Nov 20

This here be cowboy country.

Dragging out the lame bull.

When people think cowboys, they tend to think about old western films like the The Good the Bad and the Ugly.  For most of the world, cowboys are synonymous with the Wild West and the good ol’ USA, people think Texas.

In Latin America though, the cowboy dream also lives on.  On this tour Tony and I have passed through ranch country after ranch country, places where rancheros toting their cowboy hats and straddling their horses are the still the norm.  Places where machismo still thrives in its traditional form and the men are real men and the women are good women.  Places where bar fights are bromance, and belt buckles are badges of honour.

No place on this trip though, has exemplified this tradition more than the northern part of Nicaragua and the area around the small country town of Somoto.

When I passed through Somoto the usually quiet town was bustling with activity as there was a country fair taking place over the weekend.  Big horses being ridden around by 5 year-old girls in braids and flannel shirts mingled with old men weighed down by 5 gallon hats drunkenly stumbling their way to the cock-fight.  The only motorized vehicles were tough looking pickup trucks and shiny crotch-rocket style motorbikes.  Meat was on the menu, and vendors ran all over the place with buckets full of ice cold cans of Toña beer.  Small cigars or cigarettes hung from most of the mens lips as the cinched up the straps on the horses or zipped back up their denim jeans after watering the roadside shrubbery.  Women, with their check shirts tied in a knot at their waist let their skin tight jeans offer a tantalizing view of their posteriors as they strolled down the streets.

Machismo kills, impoverishes, and brutalises.

The centre-piece of the fair though was the bull ring.  A large circular structure made entirely from planks of wood with only one way in our out.  With the fireworks and the smoking, the place was the definition of a firetrap.  Saturday night I lined up with everyone else and filed into the packed bleachers surrounding the ring.  Authentic was the word to describe the atmosphere.  Everyone was there and everyone was in a fantastic mood.  I carefully scanned the stands, confirming that besides me, there were only two other foreigners in the joint.

It took awhile for things to get going, and the beer vendors continued to fuel the crowd, beers cans whizzing past heads as they chucked them up to the top rows, other vendors sold cigarettes, chewing gum, and pop corn.  Everyone seemed to know each other, and despite chatting with the man seated next to me, I felt distinctly out of place.  Should have worn my check shirt, I grumbled to myself.

Somoto, Nicaragua

Finally though ,the bulls were ready.  This was going to be a first for me.  I had never before seen bulling riding or bull fighting before.  The riders were introduced first.  One by one they ambled out into the arena, most of them wearing big leather boots, jeans, a white button shirt with the name of their sponsor printed on the back, and a dusty old baseball cap.  Others though were sporting the cowboy hats and leather chaps.  These were real men.  Two cowboys on beautiful and feisty horses danced their mounts around the edge of the arena, lassoes hung at the ready on their saddles.  Their job would be to rope the bulls after they were worn down.  Another firework was set off and the men cleared back to the bull pens and the crowd went silent.  Suddenly the gate was flung open and a gun shot went off and a very angry bull came bursting out of the pen with a rider perched gamely on top, one hand held high in the air.  It was a dud though.  After just one or two bucks, the beast settled down and slowed to an irritated walk.  The crowd booed.


Somoto, NIcaragua

The next couple of bulls though were no duds.  These creatures were angry and how on earth those riders didn’t get thrown is beyond me.  They bucked and ran and shaked their heads, like the frenzied, deranged animals that they were.  They were furious and tough.  It would take only take a few minutes for the bulls to wear themselves out and the riders would then dismount, quickly extracting themselves from the situation in the same manner as man jumping from a burning car would.  The men on horses moved in, lassos swinging in the air above them.  The younger man let his lasso fly first, and to the distinct pleasure of the crowd, the bull ducked his head and lasso slipped uselessly to the ground.  The laughter and chants would be enough to shame any man, but the young man on his beautiful white horse laughed and joked more than any other.  The second man let his lasso fly, and with great success the loop grabbed onto the horns of the fuming giant.

The road to somoto, Nicaragua

Bull number four was another dud, and one that made me feel bad for the brutes for the first time.  He came charging out but after the first buck it was clear something was wrong as massive animal half collapsed and began dragging his rear legs along the ground behind him.  He continued to crawl into the arena, frothing from the mouth and shaking his mighty horns from side to side.  Eventually the bull just collapsed to the ground and sat there looking around at the crowd.  You couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

It would take the next half hour for the two horses and six other men to drag the bull along the ground and out of the arena.  Two of the men dragging the bull by the tale.

riding the bull.

I had seen enough, there were still three bulls to go, but I was exhausted, and I began to work my way around the stands to the only exit as the next younger, smaller, and more energetic bull came charging out.  Once again the rider miraculously stayed perched on his back.  Then, when I was about half-way around to the stands, I heard the ladies in the stands let out a collective scream.

There was a drunk man in the ring, and he was running around the arena with the angry bull hot on his trail.  The women screamed again as the bull flicked his head and came and within inches of goring the man’s back with his horn.  The man continued his run around the arena, clearly spooked but also drunkenly loving the attention.  This bull had energy though, and it was only because the bull got distracted by the man with the red banner that the drunkard was able to clamber back up into the stands out of harms way.

Not for long though, to the roaring delight of the spectators, he hoped back down and bravely (stupidly) went up to the beast again and smacked its flank with his baseball cap.

The chase was on.

Cañon de Somoto


Cañon de Somoto

first meal in Nica

ON the road to Somoto

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