There is a great pride that comes with Rodeo, and as we entered the large circus-top tent outside of Oaxaca city, I could smell the pride of these men. A smell mixed with cow manure and beer.
Unlike rodeos in the US, where riders use one hand to hold onto a bull as it rages across the dirt, the riders at this event didn’t use any hands; they held on with their legs. As the bull is let out of the pin, kicking and bucking, the rider’s hands are outstretched like a crucifixion. A young, proud, Jesus of a cowboy, flying across the arena, hands in the air.
After the last bull ride of the night, the ranchero band started up, and we all started dancing in the dirt. An older woman grabbed me for a dance. We shared a sip of Madre Mezcal, as the band played some song about a heroic narco.
The truck barely made it down the washed out riverbed that led us an hour outside of the small town we had departed from. The three old Zapotec men jumped out, machetes in hand, and began hiking up the ravine. We were looking for agave. The sun was relentless, the sky open, and the ground hard.
The agaves were massive and fell like forest trees. Hauling them back to the truck was like lifting a drunken friend over my shoulder, my knees nearly buckled under the weight. Nicolas, the 60-year old mezcal maker, seemed to have no trouble with the oversized plants. When the sun was too fierce to work, we sat in the shade, drank beer and sipped some of the best mezcal I had ever tasted.
To sip mezcal is to taste more than just an alcohol. You can taste the land, and the labor that it comes from. It cooks in the earth, and is blessed by old women with special plants. It holds a spirit that grows in the ravines of Oaxaca.