Chilean gaucho Horaldo and his neighbor and partner, Ernesto
As the world around us changes, so does our way of life. But even as new technology, innovation, experience and education shape the forces of modern life, traditional values and skills are being preserved in places around the globe. Chile’s gauchos, the rugged cattlemen who call some of the country’s most remote regions home, are preservationists, bringing the old ways into a modern world.
Seen as a rejection of European modernization, the gauchos of South America are not unlike American cowboys in representing romantic ideals of the past. But men like Horaldo Soto, 51 (seen riding his horse, El Engaño, in the photograph above by Cristina de Middel) are plenty active today. Living deep in a remote area of Chile called Valle del León, he’s up early on this particular day, transporting oxen on a four-hour journey to finish a new house he’s building before winter sets in.
Horaldo’s brother Arturo (left) and neighbor Segundo (right) were born and raised in Chile’s Valle del León. —Cristina de Middel/Magnum
Soto’s family has been in this remote valley near the Argentine border for three generations. The valley first got electric power in 2010, but despite the residents’ isolation, they have a rich social life, helping each other with construction projects, visiting often and communicating frequently through a radio system.
Chilean gaucho Horaldo using a quad utility vehicle to do his farm work
Horaldo’s four-wheeler —Cristina de Middel/Magnum
Five years ago, Horaldo decided to buy a four-wheeler. That makes it easier to haul wood and straw, but life on the plains remains challenging. School-age children help around the home, but they’re away at class in a far-off village most of the week, requiring a four-hour walk in the woods to get home on the weekends. Medical treatment is provided by a nurse, Marcelo, who also needs to operate as a doctor during his four-year rotation, since the region is too isolated for physicians to come and go.
Chilean gaucho Horaldo leading a lamb
Horaldo with the lamb chosen for that night’s meal —Cristina de Middel/Magnum
It takes skill to roam the vast fields of Patagonia as a cattle and sheep rancher, which is why older gauchos such as Horaldo earn the utmost respect. The short wool poncho, sheepskin and hat are some of the distinctive elements of the role, but what sets great gauchos apart are essential character traits that come naturally with age, namely the experience to get a job done and the know-how to do it with grace.
Chilean children in their bunk room
Children help at home when not at school in the nearest town, a four-hour walk away. —Cristina de Middel/Magnum
It’s the small pleasures that make gaucho life worthwhile. Despite the distance and isolation, people living in the Valle de León know each other. They spend time in each other’s company and homes. The fresh mountain apples are delicious for man and sheep, water comes directly from clean streams, and the beef options are as good, if not better, than anything you’d find in a five-star steakhouse.