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Mornings On Horseback With Argentina's Gauchos

Posted: 12/14/11 07:30 AM ET

At the foothills of the Andes in northwestern Argentina, you can hear horse hooves pounding against the dirt: Gauchos racing through the underbrush to herd cattle, tearing up the earth at rodeos, breaking beastly stallions. While Argentine cowboys inhabit the entire country -- concentrated in areas around Buenos Aires and in Patagonia -- Salta is the land of Los Gauchos de Güemes: a group of wild men who carry on the tradition of wars fought here long ago.

In 1816, Argentinian revolutionary Martín Miguel de Güemes employed the Gauchos, who were viewed as working class citizens, as soldiers in the War of Independence, forming a military of at least 6,000 horsemen to hold off Spanish invasions along the Peruvian border. As their leader, Güemes defined himself as a patriarch for the Gauchos, defending their rights against criticism from the country's upper class.

Now, they drape their shoulders in prideful ponchos red and black -- colors symbolizing the blood and mourning of general Martín Miguel de Guemes. And despite economic status, gender, or age, men and women today maintain the same Gaucho traditions with honor. Being a Gaucho is a way of life.

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A spectator Gaucho watches the rodeo, accompanied by supplies for future rounds and a backpack bearing the name of the regional beer, cerveza Salta. It's slogan: el sentir que nos une, the feeling that unites us, a theme suiting of the moment. In Salta, there still remains a very stark divide between wealthy Gauchos who work in the city and lower income Gauchos who work in the countryside, this historic culture, however, brings together people from all walks of life.
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