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Los Vaqueros

It was the end of an unseasonably hot day and not a leaf stirred. Tiny particulate, back-lit by rays of the diminishing sun, seemed to float like a dirty mist over the scene. Darwin, Edie and I were pretty worn out after spending the day in the countryside celebrating with the people who call that area their home. I took another slug from my lukewarm bottle of water but my throat was so thick with dust, all I did was slick my palate with mud.

You never know when there might be a party afoot in the countryside surrounding the city of Cuenca. Darwin had called the previous day giving us a heads-up for the very local event. You see, he and his family have lived in Barabon for over a hundred years and their roots are strong, deep and wide in the Yanuncay Valley. The rushing mountain waters of the Río Yanuncay have been bringing life to the area for millennia. The ready supply of water spawns rich, green pastures in the valley. Milk production is a large part of the valley’s economy. Where there’s milk, there are cows, and where there are cows, there are cowboys and horses to wrangle them!

Every area is different, but this type of fiesta is an annual event. I’m not certain I understand all the ins and outs pertaining to the reasons for celebration at these events. Each year a different local family acts as the sponsor of the festivities. They prepare food for the attendees. We’ve been twice and were invited to sit and eat both times at the homes of local folks. I never saw anyone turned away. The fare is traditional with plenty of steaming hot pork, rice, mote and legumes piled high on your plate.

There’s plenty of musica latina cranking and traditional dancers in costume competing with each other for the best dance skills awards. Each group gamboled and jigged hoping to take the prize back up the road to their place. Across the road, about thirty motorcycle riders continued to assault the foot of a mountain. They powered up the steep slope several hundred yards and then swiftly spun about. It was no holds barred as they seemed to grow wings, taking to the air from their hump-riddled downhill run. As they returned to the bottom, near the road, the crowd would part in anticipation of fatal collisions. Women screamed and children shouted but at the last moment, the bike riders were on their way back up bathing the onlookers with their signature dusty cloud.

There were a number of horses and horsemen about, some carrying large flags. Their tack was not the same as that I normally see in the area where wooden saddles outfitted to carry a couple of eight gallon milk cans are the rule. These fellows were using leather saddles replete with standard pommels sitting atop brightly colored saddle blankets. Most had pads of sheep’s wool to help give additional riding comforts. The riders were dressed in an array of clothing and that, combined with the manner in which the horses were outfitted, created a colorful scene.

Now rest assured that the smell of canelazo hung heavy in the air and on the breath of most folks at the event. There is a country fiesta taking place and having alcoholic beverages present is all part of the festivities. And, as the day wears on, so does the rate of consumption. By late afternoon, it’s more obvious than earlier in the day. Guys were coming up to me and shaking my hand with various, somewhat mumbled greetings. More and more riders were appearing and many dismounted to come up and address me with their salutations. A lot of them offered me their horse to ride. But, I declined their kind offers, thanking them and wishing them well.

The sun was already diving for the horizon when the riders assembled into a loose grouping of about 75 men and their horses. They began to tear madly about in huge circles, some smaller groups splintering off and heading for the asphalt roadway. I don’t know whether it was the spirited riding or imbibing of spirits but some riders and their mounts were not able to stay together and I saw several fellows thrown from their steeds. Those who could get back up tried to evade the chattering hooves but a few were clipped in the excitement the ponies were creating.

Leaving Darwin and Edie along the edge of the crowd, I waded in with a camera and some medium range glass. I had my full faculties about me, water had been my choice of beverage for the day. But, even so, I was challenged in evading those sharp hooves and the quirts some riders were using. Frankly, it was dangerous on more than one level and I realized the chance of injury was more real than I had at first surmised. The first few minutes were mainly like playing “Dodge Horse”; I never raised the camera. I was trying to get positioned to have as much action in my viewfinder as possible. There was a main group of riders still together and it was them I was after. Finally, I had twenty of them framed in good position. It was 21 but one guy fell off right before I started firing. Without further adieu, the shutter opened quickly and repeatedly, slashing into the scene and cutting it down to byte size.

I knew, as I usually do, I had my take away with all the thrills from all the spills, dust and drink. I collect these little bits of time in a number of files I’ve created. It’s true that time keeps moving on, you certainly can’t stop it. However, you can capture time and store it away, getting it out for a look-see when you like. For example, this photograph only recorded the view for 1/1000 of a second. Yes, that means that at that recording rate, there can be a thousand scenes, just like this one, all stored in one second of time. It’s all pretty amazing to me. After all, I  always have enough time to give somebody 1/1000 of a second of it just as I did here Especially when I can own the moment for forever if I so choose.