Corrie took the day to do some work, so the Bear and I were chaperoned by our friends Meredith and Kylie, both of whom were decked out in cowboy hats, Meredith even sporting the boots. Mary, being the jealous type, somehow insinuated herself with the Texas-born Meredith and scored her own--Colts blue, naturally--cowboy hat by the end of the day.
After making our way through the tunnel of food stands getting ready for the day and the stalls selling saddles, belts, charro (cowboy) hats, lassos, and leather goods, we climbed up the tiered, circular stands to the sounds of a 10 piece Banda group. It was breezy and pretty cool for Vallarta, but it only dawned on me hours later that these guys in full orange corduroy outfits were belting out their lively music all day long in the full sun. No small feat.
The charreada is an event that celebrates the traditional skills of Mexican charros. Some of my favorites were Cow-Tripping, Lasso Show Off then Trip the Horse, and Bull Riding. Cow Tripping consisted of a frightened cow running away from the charro on horseback who had to grab its tail, twist his leg around it, and leverage the cow into flipping end over end. In my view, Lasso Show Off then Trip the Horse was the best event. In this one, the charro--sometimes on foot, sometimes on his horse--would show off his lasso tricks while his buddies chased a horse around the circle. After a few minutes of the showing off, he'd attempt to snag the horse's feet with his rope, yank back, and try to trip it, sending the horse flipping end over end. See the theme?
Mary and I were able to do some exploring on the grounds, including making our way to the practice area for the charros. This was great, as we got to see the charros practice their skills, and let me be clear: these guys were bad-ass. Mary agreed and she definitely had her favorite charro. His name was Francisco and he was a sincerely sweet man. As Mary was perched on the wall, doing her best cowgirl, he rode up on his horse. We talked a little, and Mary was intensely interested in his caballo, one of her favorite animals. Tentative at first, Francisco coaxed Mary into touching the horse's mane and ears. If that didn't seal the deal for Francisco, his next move did: he rode off and came back with a Fresca for Mary.
As the day wore on, more friends arrived and the charros seemed to get more into the competition. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the liter sized styrofoam cups they were carrying, the edges rimmed with dried chilis. Heating up, Mary and I headed for some freshly prepared tacos, salsa, and a Modelo. At a similar event in the States, you'd be eating something from Sysco, but even at the simplest stand here, they are cooking the meat right there. They were cutting up the fresh onion, radishes, chilis, and tomatoes, and preparing the salsa right in front of us. This, plus a good half hour of hanging with the Mexican kids in the Bounce House (Mary prefers to go shirtless), and you have a recipe for a lively dad and a soon to be napping daughter.
Before we left, Mary and I wanted to get closer to the action, so we headed down to the narrow aisle that runs around the ring. This was a very manly area and we were a bit out of our element. There were only men here, and these guys knew what was going on, as I think a lot of them were current or former charros themselves. At least Mary had her cowboy hat, which shortly came in handy. In Mexico, when doing the Lasso and Horse Trip, you get three opportunities to do so. If you snag the horse all three times, you are showered with hats from the audience. I knew this already from when Bugs Bunny would defeat the bull, but it works at a charreada too.
After success on all three attempts, a small, blue cowgirl hat rested in the dirt at the feet of the champion charro.
Love and horses,
Mike, Corrie, and the Bear