I’ve spent the last two weekends watching my baqueano friends jinetear (hi-ni-tay-ar), which, translated directly, means “to show off one’s mad horsemanship skills.” I went to a local jineteada Feb. 1, 2 and 3 in the town of Cerro Castillo (pop. 100) and an international one the 8 and 9 at the Estancia San Jorge, located about 12 km outside Puerto Natales.
Jineteadas are the same as rodeos, only different. During the main event, participants try their damndest to stay planted on the back of a bucking animal that flatly rejects the idea of being ridden. In a rodeo, the main event involves a bull with its balls tied; In a jineteada, the main event involves an untamed horse, upset by the events that proceed as follows:
1. In a muddy corral at the end of the jineteada field, baqueanos rope the wild horses one at a time, then shimmy bridles over their noses. Sort of like face bras. Nobody likes that.
2. Just before the event begins, someone runs the horses from the corral to the far side of the field, where they tie them to one of three 15-foot posts. A bleacher full of spectators looks on. The horse sometimes protests by bucking, yanking away or lying down. The baqueano manning the post fastens a leather strap around the horse’s midsection. In the case of the basto event, this will be the only item the rider has to hold onto.
3. The rider, with a little help from his friends, mounts the horse. He wears sharp spurs around his boots.
4. An official on horseback approaches the post, raises a flag, then lowers it. In a split second, the baqueano in charge of the post releases the rope tying the horse to the pole. The rider kicks the horse with his spurs, slaps it on the butt with his whip, and the horse takes off, his head lowered, his feet kicking. The rider holds on for his dear, dear life until the gong sounds after eight, 12 or 15 seconds, depending on the event.
Other times, it is incredibly not graceful, like when a wild buck sends the rider crashing to the ground, where, if his foot does not slip properly out of the stirrup, he gets dragged and trampled as the horse sprints across the field toward the corral. I cringed through this during the Cerro Castillo jineteada. An ambulance is always parked right outside the field for this occasion.
A couple of the baqueanos who work at the hotel participated in the jineteadas this year and both won first place at their events.
While the international jineteada at the San Jorge ranch focused completely on riding wild horses, the Cerro Castillo event encompassed a few other competitions as well. Kiddies rode sheep, teenagers rode cows, baqueanos lassoed the front feet of horses and brought them to the ground.
I joined the game late in Cerro Castillo, attending an asado, or cookout, in the fenced-in patio of a Castillo resident after the day’s events finished up. We grilled lamb over an open fire while a local guide/musician nicknamed Chapas played traditional music on his guitar, accompanied by many voices and a makeshift drum.
Meanwhile, we slang back (new term, invented for the occasion) beer and Piscola (the Chilean liquor Pisco mixed with Coke).
Around midnight, we headed to a dance in the school gym, a la 7th grade. A live band, a packed basketball court, aerobic dancing and tons of fun. Eventually required a sweatband on my part.