
This activity is not for everyone due to the high level of horsemanship needed to overcome the challenge. The risks are high, the closest hospital is at least 4 hours away, there is no cell phone reception and there is no heli me the hell out of here, so there is no room for big mistakes. The upside is living an experience that will soon become extinct, imagine riding along the side of the Andean Chagras through the highlands, swaps, steep hills, small cliffs, massive cliffs, rivers, the landscape and life and a painful death and also hundred of wild bulls all around you, you will feel the powerful amazing experience at hand.
7pm at night , I received a call from my good friend Alejandro inviting me to this one in a lifetime opportunity. I was thrilled and of course I said yes to the idea but between us, I do not know how to ride a horse and I am very scared of bulls. On the other hand, the idea of taking part in this experience and being able to photograph such an event is unique.I like to think that opportunity won`t be presented to me twice so every time an experience blossoms it’s impossible not to see it through.
It felt the opposite of butterflies in my stomach but in a good way. Next morning everything started with a 5-6 hour car drive to El Tambo. Mythical hacienda known to all chagras and great horsemen in Ecuador due to its unique rodeo. Before Entering the hacienda, Jorge, the patron stops his car and invites us to make a toast for the pachamama, asking for good weather and protection for the days to come.
We arrived at night and had a nice dinner, a glass of wine and we went to sleep. Next morning, the wake up call was at 5am to lasso the horses and saddle them. Fear started just before breakfast. Luckily Alejandro helped me the first day. He lassoed the horse and then he taught me how to saddle it but to tell you the truth I was scared of getting kicked or bitten or falling or getting stabbed by a bulls horn.
After breakfast 50 chagras (andean horsemen) and the farm owners gather in a large circle called La Bomba. Jorge the Patron of the hacienda starts the Rodeo with a small speech in which he reminds us all of the dangers that lay ahead, then he continues with a small prayer and a salute to the pachamama (mother nature). The second in charge Geracho, the head chagra takes control of the people and decides the strategy for that day, they divide the horsemen and each group is sent into different parts of the land. We were gonna be riding about 6-8 hours daily for an entire week inside a 12500 acres of páramo.
You could feel the excitement and joy among the chagras. For them, the rodeo only happens once a year and they have been enjoying it throughout generations. They call it the game, they fear no bull and the meaner the bull the better.
My horse could definitely sense my fear. He did not wanted to move at all, I was white as a ghost, shaking like a wet dog, I was feeling a little bit of fear and I decided not to go, but when I was getting of the horse, Alejandro rides towards me, grabs the reigns of my horse and tells me, ¨You are not getting down, you are already here, you are coming with us and that is it¨. So that was that. I was so scared of being charged by a bull that I had no idea how I was going to take pictures of this when I can barely ride a horse?
We rode for almost 2 hours until we arrived at the lagoon. It was three chagras and me, one of them offered me a shot of puntas (everclear) , I had one. We were chatting and suddenly from the distance we heard a massive horn, the Rodeo had officially begun. We all started galloping and from our left flank the bulls started to appear, we could not allow them to pass to our right side, so we had to make like a horse riding wall in order to block these huge animals from crossing. As much as I wanted I couldn’t keep up with the chagras so I was left behind,I could see them at a distance but I believe that in that particular moment panic started taking over me, luckily a survival panic and not a crippling panic. Still galloping down very steep slopes, filled with swaps and angry bulls, I manage not to fall from the horse and catch up with the group of chagras, I don’t really know how this happen but what I remember is that my horse would not stop galloping and I had no strength to stop it so I just grabbed the saddle and galloped as fast as the horse could go.
We arrived back at the hacienda and I had no more strength left in me. I had to ask for help in getting off the horse, my legs were shaking, my knees felt totally useless, and my body was pumped with adrenaline and shock. My head was going crazy about what I had just survived only to realize that it was only half day, and that there was going to be an afternoon rodeo. Since it was my first day I decided not to take part in the second run, I had no more strength left inside me. I went to sleep at 6pm, nobody knew where I was, very few times have I ever felt so tired and scared in my life.