We went to the Fiestas Patronales of Agua Caliente, Chalatenango, El Salvador this past March. Fiestas Patronales are festivals celebrated in different pueblos salvadoreños in honor of a patron saint. The Fiestas Patronales remind me of carnival type festivals we had back home called the Field days, with mechanical rides, games, sometimes animals, all mixed in with a lot of drinking around the beer tent. But there the commonalities stop, and Fiesta Patronales feel like a bigger festival, with their religious orientation, and a crowning of the “Reina,” or Queen, a local teenage girl who gets crowned pageant style and rides through town in a parade. Another fun extra part, at least in Agua Caliente, is the rodeo, called a “jaripeo” here, with bull riders, and live entertainers such as singers and dancers. Here is a link to the schedule of the Fiestas Patronales in El Salvador for 2012, organized by department.
The bull riders are not the most successful, I have to say, and manage to stay on the toro for probably 2 or 3 seconds. A few years ago, I think 2010, they had a skinny Nicaraguan man as part of the Toro team and he was pretty good – stayed on all of eight seconds almost every time he rode. We got to the jaripeo a bit later this year so we missed someone who stayed on several seconds. Below is one of the bull clowns, his name is Juan, and he’s been part of the team every year that I’ve gone – four years now – I was lucky enough to catch the 2009 festival during a visit here. I think Juan is more talented than a lot of the bull riders, and likes to have fun with the bulls. << CLICK ON ANY PICTURE IN THIS POST TO ENLARGE >>
Below is video of part of the jaripeo where young men try to conquer young bulls.
Our visit to the Fiesta Patronal this year had a bit of a surprise. It started off with a visit to the jaripeo/rodeo. Then while walking back into town with my niece Carmen, we felt raindrops. Could this be, on March 18? Yes, it was, and so we and everyone else around ran for cover under the gazebo in the middle of the town square, all waiting for the rain to stop like a bunch of gallinas (chickens). Well, that was fun, and when it was done we wandered over to where the rides and food were. We sat down at the Toro Grande tent to splurge on steak dinners. They had live entertainment, two men singing Cumbia songs, outfitted with a karaoke machine as their band, with two female dancers accompanying them. One of them had a skirt so short you could see, and I’m not kidding because I wear daisy dukes myself, pretty much all of her rear-side as she twirled about, which the audience loved. No sooner did we sit down when we the patter of raindrops began again, and so re-arranged ourselves on the table to avoid the drops on the outside. Light drops turned into heavy ones, and within 10 minutes upwards of 200 people who had been in the rides and games area were trying to squeeze in under the vinyl for cover. The rain was now gushing, and streams were starting to fall inside of the tent. The musicians stopped playing and moved their amps away from the falling wetness. A pool of water above the seam joining two sheets of vinyl gave, and we looked over to see several people getting doused underneath it in a large waterfall. One woman was enjoying this waterful experience, and began standing beneath big streams of water, as if showering. Onlookers stared while she bathed herself gleefully. She works with the carnival, and seems to be a bit “off”, but hey she was having fun. We moved earlier to a table further inside the tent to stay dry, but wetness from below was catching up. The ground, soppy from the earlier rain when we came in, was now full of large puddles, which then grew until they finally formed one large lake, and the water kept on rising as the rain poured down. People fortunate enough to have chairs raised their legs and lifting their feet to stay dry, and also for safety, as this tent was rigged with various types of lighting, wires strung everywhere. My husband used his plastic dinner fork to measure the water, and it got up to about 5 inches. On a few occasions the lights went out, then came back on, and I kept thinking of the horrible demise that might occur if the current and water were to meet. The wait staff continued to serve everyone heroically, a couple of whom were completely soaked. God bless ’em. After at least an hour and a half of constant rain, it began to die down. Some of the crowd bravely left during the rains, a courageous few running for cars to retrieve their sopping companions, or locals who could, running home. The rain finally stopped, and the musicians and dancers resumed their act. A small group of three men took their places in front to get a good view, and one of them was a macho-dressed and transgender lesbian. There was a dance later that night as there is every year, but we decided to go home and stay dry.
A couple days later, on the news, they mentioned that “Occasional Rains” were taking place here and there. Jesus and I laughed together. OCCASIONAL? Nothing occasional about the rain spilt on us at the Festival!
WHY do they call it Agua Caliente? That same night, as we were piling into the car to leave, my husband says to me, “Hey, want to know why it’s called Agua Caliente?” Come on over here, and I’ll show you. I walked over behind the car. All right, stick your hands in there, he says, gesturing to a small creek at our feet. I crouched down and stuck my hands in it. Yep. Hot like bathwater. And mind you, it had just rained for nearly two hours. There is a hot water source right there where the festival takes place, and my husband said years back the water used to collect into a small pond, but they filled it in and now what they have is this small creek that runs along this dirt-road area. What a way to NOT capitalize on a possible tourist attraction. Hello?? But then, Agua Caliente is a long ways away from just about everything, so you’d have to build up a fairly attractive place to get people to come all this way.