¿Quieres ir a un rodeo gratis?
Our amigo Miguel picked us up in Oaxaca around 4:30 p.m. so we had ample time to travel to Santa María Guelacé and arrive an hour early to claim a few prime seats before throngs of people arrived to watch the rodeo. A couple of men balanced themselves on the fences surrounding the ring and strung up plastic bulls and cowboy hats while a few boys chased stray dogs and each other with lassos. We found a good vantage point and ate a couple tortas that Miguel’s girlfriend, Lety, brought along before the event got underway. The multi-colored metal stands soon became jam-packed with just about everyone in Guelacé in anticipation for the spectacle to begin.
As soon as the town’s mayordomos showed up with cases of Corona and bottles of mezcal in tow, the show commenced. Charros trotted out on horses that danced to music played by a local band on a stage behind the ring. Vendors waded through the crowd selling potato chips, nieves, cheeseburgers, French fries and cigarettes.
After the horses waltzed out of the ring, it was time for the bull riders to take over and attempt to latch onto the creatures while they struggled to eject the men from their backs by bounding and gyrating around the ring. I don’t know the particulars, but I’ve heard that the most effective way to create a hostile toro is to bind its testicles. I spied a few men making adjustments to that general area before the gate swung open and the beast tore off flailing about. The first few riders appeared to be amateurs, but none of them looked as if they were inexperienced.
Soon after the bull riding started, a rider’s foot became ensnared in the ropes strapped to the side of one of the beasts and was violently thrashed before breaking free and slamming into the fence. The crowd gasped. Some folks shrieked. Members of the audience snatched the man from the ring and pulled him under the fence so that volunteer paramedics could tend to his wounds. I couldn’t see the guy from where we were sitting, but I saw looks of horror on a few faces of bystanders who were near the injured man. The announcer took over, the band started playing, and the paramedics carted the injured man off before the next round began.
The second tier – men in leather chaps embellished with various logos and designs, plus a rear flap with the name of his ranch sewn into it – paraded into the ring. The announcer said a prayer that I mostly understood and many of the men stooped down to the ground, drew a cross into the dirt with their fingers, said a few words and made the sign of the cross upon their chests. This was done by each of the riders directly before mounting the bull as well. An extra plea to the man upstairs never hurts.
Not all of the bulls transformed into enraged farm animals, bucking wildly in an attempt to remove the human from their backs even though their genitalia were restricted. Some simply lurched a few times and stood idle in the center of the ring with their tongues sticking out. Evidently, when this happens, the solution is for the passenger to lean down and smack the creature about the head in an attempt to antagonize it. At times, this plan of action was successful and the animal would erupt into a fury. Other times, it would remain docile and men with lassos would snare the animal’s head in a tangle of ropes and escort it toward the exit.
During the time it took for us to watch 33 bull and rider combinations, a few guys got trampled, a bystander received a broken nose for standing too close to the action and we ate some delicious prickly pear flavored nieves before riding back to Oaxaca.