Our encounter with ‘el gran toro’

“Don’t go in there… the bull is dangerous.”

We are being toughened up. Physically. Financially. Sentimentally. We already had to cinch our belt up a notch to keep our pants from falling off. We’ve been forced too to cinch up our finances, too to avoid losing too much money.

Some men buy boats. Some take up golf. Some buy ranches in South America.

Almost all learn something from the exercise. Many survive. And a few emerge stronger and wealthier. We aim to be part of groups one and two. We’ve given up all hope being included in group three.

We went out yesterday morning to round up cattle. It took about five hours – riding through the sagebrush looking for cows, and then forcing them in the right direction. It was amusing and interesting. The horse did most of the heavy lifting, and since it was a highly skilled horse, its rider merely had to stay on board and let him do his work.

What surprised us was how the dogs joined in. Of all the animals involved – those with two legs as well as those with four – it was the dogs who seemed to enjoy it most. After a few hours, their tongues hung out, but they knew their jobs and loved every minute. They nipped at the heels of the herd to keep them moving. And when one of the cows broke ranks, the dogs set out after it and harassed it back into formation.

But the dogs were too enthusiastic; they ganged up on small calves and almost killed them. The cows, trying to protect their young, were driven nearly mad. The dogs kept barking, nipping, yelping until the cows turned around and tried to catch one or two of them on its horns. The dogs were rolled more than once, but they were having a ball. They provoked an attack, and then quickly scattered, proud of their work.

The dust was so thick that sometimes we were blinded by it. Relief came, temporarily, when we reached the river. The dogs forced the cattle into the mud and water, then into the marshes on the side. We cowboys rode on the sides and behind, just to maintain order.
One of the bulls was having a hard time. He was so large he couldn’t quite keep up.

“Let him stay here”, Jorge yelled.

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So we left him behind and continued with the rest of the herd up to the stone corral, divided in two by a high wall of wire. The animals milled around. Calves found their mothers. The remaining bulls butted heads with each other. Dust rose in huge plumes.

Now, the cowboys prepared to run the cattle through a narrow defile, lock them in place  and administer three different vaccines. Occasionally, they would also discover a male that needed to be castrated or a young cow that needed to have a mocheta put in its nose to wean it from its mother.

But first, we had to get the cattle to enter the narrow chute. That meant getting into the corral to prod, push and scare the animals forward.

“Don’t go in there… the bulls are dangerous,” Jorge warned.

But the ranch is a macho culture. We could never hold our head up or gain the respect of our gauchos by avoiding work or danger. Besides, Nolberto and Justo were already in the enclosure, trying to pry the cattle into the chute.

“Hi… ya!” they yelled, waving their sticks.

“Hoa….” they continued, in a low-throated tone.

Ignoring our capataz, we reasoned that if it were safe enough for them it would be safe enough for us. We climbed over the gate to help drive the cattle into the chute.
We had been in the corral only about five minutes when ‘el gran toro’ charged Justo, on our right.

We wanted to see what happened to him, but we didn’t have time to look. For the bull put his head down and his horns out and attacked us just a second later. We had been thinking, absentmindedly, about how credit from the central bank pretends to be real savings and distorts an economy. But it is amazing how quickly a charging bull clarifies your thoughts. We had about a second to get out of there or we would be dead.

We turned, raced for the fence and put a foot on a low wire. There was no time to climb over… we had to fly. We pushed off and soared over, just as the bull hit the wire.

This movement was remarkably lithe and agile for a 65-year-old literary economist. But the finale was more in keeping with his natural athletic ability. He was headed for the ground, from six feet up… head first. He managed to break his fall with his right arm, but hit hard on his shoulder.

Nolberto is about our age. But he has spent his life on the ranch. He was in the pen too. But he’s smarter. He scampered up the wall in a flash when he saw the bull becoming aggressive.

“Are you okay, Patron?” he asked.

“Si… no problema”, we lied.

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