In 1521 Hernando Cortez landed in Veracruz, Mexico with a couple of hundred troops, horses and gun powder. The locals in Veracruz didn’t want the Europeans hanging around and when they discovered the Spaniards’ greed, they told them stories of a “city of gold” just over the mountains.
This did the trick. Cortez marched his troops inland. At each city they were told that the “city of gold” was just over the horizon. In this manner, the Mexicans managed to get rid of the pesky Spaniards.
Of course, Cortez eventually stumbled upon the Aztec empire in central Mexico. I won’t go into the details, but with the help of the Aztec’s subjugated nations, Cortez led a huge battle with over one hundred thousand men and defeated the Aztecs to conquer Mexico.
Cortez is not a favored hero in Mexican history. He is looked upon as a bad man. He got into trouble with the court of Spain time and again.
In order to reestablish his reputation, he set out on another mission of conquest. He heard legends of a tribe of Amazon women on the Island of California (they thought it was an island in those days) who controlled vast amounts of pearls and gold. He was shown handfuls of pearls from a bay later named La Paz.
He loaded his men into ships and on May 3rd, 1535 landed in what is now La Paz. He established La Paz as his base and named it La Cruz, then went on to try to conquer the worthless land in search of gold and pearls.
His expedition was a dismal failure. His supply lines were weak and he abandoned the city and his venture after a couple of years.
In 1593, Sebastian Viscaino re-established the city and re-named it La Paz. Once again, it was a failure and only lasted a couple of years.
The natives were very happy being left alone. In the Nineteenth Century, a third attempt was made to colonize La Paz and it stuck.
I tell you all of this because we are celebrating the 479th anniversary of La Paz’ founding this year. But the reality is that the current version of La Paz is little more than two hundred years old.
To further cloud the issue, I have yet to hear the name Cortez used in any of the promotion of Founder’s Day. In the US, we would be proud to say that Daniel Boone, Davy Crocket or Eugene Skinner founded our town. In Mexico, they are a little embarrassed that Cortez was the founder.
Last Sunday, Dawn and I spent the day at the Fiesta del Caballos, the Festival of Horses. I didn’t know that Dawn was such a horse lover. A day at the festival and she was convinced that we need to sell the boat and buy a horse ranch. (On the beach, of course.)
You have to understand that the events in La Paz are never very well publicized, at least in the Gringo community. We heard about the event, but no one seemed to know when it started. I got a very vague idea of location from a local web page.
We started our day at the futbol (soccer) stadium. I had heard that there was to be a horse parade that ended at the stadium.
We got there and found an empty parking lot. There were several policemen standing around the entrance to the stadium so I stopped and asked them about the event.
Sure enough, we encountered clogged traffic and dozens of parked horse trailers. We caught up with the parade just opposite City Club, the local poor imitation of Costco. Since there wasn’t a lot to see at the parade, we stopped at City Club in search of cheddar cheese.
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, cheddar cheese is nearly impossible to find in this town. City Club is one of the few places that sometimes carries it. On this day, they didn’t.
After a quick shopping stop, we dropped the groceries off at Casa Mary Lou and headed back to the stadium. We got there well before the parade, but not before the crowd. We got the last parking place in the lot.
A Ranchero band (the Mexican equivalent of country music) entertained while we waited for the horses to arrive. Then a Mexican crooner filled the gap before the band came back on stage. Finally, around noon, the parade arrived.
We met her later, to learn her name is Celini. Her mom, who was proud as could be, was even prettier than the daughter.
After a couple of hundred horsemen and women circled the soccer field a couple of times, we were treated to a display of horse dancing. You read right: horse dancing.
Music blared from the speakers and horses, at their riders urging, pranced around, hopping from foot to foot, in time to the music. While not quite up to the Bolshoi Ballet’s standards, it was quite amusing.
After the horse dancing there was a barrel race. No, the barrels weren’t raced, the horses and riders galloped around a course marked by 55-gallon barrels.
Only one horse at a time was allowed on the course and they raced against the clock. Time after time the riders took their mounts around the course with the slower riders being eliminated at each heat.
There were apparently three categories, youth, women and men. The three winners were all from the same family, wearing the same outfits. The young woman who won the women’s competition must have posted times that beat most of the men. She was awesome.
However, her older brother was awesomer. He set a new event record.
Following the barrel race we were treated to a charreada. Charros are Mexican cowboys, but with a twist. The Charro wears highly decorated costumes and adheres to a strict code of chivalry. The charreada is the Mexican national sport. It is a sort of rodeo, but here the emphasis is on the skills riders and horses need to herd cattle.
Early on, Dawn picked out a gray horse with lassos on its saddle. “That’s a real working horse,” said she. “Ready to go to work.”
She was right. This was the main horse used in the charro display. The rider put the horse through his paces. From a standing stop, he dashed at full speed from one side of the arena, then the rider put on the brakes. The horse dropped his rear end, put out his hind legs straight and skidded to a stop. I guess this is a skill needed for herding cattle.
Then there was the circling trick. The rider had the horse circle in its own length, rapidly changing directions. Once again, this is needed to keep stray cattle moving in the right direction.
While this was going on, three other charros treated us to a display of rope tricks. You’ve all seen American cowboys do tricks with their lassos. This is where that tradition started.
The fiesta runs on through the entire month of May. Tonight we are going to a dance recital put on by the Ballet Folclorico del Institito Technologico de La Paz. The dancing tonight will be Mexican wedding dances.
Next weekend I’m looking forward to hot air balloon races and a classic car show. Mexicans know how to throw a party.