Sunday, February 14, 2010


This stretch of the 200 hugs the sides of the mountains that perch on the Pacific. The coastal side of the road began with a line of cliffs that plunge into the sea and, as we got further north, vast groves of orderly lines of 50 foot high coconuts. The inland side was marsh or scrub, all of it covered in a dense mat of parched vines. Later on, endless fruit plantations -- glossy, puffed up mango trees, pale green fruit hanging heavily on long stems that literally drip from the trees, papaya clinging to the their frail-looking trunks under an umbrella of massive fig-like leaves, towering coconuts with squat banana trees as ground cover, pale blue bags hanging from each tree to protect the ripening fruit. Where there were no bananas, there were cows grazing happily in the shade.

The Michoacán coast seems to be one endless string of playas, some tiny sheltered coves of white sand, some miles-long stretches of perfect beach. So many places to look into when we return. It wasn't easy to admit that we'd had enough of surf and sand. We were aiming for one last night on the beach, a hillside campground just outside Colima. The plan was to spend the night and then do the climb to Guadalajara in the morning. Strung across the end of the little dirt road was a padlocked chain — change of plans. With only a couple of weeks left we still had a few things on our wishlist: a charreada (Mexican rodeo), lucha libre and a bullfight, some of which we were hoping to find in Guadalajara. We pulled into Colima mid-afternoon but there was no campground near town. We sauntered up to the check-in desk. Yes, we have room for you but all the rooms with balconies are booked because of the cabalgata. What is the cabalgata? The start of the weekend's charrotaurinas, Colima's version of the charreada. It might be a bit noisy, the bellboy warned us, lots of horses and even more loud music. Yeehaw! While Wil and I sorted out the car, the bellboy led the kids up to the room and told them there would be a thousand horses. I think he was exaggerating, Colima is not that big a town. Found dinner at a little place on the Jardin. Wil ordered sopes, thinking it was a sopa (soup). Instead came a threesome of chubby little tortillas, smothered in shredded pork, cheese, onions, cilantro, crema, hot sauce on the side. Mmmm.

People started to gather, crowding the sidewalk cafés and balconies and lining the street. We waited patiently, checking down the right hand side of the road to see if anything was coming. Dozens of horses rode by in the opposite direction in twos and threes, young cowboys in their finest, white striped collared shirts, white or black cowboy hats, chaps, spurs sparkling, finely-tooled wooden saddles, horses glossy, manes and tails braided or brushed. Many of the riders took their steeds through their paces on the way by, highstepping, dancing, bucking and bowing. Some of the cowboys had obviously seen fifty or more cabalgatas; elegant caballeros who took advantage of the spotlight to show that the young bucks had nothing to teach them -- getting their horses to goose-step a little higher, bow a little lower. Whether the vaquero was on a mule or an arabian, pride was as much on display as the horses.

We waited. Police cars marked the start, behind them a truck sagging under the weight of a full brass band with girls and guys dripping over the high sides, deafening banda music blasting. As though the music weren't loud enough, a massive tower of speakers on the tailgate. Inches away from the back of the truck, fifty or so horses crowded the street, cowboys with one hand on the reins, the other clutching a can of beer, the horses completely unfazed by the pumping music or the crowds. I jumped back a dozen times to avoid rumps and hooves -- pretty quickly regretting having chosen to stand in front of the low hedge. Behind that group of horses another truck and another group of horses. It went on and on and on. Turns out a thousand was no exaggeration. We ended up heading up to our room and listened to the end of the cabalgata as we drifted off after 11.

Woken by the bells of a nearby church. the significance of the repeated rings in sequences of one, two, then fifteen or more rings lost on us. The morning began with a search for yet another mofle man, the familiar routine of following vagueish directions, around this corner, around that corner... Finally got sorted out by a man with an atrophied arm that hung loosely from his shoulder and his one-eyed assistant in the cool goggles who had us set to go in 10 minutes for 150 pesos.

The fair/charrotaurinas, was set to start after noon with another cabalgata that ran from the jardin to the fairgrounds and Patetera in Villa de Alvarez, the town next door. Henri got chased around by a group a girls and ended up ripping his shorts off. We hailed a cab but when we told him where we were going he dropped us off a block later and said the only road was blocked by the cabalgata so we should try again later. We walked and walked in the sun and finally found a cab who took us to the entrance at the other end of the grounds. "What is the petatera?", we asked him. The Petatera is the place full of petates. Thanks for clearing that up for us. He dropped us off and we walked across a field to the fairgrounds, the twin volcanoes of Colima and snow-capped Nevado de Colima visible through the ferris wheel. To the left of the fairgrounds was a plaza de toros built of rough planks and strung with a a thousand palm-woven mats (aka petate!). Outside the arena were red circles painted with big white numbers, each a section with a different keeper, ours a very old, very deaf man and his young assistant who shouted into his ear and showed us where we were allowed to sit. 60 pesos for the family. We climbed up and sat down but still no idea what we were in for. In the arena were the hundreds of cowboys we'd seen. Many sat on their horses in a long line with rumps to the outside of the ring in the shade. Above the arena a handful of rows of folding chairs, behind the chairs an aisle of sorts and then a dozen or so benches of rough planks, all of a various widths and lengths that rose to the top. Beneath the planks, more petates or perilous drops into the steep steps. On one end of the arena was a banda playing loudly to get everyone riled up. The riders who weren't stuck to the wall trotted and cantered around the arena waiting for something. A few minutes later, without announcement or fanfare, a red gate swung open and out came a very angry-looking white bull, bucking and kicking. Suddenly a hundred lassos were in action. The bull cut a path through the horses, the vaqueros took aim and in short order had the poor beast on its side. The challenge was releasing it and guiding it back through the red gate. In the stands families sat eating chips doused in hot sauce, plastic cups full of sliced cucumber, pineapple and jicama sprinkled with lime and salt, cans of beer served with rock salt and half a lime on the can. Vendors screamed, music blared, cowboys circled, bulls bucked. For us, the show was as much in the stands as in the arena. A very drunk cowboy walked past us in the aisle and jumped down into the arena, finding his way through the horses to the gate. I lost sight of him before he made it.

A few more bulls made their entrance and exit and then everyone was invited to go get something to eat before the fair rides began. Right outside the exit was a long row of temporary bars, buxom painted girls serving up drinks, horses tied to posts outside. We headed toward a big tent where everyone seemed to be going. One end was a huge dance floor and a fifty-member brass band going strong, the rest was folding tables and chairs full of cowboys in their finery — all of Colima's caballeros and their damas. People had set up their coolers in the corners, selling homemade ceviche and tamales. We bought a plate de carne asado, the kids bought refrescos. People wandered around greeting each other, the men in jeans, cowboy hats and white shirts, the ladies squeezed into their best outfits pulling along their polished kids dressed in mini cowboy hats and boots.

As we approached the exit I saw the drunk cowboy again, his nose mashed, his white hat streaked with blood, arm strung over his wife's shoulder and young son by his side.

We spent a few lovely hours in the zocalo, Henri played soccer with a couple of boys, the girls watched a man and his son in matching clown suits put on a what seemed to be an endless show. And to bed.


Anonymous said...

what a parade of sights and sounds, i am over-stimulated just reading about it - WOW. the kids must be in heaven ... getting on that school bus and sitting in a classroom is going to be dullsville after bullfights, beaches, and rodeos. at least henri is getting a bit of practice fending off the girls, won't be long before he needs that - even in sutton :)

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

I can here Henri one day proudly recalling the time was chased by a bunch of Mexican hotties. xxo