Everybody knows that in Mexico, around Christmastime, the local parishes reenact the Posada. A procession of school children follow Joseph and Mary as they go from door to door in search of a place to spend the night. Ultimately, they end up in a stable. And the rest is history.
Most people down here are unaware that the local cowboys celebrate their own Christmas Posada. But theirs is not the PG-13 Disney version you see in all the travelogues. Theirs is the one for which “viewer discretion is advised.”
It is really more of a Christmas party for a bunch of people who, let’s face it, were probably raised in a barn. They do it in mid-January so as not to be confused with the more traditional, religious versions. They, and all their families, get together along the tree-lined bridle path in lower La Floresta.
The village priest says mass under the trees, serves communion to a handful of elderly ladies, finishes off his sacramental wine, and goes home. With all pretenses of religion concluded, the cowboys break open the sacramental tequila.
The ladies cook up some traditional holiday fare—pork skins, intestines, kidneys and livers—all deep fried in a big wash tub full of bubbling lard. I guess you can eat just about anything if it has enough hot sauce slathered on it. While the crowd feasts on this heart smart diet, the kids proceed to break a few piñatas. Not to be outdone, the cowboys proceed to break a few laws.
Cockfighting and horse racing are the main activities of the day. That’s probably why, at the original Christmas, the angels didn’t bother harking the herald to any cowboys. It’s a little easier to keep the lid on shepherds.
If you’ve never seen a cockfight, don’t bother. It is everything you’ve imagined. The horse racing, however, is a hoot. Like so much else in Mexico, these races are unencumbered by any formal structure or safety considerations. This is not Santa Anita. This is Dodge City on a Saturday night.
There are no grandstands, no guard rails, no starting gate, no actual race track, just a block-long stretch of dirt path that leads right into the area in which the crowd is partying. There is nothing separating the crowd from the thundering hooves and eternity. Mexicans like their horse racing up close and personal.
The jockeys don’t wear colorful silk shirts, no jodhpurs, no helmets, no riding boots. In fact, most don’t even wear shoes. The horses aren’t overdressed either. There are no saddles, no stirrups, just the bridle and reins. This is hell-bent-for-leather racing, but without the leather.
Once two owners agree to race their horses, each jockey hops aboard his bareback mount. A friend then straps him to the horse with an ordinary cargo strap. It is cinched tightly over the jockey’s thighs, calves and ankles. Like I said, up close and personal.
The end of the block-long race track is crowded with people having a good time. Men drinking, bookies scribbling in notebooks, food vendors peddling mystery treats, charros twirling their lariats, dogs and children chasing each other back and forth across the race track. Dozens of people are standing, not just at the finish line, but on it. Literally. It is just a piece of rope lying on the ground.
The horses are then trotted down to the far end of the path where a starting line has been scraped into the dirt. There is no starting bell or flag. The jockeys just maneuver their jittery steeds up to the line as evenly as they can. If they are both satisfied, they whack their horses and thunder down the track, yelling as loud as they can.
Down at the finish line, somebody hears them coming. He yells “look out!” And the Red Sea of spectators parts just in time for the horses to come barreling through, showering everyone with dirt. A winner is declared, bets are settled, and the whole process starts again.
Not quite Dodge City, I suppose. But pretty darn close.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
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