Boyacá. Beautiful, mountainous. The climate is cool, there aren’t mosquitoes and, it’s safe. Or at least there isn’t someone always telling you to watch your back, as happens almost everywhere else in Colombia. Boyacá is also culturally and visually distinct from other regions. There’s a Boyacénce dialect. Traditional dances. Sombreros and ponchos (locally called ruanas) are as much part of fashion as modern attire.
The Boyacence... Well I’d be lying if I said that they're particularly open and friendly in general. They are a tough, tough people. Not particularly smiley. They're shaped by the rough terrain around them. They’ve had to tame their land to survive and prosper. But, talk to the Boyacence and you’ll feel a very genuine hospitality. No frills, no bullshit, just real people. Boyacá has become one of my favourite regions in Colómbia.
One of the first things that caught my eye photographically was the Sunday animal market. Here, photogenic campesinos came to sell their cows, sheep and horses.
Men with rugged faces looked every bit the stereotype one imagine when thinking cowboy and South America.
The market was a bit of madness. The bulls fought each other and fought the people trying to load them into trucks.
Money changed hands. Deals were celebrated with bottles of beer. I love these sorts of places and spectacles. So, I was pretty happy to discover that there’s an even bigger market like this in a nearby town called Sogamoso.
I went to Sogamoso. While shooting I met a curious young man named Yuber. Yuber buys and resells animals, mostly bulls, for slaughtering. We chatted. He was curious in what I do, I was curious in what he does. I asked if I can follow him and document his day the next time he comes to the market. He agreed.
The key for Yuber is to arrive early. Like 3-4 am early. He finds the best animals and tries to convince the sellers on a price, before they talk to anyone else. This ensures the best possible deal for Yuber.
The seller’s attraction is that they can call it a day before the day even begins. There is a chance for the seller to get a better price later on, however there’s also a chance that Yuber buys a different animal as more sellers arrive.
Yuber has a degree as a vet, but he learned how to identify the best animals from his father. It’s a family business. In fact he generally sells the bulls to his father’s slaughterhouse. The father then supplies the meat to restaurants and for functions.
The day that I followed Yuber was a quiet one. He said that the prices were through the roof and he was only able to buy one bull. Prices depend on season, whether it’s rained and on various other factors.
"If you recognise the quality of animals and understand their value, you’ll be ahead" h tells me. But, Yuber noted that psychology is also a factor in the "cattle game". The seller has some leverage because they know that Yuber needs to buy, so that he can sell and make money. Yuber needs to recognise a bluff, how much to push and how to convince a seller on the lowest possible price.
Sometimes friends do insider tricks. If a potential buyer doesn’t want to pay the asking price, one of friends pretends to be an interested buyer, just to raise the price. Everyone knows this, but they don’t know when the buyer is genuine or when it’s a friend.
Yuber does the rounds at different markets all week. I was only able to follow him around Sogamoso. I wanted to shoot more, but I was doing a couple of other projects in Mongui. By the time I finished, Yuber went back to being a vet for a while. Things were going too slow with the cattle business. So, my project was cut short.
I photographed some more around Monguí. There was a cattle market in the village of Monguá a few kilometers up the mountain. There I met Yohan and his friend. The two who loved playing cowboys, throwing a lasso over the neck of the sheep that Yohan’s older sister was selling.
There were many attempts before the younger Yohan got it. It’s amazing to see how kids learn through play. Funnily, Yohan’s uncle saw one of my photos on Instagram. I suppose he found it because I tagged the location. I ended up sending him all the images of Yohan from the day.
Going to the animal markets I started to recognise the same faces. Some of the men were like Yúber. They’d buy and resell animals. Others would bring the animals they raised to different markets. I got a fascinating insight into this world. I wish I could have gone a bit deeper into Yúber’s personal story, but things don’t always work out how we want.
That’s it. I’m trying to catch up on these photo diaries, but, I’m too far behind now, so the next post is gonna be packed with photos from the rest of my journey around South America.
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