The 18th of September is Chilean Independence Day, merely one highlight of a month-long celebration known as Mes de la Patria, Month of the Fatherland. Visitors will enjoy parades, flag-waving, kite-flying, traditional cueca dances, and delicious asados, or pit barbecues, beneath the woven-branch roofs of temporary fondas set up all over Chile for the occasion.
While El Dieciocho, as Independence Day is often called, is sure to be a party, it kicks off an even older and perhaps more important national tradition: the Chilean Rodeo. Though first recognized as a national sport in 1948, going fully professional in 1962, Chilean Rodeo dates back to the 1500s.
Chile’s is an entirely different sort of rodeo than those of the United States and Mexico. Teams (colleras) of elaborately outfitted huasos (cowboys; there are huasas, or cowgirls, as well) ride horses, specially trained some five years for the sport, into the medialuna, or arena. After riding two laps around the sandy ring, a cow is released into the stadium; the huasos work together to turn the cow around and pin it to a padded wall using the body of the horses. Up to four points, or quinchas, can be earned per pin, depending on where the cow is caught; a maximum of 13 points can be earned by each collera.
Rodeos take place all over Chile beginning this month, part of a national competition sponsored by the Federación Nacional de Rodeo y Clubes de Huasos de Chile, which culminates in the Final del Campeonato Nacional de Rodeo at the 12,000-seat Medialuna Monumental de Rancagua in April.
For a schedule of upcoming events, check out the Caballo y Rodeo (Horse and Rodeo), the official portal of the National Federation of Rodeo and Riding Clubs of Chile. Make plans well in advance to attend the championships in Racangua, a major provincial capital located 87km (54mi) south of Santiago. The city boasts museums, restaurants, nightlife, and a wide range lodging, including an older, laid-back hot springs resort just outside town. Adventurous travelers will also find great hiking at nearby Río Los Cipreses National Reserve and the wonderful Wine Route of Colchagua, with all sorts of intoxicating cultural attractions.