Monday, June 4, 2012

Volcano Boarding

We woke up bright and early Monday morning, ready to board a volcano. We were stoked. I had read about volcano boarding years ago and as more and more people I knew tried it, the urge to board down the side of an active volcano on loose ash became overwhelming. Thank goodness I have such a kicka** little sister who will jump out of airplanes and board down volcanoes with me.

Our hostel offered a bed, volcano boarding trip, 3 mojito and 1 beer deal so we took them up on this offer and climbed in their large orange converted flat bed truck along with 15 other adventurous souls. Our guides name was Anthony. He hailed from New York but was busy making Nicaragua his new home. Within minutes it was clear he had a fat crush on robin. I encouraged her to take advantage of this, but she felt I was exaggerating his infatuation (it would later be proven multiple times, I most definitely was not.)

The ride to Cerro Negro, our volcano, was an hour long. The truck drove at neck breaking speeds down one lane roads and tiny dirt ruts. It honked at horses, cattle and children that got in its way, never slowing down for a minute. The cab had a porthole on the top and at multiple points in the trip Anthony would climb out of the cab and into the back to join us, the tourists, clinging for dear life to the benches. During one of these sojourns he informed us that Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro had just been listed #2 on CNNs Thrill Seekers Bucket List and #4 on Readers Digests Top Death-Defying Adventures List. Robin sarcastically added, “Riding on the back of this truck must be #1.”

Here is CNNs description: Snowboarding is old school. The latest extreme way to slide a slope can be found at Cerro Negro in NicaraguaThe live volcano, which erupted as recently as 1999, has become a hot spot for extreme boarders. Boarders can reach speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour as they course down the volcano's sides. “ See why we had to do this?

Once we finally reached the base of the volcano Anthony had adequately pumped us up. He had bragged about his own best time (90 km/hr) and had informed us that if we broke the month or all-time record we would earn extra mojitos. I had seen that the June record for girls was 48 k/h and I was positive I could break that so I was ready to climb on my board and go… too bad we had to hike the volcano first.

We grabbed our gear and commenced a raggedy-taggedy line up the trail. At first we lead the line but soon Robin was kind enough to drop back with me to the end, since I felt pressure to walk quickly at the start of the line, and I am not a natural hiker at the best times, let alone when I am carrying a liter water bottle, orange jumpsuit and a giant piece of plywood. Luckily, there were lots of water breaks and I made it up in one piece.

When we reached the half way point we had a good view of one of the craters created by a recent explosion. There was a nice rock located on the edge just begging for people to hang off it and take a massive number of pictures and our tour group complied happily. We clung to the rock, jumped on it, jumped off it and posed near it. As the pictures wrapped up Anthony turned to me and said, “Take a picture of your sister and I doing a jumping shot.” This would have only been a little odd on its own, but 4 pictures later he was still unhappy with how they were looking and replaced me as photographer. It was at this point Robin admitted he may have a small attraction to her.

Soon after this we reached the top. Looking down at our tiny tonka-sized big-rig truck, we realized just how high we were, 600 meters high. We were instructed to climb into our orange jumpsuits and listen to how to control our boards.

Driving the board is simple. The boards are basically long pieces of heavy plywood with strips of plastic attached with glue to one side of the bottom. Then a rope is tied to the wood and you are seated on the very edge of the back of the wood holding onto the rope. As you go down the volcano, you stick your feet straight ahead and don’t let them touch down unless you want to brake. If you get going too fast then you don’t brake, because if you do, you will be slammed off your board and that is how people break collarbones and such. At the bottom, the volcano evens out and your board will eventually coast to a stop, assuming you managed to hang on that long. We were now ready to go.

Robin and I were the third couple to go. We were seated near each other. The girls who had gone ahead of us had drug their feet almost the whole way down and had never gotten any speed at all. I was determined to get speed and I decided to just not think about repercussions. Robin pushed off first. She was the first girl to keep her feet up and get some speed, she looked good and in control, she made it look easy. About 10 seconds later I pushed off. I could see her ahead and to the right, she was about half down. I lifted my feet and picked up speed, I wanted to test steering so I carefully and quickly tapped my left foot, this was supposed to steer me to the left, instead I rolled lightly off the board – I had been going too fast and the sudden tap and thrown me off. But it hadn’t hurt at all. I brushed off and climbed on again. All fear was gone. I had already fallen off and proven it was harmless. I lifted my feet and gained speed quickly. I clung tight. Robin was now 75% down the mountain. I quickly caught up to her and flew past, I was too close for comfort but I was afraid to try to steer again and I really wanted to get a good time. I was flying.

Suddenly I bounced and my left foot touched the ground. BAM! I was tossed into the air like a rag doll. I landed hard on my left side and immediately bounced again. I did this over and over again, gaining speed as I rolled down the volcano’s side. I could hear robins gasp, followed by uncontrollable laughter as she watched my body and face slam again and again into lava rocks – she later apologized for this reaction – she said her laughter was instinctive but she really was worried about me. According to the people at the base of the volcano, I rolled somewhere between 9 to 16 times and was awesome to watch, arms flailing and legs flying. As I came to a stop, I was so able to quickly assess that nothing was broken but my left side was definitely bruised and cut a bit and my goggles were no longer anywhere near my face.

My board was further up the mountain and I looked up at it as Robin coasted by. She later told me I quietly whispered to myself, “Ow. That hurt…” but I have no recollection of this. All I really remember is climbing back up the side of the volcano, dusting off my ash covered board and climbing on for the end of the ride. Robin crossed the line with a speed of 20 k/h and I crossed right behind her with a speed of 27 k/h. Disappointing to be sure... but everyone assured me I had been flying up until that point and I have the cuts and bruises to prove it.

At the end of the day, we decided volcano boarding was just as awesome as we had hoped it would be and the biggest bummer was we only got to do it once… this trip.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Elusive Pink Dolphin

The amazon is known for its wildlife. The original plan had been to stay one night at the lodge and another camping in the jungle, hammocks for beds. However, this was out of the question, as the jungle trek was buried under 15 feet of water. Instead, we would do all our wildlife spotting from boat. Not a terrible tragedy, but a disappointment to those who love to hike (something Brian & I have never confessed to loving).

As evening approached, we all climbed into the boat. It was nice escape, after just a few hours in the lodge we were all feeling trapped and wet. Rueben drove us out to a place where the river was wide and flat. There we relaxed, the boat gently rocking, our cameras ready. A few minutes’ later dolphins began to leap. Pink and grey dolphins frolicked around us. The grey ones looked just like ocean dolphins, leaping with grace and beauty. The pink ones looked like a fish-pigs, barely able to get their bodies above the water.

We took picture after picture but to no avail. The grey ones were easy to catch film, leaping high into the air, the pink ones were impossible, mere glimpses of their pinkish hue visible above water before they dove under again. Still it was enthralling to see an animal that seemed as real to me as a unicorn and we enjoyed the sight immensely.

We returned to the lodge for dinner and soon after were out in the boat again. It was now pitch black. We were going caiman hunting. Our guide, Jorge, and another man were armed with flashlights and amazing eyesight. Rueben trolled us slowly along the jungles edge, as Jorge and the caiman hunter stared out into the bush. After what seemed like an amazingly short time, the hunter yelled out and lurched from the boat, as he leaned back in he held a small caiman in his hands. They passed the animal around, promising us it wouldn’t bite off our fingers as long as we kept them away from its mouth. We did this successfully and soon released him back into the wild. All of us glad to know that this was another animal we could now worry about sharing our rooms with.

Monkeys were the final animal we were promised on the tour. The next morning we rose much too early and headed out as the sun rose. For the next few hours, we trolled along the jungle, looking for sloths, river wolves and monkeys. Our guide warned us that this would be difficult, that due to the flooding most of the animals were now residing deeper in the jungle since the river had spread out so far, we held out hope though. We just wanted to see something. 

Just as I began to drop off to sleep Rueben called for our attention. He pointed at a shaking tree, we all stared and stared, and were eventually rewarded by seeing the cutest, tiniest monkeys ever, leaping from branch and branch chasing each other. We watched until they disappeared further back into the jungle, then returned to lodge, content in knowing that our Amazon animal sighting had been successful.

Fishing For Piranha

When we weren’t eating, sleeping or riding in the boat, there were not a lot of options of things to do. Relaxing in hammocks and playing cards can only fill so much time.

Our guide convinced us that we must swim in the Amazon. Despite the inherit dangers (caiman, piranhas, strong current, the fact that the outhouses were located in it) he assured us that it was something every person must do in their life. He described to us the magical powers the water carried and the belief that if we were to drink some of the river we would later return, as does everyone who carries a little part of the Amazon inside them.

So, armed with this knowledge, we climbed in. Entering the river was not difficult; we simply walked out the front door. Standing on the front porch meant you were thigh deep in water, walking down the stairs meant you would be doggy paddling before you ever reached the third stair. None of us swam far from the porch. Jorge’s assurance meant little in the face of the Giant River and moving current.

Once we were all in, Jorge asked the ladies if any of us were on our period. This seemed an awkward and inappropriate question, but we all shook our heads no, staring at each other like, “What?!?!” He laughed and explained. According to legend the pink dolphins are attracted to any woman experiencing her flow. As soon as the lady steps into the water the pink dolphins can sense it and immediately swim to her. Then, overwhelmed by their need for her, they capture her and bring her into the depths of the river, keeping her for always. This is why no woman should ever go into the amazon during that time of her month. He looked at us again giving us a knowing look. Soon after we climbed out.

The only other activity offered was fishing. This was what Brian had come for, so of course this was meet with a resounding, “Let’s go!” Jorge drove us out to a part of the river, known for its good fishing. Each of us was given a stick with a piece of line and hook tied to it. We stuck raw pork on the hook and dropped it in. No luck. We moved to a new location. All the lines were dropped in again. We felt small tugs but when we pulled up the meat was gone and no fish hung in its place. This was done again and again, but nothing changed.

Brian had brought his traveling fishing pole. After 30 minutes with the stick, he took out his reel and pole and cast off the side. Within a minute he had a fish, he did this again and again, piranha after piranha were caught and released. The rest of us continued to catch air. One of Brian’s was quite large with a bright red belly. Our guide shouted at Brian to be careful, but before he could release it, the piranha freed itself. Jorge assured us this was better for everyone, especially Brian’s fingers.

We stayed out fishing for a few hours, during this time Brian caught numerous fish, mostly piranhas, David and Rueben also caught a few using the stick poles, Jessica, Heather & I caught nothing but mosquito bites, but that made sense - we were the sweetest in the river.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Amazon Awaits

Leticia was hot and sticky. The airport was small and the bags arrived shortly after we touched the ground. We caught a taxi and arrived at the hostel within minutes. Heather rushed out to greet us. It all seemed so unreal; I couldn’t believe we had made it.

She showed us to our room and invited us to play cards. We couldn’t do it. We were walking dead. We sunk down on the hostel couch and learned about the week’s plans. The boat would leave tomorrow morning. The Amazon River was flooded. It had been over 20 years since it had been so high. All the places to go on the Amazon in Colombia were too flooded to visit, so we would be staying in Peru. It was a 4-hour boat trip. More details were shared, but neither of us could concentrate. We climbed up the stairs to our room and were asleep before our heads touched the pillows.

The next morning we rose early, took a cold shower and repacked our belongings. The hostel stored most of our stuff, since anything we took was almost guaranteed to get soaked. We packed our cameras and kindles in plastics bags, along with a change of clothes. This was all thrown into our backpacks, along with bug spray, water and the tall socks Heather was kind enough to loan me for use with the rubber boots. We ate a quick breakfast and were on our way.

The boat was smaller than I had imagined. It was just long enough to seat our driver, Rueben, all our bags and supplies, the 5 of us, and our guide, Jorge. The middle was shielded from rain and sun by a blue tarp, but Rueben was exposed to the elements, as was the bow of the boat. There were long wooden benches down each side and two short benches across the bow. The floor was made of wooden slats secured a few inches above the actually bottom of the boat which was filled with water. The boat was precariously balanced and if we didn’t sit just so it would tilt wildly from one side to the other. It was green and white and looked well used.

The trip was simple. We drove in a straight line down the river for hours on end. At one point we pulled off to a dock so I could pay a man to pee. The boat rolled back and forth in a soothing rhythm that when combined with my motion sickness quickly rocked me to sleep. I awoke sporadically throughout the 4 hours. Once when it began to rain hard and the tarp sides were dropped to protect us, another when river dolphins were spotted off the side and finally when our accommodations came into sight. I have no idea what the others did to pass the time, beside mock me for sleeping.

No Land in Sight

Our accommodations were indescribable, but I will do my best. The lodge was supposedly located on the edge of the river, however due to the flooding, it was now located in the middle of the river. It was up on 10-foot stilts, but this was hard to tell, as the river had long ago flooded the original floors and patios. It was made up of approximately 5 rooms.

The boat was parked on a floating dock. We ducked through a three-foot tall doorway and entered the dining room. The roof beams were so low we had to bend over and practically crawl under them. Off to our right was the kitchen, the stove sat in a foot of water and a baby splashed beside it. Off to our left was a hall with three 6 x 6 ft. rooms down each side. At the end of the hall was a lounge with 6 hammocks and a TV, the TV sat on a table, perched in at least 3 feet of water.

The bathrooms sat on the floating dock, the original outhouse visible behind the house by just a roof peaking out of the water. One of them was filled with angry bees, ensuring that most of us wouldn’t even go near it. Electricity was run off a generator for a few hours each night, but when the lights went out the lodge was in complete darkness.

At the other end of the dining room was a second hall. This had originally led to a bar type area and a patio, but that was now deep under water. Instead this area had been sectioned off into additional rooms, we stayed in these rooms, towering over the walls and crawling through doorways and under roof beams. We shared our rooms with all the creatures of the river. A fish swam across our floor, a crab crawled across a doorway and a frog leapt onto my foot.

Planks of wood crisscrossed the floor of the rooms. They had been recently laid to keep our feet, tables and beds above the water. However, the river was still rising and by the time we would leave, 2 days later, these beams would also be underwater.

Our mattresses were mere inches out of the water. They were draped with mosquito nets to keep the bugs at bay. This resulted in us sleeping in a sort of a see-through tent, watching a swarm of bugs walk across the thin fabric, mere mesh separating us from the giant spiders and other creepy crawlies we saw. Sleeping in a river, listening to the water lap against your bed and the rain beat down on your leaf-covered roof, watching your boots float across your floor, knowing that if you accidentally drape your bare feet over the edge any river dwelling animal can crawl across them or worse, this, I can guarantee you, will make even the most water loving adventurer dream of dry land and tall mountains, and dream of that, I did.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trapped in San Pedro Sula

"Today we go to Colombia!" we thought as we climbed out of bed on Saturday morning. We were both quite proud of the tickets we had secured for our spring break. We had used all our miles to secure us each a round trip ticket to Bogotá, Colombia, for less than $200 each. We were flying out at 3:45pm, a fantastically late time in the day - giving us enough time to hit the gym, do the dishes, pack and play video games before even having to call a taxi.

As 1 o’clock approached, we were ready to go. We had our bags packed, the cat taken care of and a taxi idling in our driveway. We climbed in, feeling that rush of anticipation that accompanies every adventure. "Do we have everything?" "Will we make all our connections?" "Do you think our luggage will arrive with us?" We asked ourselves on the way to the airport, not really worried, just filling the time and building anticipation for what was to come.

As we drove along we discussed that we maybe should have put a little more thought into our ticket times and connections, mostly worried about Bri's bag -which he just had to check because he couldn't go to piranha fishing without a pocket knife- but booking flights can be so abstract, done months before the event, and it can be hard to predict what will come of it all. So here was our plan:

Waiting in the Airport - Day 1
3:45 leave San Pedro Sula
4:45 sit on plane in Costa Rica, drop some passengers, get some new ones
6:00 arrive in Panama City - connect to new flight
7:30 new flight to Bogotá leaves
10:45 arrive in Bogotá, catch cab to Heather's

Sunday afternoon
12:20 catch flight to Leticia on new airline (we bought these tickets, on a different carrier)
2:30 arrive in Leticia

Monday morning
8:00 leave on boat for 3-day trip of Amazon River

Looking at it we really felt we had plenty of time. I have never had a flight canceled and have never missed a connection due to delays so it never even occurred to me that booking our Amazon tour so close to our arrival in Colombia would present a problem. We felt good, ready to go, and it was with this attitude that we entered the SPS airport and checked in.

As is normal in the SPS airport, it took us all of 30 minutes to get our tickets (1st class, baby!), pay our departure tax, go through security and arrive at our gate. There we relaxed, watching numerous tourists pile on to flights to Roatan, spring break excitement permeating the air.

About 10 minutes before our boarding time, a pleasant voice informed us that our flight was slightly delayed and would be 20 minutes late. We both had a twang of "oh, that will make our connection tight!" but no real worries. 30 minutes later, the pleasant voice announced that our flight was having mechanical difficulties and would be 2 hours delayed. Well, that was the end of that, we would definitely miss our connection. Before we could even think of reacting though, the pleasant voice announced, "Will Brian Thomas and Jacqueline Shhholo.... Please come to the gate, please come to the gate."

We hopped up and walked over -we are talking maybe 10 feet here. I have to admit I was feeling fairly excited, lots and lots of passengers were vying for the attendants attention, but we were rushed to the front and spoken to as if we were VIPs, instead of common passengers, oh, the benefits of 1st class.

We were assured that they were aware of our situation, and that every effort would be made to get us to Bogotá as quickly as possible. Lots of apologies and smiles were given, we even met the pleasant voice, her name was Giselle, and she was super sweet, assuring us we would get there by Sunday. We retuned to our seats, pleasantly surprised by their efficiency and attention to detail.

Waiting in the Airport - Day 2
We were picked up at 4am the next morning. We were the first to arrive at the airport (they had put us up at one of the swankiest hotels in the city, the Crowne Plaza). There we were brushed aside as they tried to deal with everyone who needed to get on the 6 am flight. Eventually, I stepped up and begged them to give us a ticket, and they did. Shockingly. They had booked us on 3 flights – SPS to Panama City, Panama City to Bogota, Bogota to Leticia, arriving at 10 o’clock at night, mere hours before our boat left. The only hiccup, they could only give us the ticket for the first leg, they said we just needed to trust that tickets would be waiting for us at the other stops.

We arrived in Bogota at noon on Sunday. 6 hours before our new connecting flight to Leticia. We approached the ticket counter feeling hopeful that our tickets would be awaiting us, just as they had been in San Pedro and Panama City, but here my luck had run out.

Brian’s was printed and handed over within minutes, but the employee had no record of mine and was not really worried about finding it. A large group of rowdy middle-aged men had formed a line behind us and she wanted to start serving them. She waved me aside, even as I asked how I was supposed to get on the flight. She shrugged and said I would have to prove that I had a flight with LAN, but there was no internet and the line for LAN was 100 people deep.

Our First View of the Amazon River
I looked at Brian took a deep breath and ducked under sashes like my life depended on it. I flagged down a LAN employee, but he only spoke Spanish. He moved to turn away, but in broken Spanish I made it clear that I needed help, NOW. He waved another guy over; this man was very helpful and tried to locate my ticket, no luck. He tried again, still no record. I pointed to my passport number. Central America is forever spelling my names wrong, but numbers tend to be correct. Score! My reservation existed, just under the wrong name. He printed me proof, and I ran back to Copa, a smile on my face.

The girl shrugged and tossed my proof aside, continuing to help the men. This was the last straw, I had been patient and nice and positive for over 24 hours, I wanted my ticket. My eyes filled with angry tears. Brian patted my shoulder and took over. He convinced another Copa employee to print my boarding pass. Then he led me upstairs, through security and bought me a martini. 30 hours after our initial flight… we finally landed in Leticia and were ready to start Spring Break!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Grand International Copan Rodeo

We awoke early the next morning. We were refreshed from our drive and itching to find the rodeo grounds and see if this famed rodeo really existed. We stumbled out to the patio in front of our room and relaxed on wrought iron furniture while we were served fresh fruit, homemade bread with pineapple marmalade and fresh scrambled eggs filled with peppers, onions and tomatoes. We gorged, loving every bite.

We changed into jeans and closed toed shoes and followed Howard’s (the owner of B&B) directions to the rodeo. Copan is a very small town and tracking down the rodeo should not have been as hard as it was. Brian and I had both heard of the rodeo through numerous sources. Backpackers, guidebooks, tip sheets and locals had referenced it but no one could tell us a date. We had given a half-hearted attempt last year to track it down but were not successful and only heard about it months after the fact.

This year I had gotten a little smarter and found a 4-year-old blog that referenced it. The blog had been written in March of 2008 so I contacted Howard the last week of February and asked if he had heard anything about a rodeo in the coming month. He said no, but that he would keep his ears open and let me know. 2 weeks later, I received and email on Friday afternoon, March 9th, that said it was happening the next day. As spontaneous as Brian and I like to fancy ourselves, I had 110 essays that needed to be graded for Monday and there was just no way we could take off that night. We were quite disappointed. We had the date, but no time. I wrote Howard a quick email thanking him and explaining we couldn’t make it. He responded that it was two weekends long, March 17th and 18th, too. Well, la-dee-da, we could totally do that, so we reserved a room and made plans to attend.

So there we were Saturday morning. We assumed we would get to see a rodeo that day but we have become wary of any plans in Honduras, there was just as much chance that we would see an empty lot as a rodeo, nothing is a sure bet here. We wandered down to where they had erected a tiny circular corral and a small tent. This set up was located at the end of a large dirt lot, big enough to be a fully sized arena. We asked a group of men where the rodeo was going to happen. They gestured to the corral. We smiled and laughed awkwardly. The corral was no more than 35 feet across, if that. 

Brian explained that we were here to see the rodeo; you know horses, cows and such. Where was that going to happen? Again, they gestured to the corral and the pieces of metal piled precariously with 1x4s across them, so that they resembled stands. We shook our heads in disbelief. There was no way a rodeo could happen in there, two horses couldn’t even fit in there. We sighed. Failure. We walked away and back up the hill to town. We grabbed lunch and relaxed in the sun. We weren’t going to get to see a rodeo, so we figured we mine as well relax and enjoy the day.

By five o’clock we were hungry again and so we wandered up the hill to a brewery that recently opened. The owner was a German guy with such a thick accent it took me 2 to 3 minutes every time he spoke to translate it into English I understood. Brian loved his beers, though, and he loved that Brian was a home brewer so they talked for ages and he gave us a behind the scenes tour. His house looked like a German castle built out of bright orange concrete, it even had a little turret. he explained that he had moved here to brew beer and cook German sausage (that he made himself) and he loved it and was making money hand over fist. It was all quite amusing and lead to a successful evening. To top it off, he explained that we had not misunderstood and that the rodeo would be taking place that night in the tiny little corral. So as soon as we tucked the last bit of sausage and cheese into our mouths we said goodbye and rushed back down the hill, hoping we hadn’t missed anything.

By the time we reached the “rodeo grounds” (said with air quotes high in the air) it was dark and people were everywhere. The corral was in the same place and the rest of the lot was filled with fancy, gorgeous pickups (we were later informed these trucks belonged to ‘cocaine cowboys’ – aka rich, drug-dealing men) and one or two horse trailers. This seemed like an odd number of trailers for a rodeo, but at this point the whole thing seemed silly. The stands were bursting with people in jeans and boots and western shirts and those straw cowboy hats that my dad has always mocked me for wearing, but are completely acceptable in a hot, humid country.

We paid the entry fee and climbed the stands. I asked Brian to sit on top, so we would have a good view, fully admitting that when the stands collapsed we would have the longest drop, but thinking the risk was worth it. There were no stairs and the benches were just multiple 1x4s overlapping. You had to be careful as you sat or stood because if the person on one end got up, the person on the other end could topple right off. Once seated I pretty much clung to the metal, trusting it to keep me secure.

The stands filled to bursting point and people threw back beers and mango slices with abandon. For the first hour, we watched a man ride a dancing horse in the tiny corral around and around. The horse was astonishingly good at keeping the beat as the music changed but even with his skill there is only so much of that you can watch. Soon I was distracted by people-watching. Honduran men burped and rubbed their bellies, enjoying their beers. Women wore common western attire but instead of boots they wore 5-inch stiletto heels. Children played under the bleachers shaking them and crawling on them and dodging the glass beer bottles as people dropped them from above. Groups of people gathered on tailgates on the highway 20 feet away, trying to see in without paying and other men tried climbing the back of the stands to see. It was a circus of people and Brian and I were in awe.

Suddenly, the music changed from Latin flair to Alan Jackson. It was time to begin. At some point in the day a second set of paneling had been stretched around a third of the corral and 9 bulls had been crammed between. An announcer made some jokes and tried to get people to cheer. He eventually succeeded when he yelled out that any man who didn’t cheer didn’t like women. The stands came alive then. He introduced 15 cowboys who all walked (walked, not rode) into the arena and swooped their hat for the crowd. Then he listed the sponsors and directed our attention to the make-shift chute in the corral. The music level rose and the bull burst from the chute… and meandered to other side. The cowboy kicked and flailed to no avail. The bull was having none of it. The buzzer sounded and cowboy dismounted and exited the corral to the sound of one or two claps. The next 2 bulls were similar. The gate would open, the bull would hop out and then immediately and calmly walk around the pen, as docile as pet. It was as anti-climatic as you could get.

The most exciting part was watching the chute help try to get the bulls back into the line again. They were clearly afraid of these giant animals and did not want to go near them, however the corral was so small there was nowhere else for them to be. It took almost 10 minutes between rides to get the bulls corralled and the whole time it was just a bull wandering round and men jumping on the fence whenever it looked their way. Brian observed that from his experiences with my dad, he had assumed anyone who dealt with livestock knew what they were doing, but after 20 minutes of watching grown men run away from a docile bull in a corral 30 feet wide he now knew that was far from true.

After 3 bulls had been ridden, two miniature ponies were led into the corral. The announcer then asked for little children to come up and volunteer to ride them. At first this looked to be quite boring, little kids on ponies, dull. But it turned out that the ponies were wild. As soon as they placed the first little girl on the pony’s back in took off racing through the corral throwing its hind legs in the air. People in the stands jumped up to watch, Brian and I included, and were rewarded by watching a 5-year-old get thrown over the pony’s head and into the fence. Cheers and laughter filled the air. I was in shock, but the girl was fine. She wiped off her tears and crawled out the fence and into her mother’s arms. After this little boy after little boy climbed on and were thrown this way and that. The men in the arena just laughed and laughed and put kid after kid (all boys, now) on the ponies’ backs. It was terrible and entertaining all at once. In the end, the crowd cheered for the boys we thought rode best and they received 10 dollars each. It was nuts.

Then bull riding began again. This time the bulls were a little angrier and two out of three leaped into the air and gave real rides. It was much more entertaining, I figured it must have hurt the bull’s pride to be outdone by some miniature-bucking ponies. After 3 more bulls, the dancing horse came back for another round, prancing his way around and around. Eventually the music ended and the bulls were up again, I was growing restless, bull riding has never been my favorite rodeo event, give me steer-wrestling any day, and the stands seemed to be creaking from the weight of too many people, but Brian was enthralled and wanted to see what the next break between bulls would be.

It turned out Brian was right to settle me down. The next break was the main event, for sure. A bleached-blonde Guatemalan took center stage. She wore skintight, royal blue, bell-bottom pants and a matching bra. Both pieces were covered in sequins and glitter. Her belly was perfectly toned and she had curves in all the right places. She had a long coat on and as she walked to the middle of the arena she called for a strong man to help her take it off. A cowboy entered from the side and assisted her as the audience cat-called like crazy. She shook her bottom at us and signaled for music. The cowboy went to escape but she grabbed him and made him dance with her. He was loving it, we were loving it, it was entertainment at its best. She started to sing and shake her hips in a way that would make Shakira proud. Soon she excused that cowboy and called to another audience member to join her, she had no inhibitions and it was surprisingly entertaining to watch her tease and flirt with the cowboys and the audience at the same time. Even with the performance all in Spanish, Brian and I were laughing and singing and dancing with everyone else, she was that good.

Soon after it was bull time again, then more dancing horse and then more bulls and then the end. It was nothing like a rodeo or even a bull-riding event back home. It was totally unsafe, absolutely nuts and as far as we could tell no scores were ever announced. In the end, there was a winner, and he received all the money that had been donated by the audience – it was approximately $100. I have no idea how he was declared winner and honestly, I don’t think anyone cared.

We wandered back to our room, laughing, glad we were able to attend, even if it was nothing like the Grand International Copan Rodeo we had imagined.