Visiting Chipilo for a Traditional Charreada
Chipilo is a small farming town located about seven miles south of the Puebla capital. It was established in 1882 by emigrants of the Veneto region in northern Italy, who relocated to central Mexico to escape poverty back home. The majority of these chipileños, as they’re known in these parts, hailed from Segusino in the Treviso province, which in 1982 became an official sister city.
Perhaps because of this close relationship — and the fact that Chipilo was relatively isolated from Puebla’s urban sprawl until the late 20th century — many locals speak a Venetian dialect. The biggest draws to outsiders are its meat and dairy products, particularly artisan cheeses, which are sought after for miles around. Nearly all of the attractions in town are located along a short stretch of road that veers off and then back onto the federal highway to Atlixco. (Turn right before the sister city sign.) Here visitors will find restaurants, shops and services, a church, a hotel, baseball and soccer fields, and the town’s lienzo charro, or rodeo ring.
Charreadas — or rodeos — have been a part of the Mexican culture since the 16th century, although being a charro used to be more of a job than a sport.
Our visit to Chipilo last Sunday took us directly to this ring, where the family of Alfonso “Poncho” García, was holding a gran charreada, or great rodeo, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death. The free event attracted hundreds of spectators and riders from Atlixco, Mexico City, and beyond, including an award-winning group of escaramuzas (women equestrians who ride side-saddle in precise, choreographed patterns) from Puebla. Our friend Elmar, who’s close to the Garcías, invited us to see the show — my first-ever rodeo — and we were honored to meet several longtime charreada fans and participants.
Charreadas have been a part of the Mexican culture since the 16th century, but being a charro was a more of a job than a sport up until the early 20th century. In 1921, the National Association of Charros formed to keep tradition alive, and in 1933 turned over country-wide organizational duties to the new National Federation of Charros. (Puebla’s affiliated state association of charros is among the oldest, dating to 1923.) A typical charreada comprises nine events for men and one for women, which are scored based on an individual’s technique. There is no time limit. Rodeo is considered an amateur sport, in that competitors usually vie for trophies, titles, and bragging rights instead of money.
The charreada in Chipilo was scheduled to start at noon, but in true Mexican fashion, it didn’t get under way until sometime thereafter. We didn’t mind. Our seats on the rickety metal bleachers were in the shade, and we bought a giant beer and snacks from various vendors. In some form or another, there was constant entertainment: Early on, one bull escaped the ring and disrupted the soccer game going on next door, as players and charros tried to get him off the field. Later, two others wouldn’t buck during the jinteo de toro, or bull riding, event; right out of the gate, they simply sat down. The announcer told jokes — some less politically correct than others — and tried to hurry the proceedings along by reminding everyone that he needed to, ahem, get to church by 6 p.m. And, at one point, the water truck managing the dust in the ring drove a little too close to the crowd.
The roping, reining, and riding skills on display, however, were well worth the occasional wait. The escaramuzas appeared to be in top form, executing intricate patterns in close proximity with speed and grace. Perhaps most impressive to me was the young charro who, on foot, repeatedly lassoed a mare that was being chased around the ring by three other competitors on horseback in the forefooting event. For his efforts, he received a standing ovation and many hats thrown into the ring.
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