The best of the rest (5)
National Finals Rodeo
Where? Las Vegas, USA
How long? 1 week
The premier championship of rodeo, held every year at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas (®www. nfr-rodeo.com), sees competitors battle it out in saddle bronco-riding, bull-riding, bareback-riding, calf-roping, team-roping, steer-wrestling and barrel-racing in front of crowds of over 140,000. It’s not the most atmospheric place to enjoy this most American of sports, nor the cheapest (ticket prices start at around $75), but it’s as good an excuse to be in Vegas as any.
New Mexico State Fair
Where? Albuquerque, USA
How long? 5 days
Getting your ass kicked by an ass is the ideal way of getting in touch with the cowboy in you. Dating back to 1938, this event has converted more people to the joys of leather chaps than all of John Wayne’s films put together. Haul your butt down to New Mexico and you can take part in a Wild West scene in full cowboy gear, try your hand at riding a full-size bull or just hang with the ol’ boys drinking, spinning yarns and spittin’ chaw at the daily rodeo events. Tickets cost from $15 per event.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Where? New Orleans, USA
How long? 2 weekends
Held over the last weekend of April and first weekend of May, Jazzfest (®www.nojazzfest.com), as it’s more often known, is now second only to Mardi Gras on the New Orleans calendar, and in many ways it’s the preferable event, with all of the fun but none of the spring-break loutishness that Mardi Gras attracts. Acts run the gamut from Dylan to Fats Domino, and around half a million attend over the two weekends. Acts play in tents out at the city fairgrounds, and the atmosphere is great – relaxed and informal, with excellent food and wonderful music. Weekend tickets cost $30 in advance, which makes it one of the best festival bargains going.
Olinda and Recife Carnivals
Where? Olinda and Recife, Brazil
How long? 5 days
These neighbouring carnivals have a reputation as the Brazilian carnivals that haven’t sold out. In the way that
pio and Salvador have grown Into highly commercial events, Olinda and Recife remain true to their roots, with every last neighbourhood cobbling together floats and participants, and with music and rhythms – for example, frevo, a fast, whirling beat – you won’t necessarily hear anywhere else in the country. In all, the best Brazilian carnivals to choose if you’re truly into participating rather than observing.
Where? Oruro, Bolivia
How long? 3 days
Combining Mardi Gras and the traditional devil dances for which Bolivia is famous, the festivities in this long- established mining town are, naturally enough, all about the devil’s submission to Christ: participants dress in satanic costumes and masks, and dance as if gripped by the devil. On the final day, the Dia del Agua, the purification or exorcism of the demons is marked by an enormous water-bomb fight in the town square, in which the devil figures get soaked, and tourists are particular targets.
Where? Pendleton, USA
How long? 4 days
Held two hundred miles east of Portland, Oregon, this is the world’s largest four-day rodeo – a kind of Western- style Highland Games that is your chance to check out the pros at the wild bronco rodeo and steer-wrestling contests before trying your hand at tomahawk-throwing, greased pig-catching and buckin’ bronco riding (®www. pendletonroundup.com; tickets from $10). And if you really think you might make a real cowboy, you can head over to the Happy Canyon Saloon – open till 2am – and gamble and drink like you’re Clint Eastwood.
Where? Tarabuco, Bolivia
How long? 1 day
“Phujllay” is a Quechua word meaning “play”, and there’s plenty of that going on in Tarabuco, as thousands of peasants descend on the town to celebrate their defeat of the Spanish on March 12, 1816, at the battle of Lumbati. After the necessary celebration of Mass on the Sunday, it’s time to air national pride and fire up some crackers, as everyone dons traditional garb – including dancers dressed in parody of the Spanish, with huge spurs and green trousers – and drinks, wolfs down the fiery local snacks, and sings and dances the festival away.