This is the second in a three-part series on the unexpected (for us) cool-ness of Guadalajara, Mexico. We almost didn’t go there and now aren’t we glad we did.
There are many ways that people around the world spend their Sundays. Some go to church or another religious service. Some exercise or take some time for themselves. Read the newspaper. Recover from the night before. You get the idea.
In Guadalajara, they host a weekly rodeo and get good and drunk doing it. Gates open at 10:00 a.m., when the riders are still arriving or are catching the last minutes of a Sunday morning mass being voiced through speakers at the Campo Charro Jalisco’s very own chapel. Noah and I walk in around this time – there’s religious rhetoric emanating from the chapel but I can’t see anyone at the front. It appears to be piped in through some speakers. As the visiting teams of horses, bulls, and riders continue to unload outside the arena, one thing is certain: we’re a bit early. Not a problem, with just the internet, Lonely Planet, and a bunch of locals who had never even heard of this Sunday affair to rely on, we were happy not to have missed it.
The Camp Charro is relatively small – like something you might see for equestrian events at a county fair. The culinary options are equally limited, but good. One stand sells Guadalajara tortas ahogadas, tacos, beer, etc. as the concrete steps surrounding the ring begin to fill. We order tortas to hold us over. The torta ahogada – a Tapatio specialty – consists of a pork sandwich on a baguette-style roll with cabbage and fixings, all doused in a savory tomato sauce. They vary widely, even across the city, so try a few.
By the time we had finished brunching, the concrete bleachers had begun to fill for the show. Like the riders, many of the spectators were likely decked out in their cowboy regalia, complete with bolo ties, spurs, and chaps.
As soon as we sat down, an older woman with a bucket came by to ask us if we’d like anything to drink. We declined but knew we’d missed the boat as everyone around us began to pull out bottles of tequila from their bags, ordering ice and coca-cola to accompany. Some ordered 8-oz bottles of beer – safer that way, we suppose – even the cowboys were sipping the mini-bottles as they waited for their events to start.
By noon, the stands were full and the charreada began. The events began slowly, with long qualifiers proving basic equestrian abilities. Noah noted that this portion elicited a heavy “high school track meet” vibe. The spectators seemed to mind not a bit for that as the tequila bottled were emptied with shocking speed and waiting riders continued to play on their phones, smoke cigarettes, and drink even more beer.
The ropes portion began to pick up the pace as a mounted rider with a lasso would attempt to take down a particularly startled cow, which would be running like mad for the exit. While it made no sense to my eyes, certain numbers of points were given for varying levels of success in lassoing these cows off their feet
The final events really brought the people what they came to see. As the gates were closed to bring the event venue to just a simple ring, one of the cowboys was unleashed into the center atop a bucking bull. The rider would stay as long as he could (for points) before jumping off and leaving it to him and his team to lasso the bull, take it down to the ground, and remove the plastic tips that covered the sharp points of its horns. Leaving this event, into the final rounds, Guadalajara trailed its rivals from Tabasco in the point standings.
The main event brings all the action together as a team of three men on horseback and a fourth on foot attempt to lasso and pin another bull. Teams spent minutes chasing the bull around the ring one way just to have it change directions before it could be lassoed. While several teams managed it in just a few minutes, our home team from Guadalajara struggled in spectacular fashion. Tabasco snuck away with the win.
Leaving the Campo Charro, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I had just witnessed but knew I was ready to come back another Sunday and do it all again.