The “Rodeo Montubio” is one of Ecuador’s coastal plain’s most deeply rooted festivities. It’s perhaps the region’s most poignant cultural expression, celebrated every year in October. It brings together thousands of people who come, watch and participate.
The master of ceremonies transforms his formal voice into a chuckle: “You poor rider…!” He says, putting the microphone to his lips: “Watch out, you’re gonna fall flat on your face!” Dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans, a thick belt with a gold buckle, and the inevitable wide-brimmed hat, he could almost be one of the contestants. “Oh no!” he shouts suddenly, as the horse throws a twenty-year-old boy off its back. The cowboy lands on the grass and rolls several meters. The audience cheers, lifting beer glasses and rising to their feet. The kid gets up with a big smile on his face, brushing off the dust, the unmistakable sign to let the crowd know he’s okay.
This is where you separate the wheat from the chaff. Honor, character, bravery, talent… and music and a great party in the heart of the coastal plains. All the elements to stir up the month of October in the provinces of Guayas and Los Ríos. The montubio rodeo is a centuries-old countryside tradition in this neck of the woods.
Rodeos were key to life on the hacienda. In centuries past, they were organized intimately, only to delight the landowner and his family circle. They represented an opportunity for hacienda employees to show off their skills and their dominion over the animals, establishing hierarchies between them. Today, however, the rodeos have been democratized, becoming great manifestations of popular culture. Massive shows are prepared intensely, sometimes for up to three months, involving thousands of people, plus major national beer brands.
In October, the “coso” (the arena) rises: a bullring, formerly improvised with reeds and planks, that today is built with cement or complex temporary structures, offering greater safety for the thousands of fans who attend the shows. Barefoot, the cowboys arrive from different haciendas to compete, wearing jeans, spurs and their emblematic lassos, colorful button-down shirts as uniforms and a good straw hat to protect them from the sun. They demonstrate their skills, their temperament and strength, along with the beautiful “criollo” queens, who also show off their talents as riders. Trotting and galloping parades, halftime singing performances, clowns who dodge the onslaught of calves on a see-saw, accompany a slew of competitions.
The mounting of the bull is the prize everyone wants to nab: the rider holds the bucking animal with one hand until he’s thrown off it. Another popular discipline involves unbroken horses, which inevitably also send their riders flying. In the suerte del laso (the lucky lasso), teams of at least five participants form a human funnel to lead a galloping horse to the site where another cowboy will lasso it (standing, on his back, or lying on the ground)… there are even those who do it blindfolded… “To be a montubio is something you have in your blood… I guess it is something I’ll die with”, explains Luis Ricardo Real, one of this year’s winners, who insists he has never failed to lasso a horse, blindfolded: “just like Messi”, he says, comparing himself to the footballing genius in all seriousness.
The afternoon ends around the coso, and music takes over. New merengue classics such as Caballito de palo (Little wooden horse) by Puerto-Rican star Joseph Fonseca, seem like anthems here (it is difficult to imagine these rodeos before the song was released in 2010), and as on their saddles, the montubios demonstrate their skill in dance and seduction. Hospitable, charismatic, always with a glass of aguardiente for the visitors… the rodeo may be over, but the party has only just begun.
The “lasso” competition challenges men and women of Hacienda La Marchita de Salitre.
“Step on that one,” laughs the master of ceremonies, winking at the elegant mayorala of Hacienda Dayana, who is probably no older than fifteen. She gallops with her horse over a row of cowboys lying face down on the lawn. Without touching them, but coming ever-so close, it’s best not to think what might happen if the horse actually does miss its step. The skill of this beautiful competitor swings the jury in her favor unanimously: the new Queen of Pimocha has just won her crown.