If you plan to visit San Antonio and have never been, or even if you have visited, but have not been to the following, these are a few things you should definitely make a point of seeing. I did not go to these on this visit, but did on two prior visits in the last few years. I told my family and some of my friends about these at the time, so this is more for anyone I haven’t told, or does not know me, but is following this blog.
You should definitely go to The Riverwalk and The Alamo, for starters. These are arguably San Antonio’s best-known tourist attractions, but are still both very cool. They are also only a couple of short walking blocks from each other, so that if you park near The Alamo, it’s an easy walk to The Riverwalk.
The other is the Day In Old Mexico, or any of the other handful of Charreada (traditional Mexican rodeo) events hosted by the San Antonio Charros Association throughout the year. These are really hidden gems of San Antonio, and of Texas, itself, that I only found out about by accident on my first Texas road-trip in 2014.
During my Lost Maples hike on this current trip, I bumped into and hiked some of the ridge with a very nice group of about a half-dozen UT-Austin students, all from Texas, and at least a couple of whom were from San Antonio. None of them had ever heard of these events. And had there been a charreada event that coincided with this current visit to San Antonio, I would have been there in a heartbeat. They are very special.
All of these events are held at the very cool, very rustic, San Antonio Charro Ranch (6126 Padre Drive, San Antonio), located on the outskirts of the south side of San Antonio.
In particular, the Day In Old Mexico events are held only twice a year, and are scheduled on two consecutive Sundays, typically in April (check the SA Charros Association’s Events Calendar for details) as part of the annual San Antonio Fiesta celebrations.
The outdoor arena at the Charro Ranch is designed for traditional Charreada events…consisting of a lane, where competitors enter or begin some competitions, that is about 40 feet wide, by 200 feet long, and opens up to a circular arena that is 130 feet in diameter. The arena is enclosed by simple, covered grandstands. The birds-eye view looks like a giant keyhole.
If you have a real camera, versus simply your cell-phone, you are permitted to hang out, view and photograph the demonstrations up-close-and-personal at dirt-level, in the curved open-corridor at ring-side…which, when I went, is exactly where I spent an entire afternoon, immersed in photo-op heaven.
The men’s, or charros’, events, are an alternating mix of great action and subtly-intricate riding and roping skills that differ dramatically from the purely high-octane events in American-style rodeos. There are no SUV-sized bulls, for starters.
Absolutely nothing against American-style rodeos. I have been to one, in Texas, loved it, and hope to see many more. But, traditional Mexican Rodeo…at least the Day In Old Mexico…is a much quieter, more-subtle, affair. It has the casual feel of a very large family reunion, versus pure-spectacle. For one, the announcer introduces and explains each event, in the warm, familiar, friendly manner that a favorite uncle might introduce a potato-sack race at a reunion. As a complete outsider, a Connecticut Yankee, I felt like I was being invited in, to be a part of this very large family.
Then, there are the young women’s events…the Escaramuza Charra. Escaramuza are 8-member riding-teams of what appear to be high-school-aged girls, wearing formal sombreros and elaborate, colorful, traditional lacy dresses over layers of petticoats. Escaramuza teams compete, in part, by executing a series of difficult, close-quarter, inter-lacing and intricately-synchronized horseback-riding patterns at moderately-high speeds…all while sitting elegantly side-saddle.
There is also one dramatic solo Escaramuza event, where a lone female rider on horseback, gallops headlong into the arena from the lane, bringing the horse to a sudden stop…churning up dirt and dust, essentially slamming on the horse’s brakes…while sitting side-saddle, and wearing one of these layered, lacy dresses. I have no idea how these young women do this and avoid either getting hurled over the horse’s head, or flipping the horse backward onto themselves…all while remaining poised and in total control the entire time. These girls are extremely brave and skilled.
So, if you ever plan a trip that includes San Antonio, I suggest trying to include one of the two April “Day in Old Mexico” events, or any of the other Charreada events, in your schedule. They are not very well publicized, so I am letting you in on real insider info. Mum’s the word…lol.