Where: Llanos, Venezuela, South America
Who: Cowboys with mixed Indian, African and Spanish heritage who live on the harsh wild plains
Culture: Rounding cattle, taming anaconda, followed by partying to the famous Joropo music
Visiting: Meet the cowboys by staying in a hato – a Llaneros wildlife ranch
Who are the Llaneros?
Life in the inhospitable, wild territory of the Llanos contrasts sharply to that of Venezuela’s modern cities. The first settlers arrived in the mid 1500s and its colonization gave birth to a new people, the Llaneros, whose ancestry is a blend of Indian, African and Spanish blood. During Venezuela’s fight for independence in the 1800s, the Llaneros made a name for themselves among the Spanish for their daring and their courage, and many would argue that this reputation has always held fast. The Llaneros are Venezuela’s answer to that all but extinct species of pure, unadulterated machismo, otherwise known as cowboys that once inhabited America’s Wild West. And like their North American predecessors, the Llaneros are a stoical if somewhat masochistic bunch. They need to be to cope with the unforgiving and not to mention highly dangerous environment that is the Llanos.
The Llaneros cheat all the hazards of nature to live on the land they have inhabited since the 1500s. They wake up at an ungodly hour to round up their cattle in the cool air of daybreak, lasso stray beasts, and break wild horses. Not bad going before breakfast is even up. As if that were not enough Llaneros don’t seem let such minor details as the deadly anacondas and crocodiles commonly found in the waters surrounding the Llanos plains stop them from fishing for a few tasty piranhas to throw on the fire for supper in the evening.
But despite their hardships Llaneros still manage to enjoy themselves with the same irrepressible verve that they live the rest of their life with. Singing and dancing to the music in the famousJoropo style is intrinsic to the existence of the Llaneros. More than this, the Llaneros’ musical tradition has become part of the cultural fabric of the whole country – Venezuela’s national music is in fact referred to as ‘Musica Llanero’.
Visiting the Llaneros
If you so wish, it is possible to experience the Llaneros’ culture first hand by staying at one of the Llanero ranches or Hatos. Three of the best-known and popular are the Hato Frio, the Hato El Cedral, and the Hato Pinero. These Hatos on the whole tend to offer much the same facilities and as such the prices do not differ hugely. Most visitors book through a pre-paid package of typically three day and two night stopovers that include full board and one or two excursions each day. Such tours cost around US$100 to US$150 per person per day, although in the rainy season there prices may be up to 30 percent lower.
A traveller’s story visiting Los Llanos meeting caiman, anaconda and cowboys.
Hato El Cedral
Website for the wildlife ranch with video footage of David Attenborough.