“What’s happening in San Andres today?" Claire asked.
"It's the patron saints day of the pueblo, Sand Andres de la Cal."
"Take us with you this time," Claire pleaded. “I want to show the girls the washing troughs and shower room you had built.”
“It's not like a village fete in Dorset, Claire, these people are very rough. They’ll be showing their skills breaking in horses, and how brave they are riding a bulls. It's very basic out there. You’ve got to cover up, wear a big shirt and a jorongo. I don’t want to worry about any of the men making a pass at you.”
“Ok, ok, I’ll wear one of your shirts and my baggy trousers."
“You know the men see women either as saints or prostitutes. If you are showing your body it means you're selling it.”
They set off at 2 after the hottest part of the day: morning. They went past strange rock formations near the village that the wind had carved out of stone over thousands of years reached San Andres nestling in the wild mountains south of Mexico city.
The faces of the villagers showed their Mayan heritage, they eked out a living from the dusty earth growing maize that once dried they ground down into flour to make tortillas.
Claire saw beans a growing in the surrounding fields and a few chickens and cattle ranged around. The fiesta had started early. It was hot and extremely dusty and the men were increasingly inebriated.
Claire wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and head like the villagers and ushered her two daughters Melissa and Salina towards a group of women who had gathered to watch the rodeo.
The men were wearing loose which shirts and trousers and large hats to shade their eyes from the sun.
“Ah here comes El yak, welcome, welcome have some pulque.”
Jacques took the offered drink and gulped down the rich potent drink made from cactus milk.
Claire could see Jacques on the other side of the coral with a group of local men who were obviously very fond of him, laughing and slapping him on the back and singing raucously.
Two men were riding wild bulls, relaxed in their extreme drunkenness showing off their skills.
This was not a well organised event like the Charros were Jacques had learned his rodeo skills, this was life in the raw. There were no hard hats or riding boots. Only bare heads and sandals.
“Hey Yack be one of the guys have a go on the bull.”
"I know you can do it.”
Jacques took a swig of the pulque. "Thanks amigo," he said fondly, “I won’t ride the bull , but I’ll have a go on a wild horse.”
Claire watched him approach the saddleless horse that was kicking and flailing around trying to get away. The smells around her were overpowering, roasting chillies and garlic offset by manure and alcohol, with the merciless heat turning the earth to dust, which was kicked up by the horses and mingled with the sweat of the audience. She heard stray dogs barking, the tinny sound of a local bank playing on rudimentary guitars and flutes, bulls snorting and children screaming.
She did not know whether to close her eyes, take the children away from the coral or just see it out.
Yack mounted a horse held onto the straps on the horse which arched its back, nostrils flaring, whinnying its distress, kicking its back legs, twisting from side to side sending up clouds of dust. Jacques held firmly onto the straps as he was lurched around feeling as if all his bones were shattering.
Claire watched shading her eyes from the blazing sun her heart thumping with terror. She knew J had been riding since he was a small boy and taught rodeo skills but he was out of practise.
“Don’t fall off, don’t fall off," she whispered.
“Why’s the horse trying to shake daddy off," Melissa asked, balancing on the corral fence watching with excitement.
“He’s never had a person ride him before and he doesn’t like the feeling of someone on his back.”
The women around them laughed.
“Mira tu esposo, look at your husband el Yack," the nearest woman told her. Nodding her approval.
Jacques managed to stay on.
“Thank God," prayed Claire.
The horse finally stopped kicking and, exhausted slowed to a walk. Jacques dismounted gracefully holding the horses sensitive ear, showing he still had control. And muttered thanks that the horse did not kick him as he landed on the ground, now holding onto the strap around the horses middle and let go. His campesino friends cheered, whooped and clapped as he walked away from the corral, still intact.
“I had to show my respect," he explained to Claire, "It means I’ve got a bigger bond with the villagers. They’ve been so good helping me with the ranch I’ve got to give something back."