Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How we got to go to a small town Rodeo-Circus

We've had some wonderful Brazilians sharing their world with us lately and each of these told us that we should go to the Canyon of São Francisco River, which I've also heard called Xingo Canyon. They each showed us spectacular photos of a vivid green river flowing through a steep canyon, on google. 

So, we detoured about 200kms off the coast to the canyon. We arrived late in the day so that we could do a morning boat cruise. Unfortunately, it rained in the morning and it was too grey for nice green waters. But the boat trip was fun, and the swim very refreshing. 

It was a 3 hour tour and after we decided to grab lunch down the road. We stopped at a restaurant in a small town where the barbecue smelled good. H ordered, or at least he thought he did (our Portuguese is lacking), and he was told we'd have to wait while they cooked it. 
When a waitress later came to ask if we wanted anything, he said 'yes, lunch, but we already ordered'. She asked 'who with'. H pointed at the other woman. Off she went. We waited, still no food. The other woman came to wipe our table and asked if we wanted anything else. 'Just lunch' said H. She left, we waited. I was reading a novel. We think we waited at least 1.5 hours, then another table that sat down after us received meals and so we just got up and left. We bought the Brazilian equivalent of Chico rolls and sausage rolls over the road and kept driving. 

Just out of town we stopped at the rodeo grounds because there were horses and trucks gathered. It was some kind of camp-draft type event, a display of working cattleman on horseback skills. We watched a few times while 2 men on horseback would grab a steer by the tail and wrench it to the ground. It was quite thrilling and we even got some good photos. 

But, the day still had more hours, we hadn't travelled far, and this event had no-where to sit (unless you brought a horse to sit on), so we kept travelling. 

Later, the sun was getting low and we saw a small town off the highway. We've found these towns can be good places to stop, so we pulled in. As soon as we turned off the engine about 20 kids surrounded us. And questions began. Then adults came, for 2 hours there was a constant stream of lookers and questions. There was an event set up, some called it a rodeo, others a circus, and we were invited to attend, and advised to park beside it. 

I (Ali, the Aussie) grew up in the country. I've been to a few camp-drafts and rodeos but I've never seen an event like this one. That evening there was only one beast that came out of the shute being ridden and the rider lasted about 1.5 seconds before being thrown. But, riding bulls wasn't what this event was about. 

The beasts used weren't big, neither were they bulls but a selection of steers and young cows. They'd release a beast into the yard (almost circular, of maybe 12 to 15 metres across) where 3 men waited. These men would torment the animal by waving red flags in front of it (you will be thinking of matadors now, but it was nothing like that). The animal would get stirred up and charge at the red cloth. And then, they'd drop the cloth and the steer/cow would charge at the ground or a man. But these men were bold and athletic, and missing teeth already. 
A man would lurch at the beast, with the crowd gasping, leap into the air and land on it's back, with the crowd now smiling at the sight of the man sitting on the beast facing its rear. At this point the beast looked confused!
At other times a man would ride between the beasts big horns, sometimes the animal would successfully pin the man to the fence but always another of the men would come in with the red cloth to bring the beast away from the fence before the first man got too badly damaged (I'm sure it still hurt). 
One man would often get onto the ground (knees and forearms on the ground) with his bum daring the beast to charge it, and as the bull came forward another man would use the first mans back as a jumping platform to land on the beasts back. Distracted, the animal would cease it's charge, again seeming confused. 
One man (and I'll use an expression from home to say "he's as mad as a cut snake!"), had legs like springs and wore a red shirt. He'd kneel a few metres in front  of a beast a walk on his knees towards it, slapping his chest in challenge. Then, when the beast was close enough he'd roll forward landing himself to ride on the beasts neck, facing backwards. 

In part I felt sorry for these animals for being tormented like this, but it was extremely entertaining. The animals were not physically hurt in this event (men were, we saw the red shirted mans back as he headed to the river the next morning (to wash)), and the animals did seem healthy and well fed. The cattle were even used to the drill: when their time was over, the gate controller would slap the gate loudly and the beast would stop looking for what to charge next and calmly walk into the back pen. Show over. 

In contrast, animals were injured in the cattleman display we saw earlier (at the other town), but those skills being practised there were real parts of working life for cattleman not just here but elsewhere in the world too. That event wasn't for entertainment (thus, no entry fee and no seating) but for competition of real working skills. 

H and I felt very lucky to have stumbled on both these events.


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  2. Ali. Your father used to be able to pull a steer down from horseback when he was young, but grabbing its tail.