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Day 30: West of Serrita

Michael Palin - BrazilJulio is also a successful farmer, which puts him in a stronger position than some of the desperate-looking men who are riding in today to try and pick up some prize money in the bull chase. He, like Tiago Câncio and Helena, is also very much aware of the need to assert the relevance of the profession to modern life, to foster a sense of community amongst men who often don't see each other for weeks on end, to support the families and to keep alive the skills of the vaqueiro. This morning, as the cowboys, their families and other hangers-on are appearing out of the bush, Julio takes the younger boys off to a paddock to teach some of the techniques of bull-catching for which he is renowned. Like Julio, Tiago Câncio is equally committed to the cowboy way of life.

'They risk their lives to earn the bread to survive,' he tells me.

Tiago is wearing the conical leather cap that belonged to his father and which many vaqueiros still regard as the best defence against the spikes and thorns they ride through.

'In this way, he's always with me.'

Tiago has no ambitions to be a cowboy himself but as a local politician he champions their cause and, with his mother, has opened a centre in Serrita where the history of the vaqueiro is told and skills like leather-cutting and decoration are kept alive.

I ask him if cowboys are naturally religious people and he nods vigorously.

'Very religious. They go to church. They pray when they wake up and before going to bed and before meals. But mainly when they go after the bulls, then they always ask for God's protection.'

As the place fills up I must say I can't see strong signs of spirituality. The young men just here for a drink are gathered in tight groups drinking beer and cachaça chasers. The mothers are preparing lunch, and their daughters are climbing out of cars in high heels and party dresses, their hair long and glossy and faces thick with make-up. Even more incongruous in this environment is a squad of half a dozen well-armed policemen, who stand together looking hot and a little self-conscious. They're accompanied by a small ambulance, attended by a nurse in a long white coat, huge shades and a floppy straw hat with a purple flower attached. And of course no event in Brazil is complete without a sound-system and sure enough, even here in the middle of the bush, speakers the size of small power stations are being prepared for the dancing that will come later.

Despite this elaborate equipment there is a marked lack of basic facilities. With the bar at full tilt and goat stew and beans being generously dispensed, there is a steady stream of punters, defying the thorns as they dash in and out of the surrounding undergrowth.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 30: West of Serrita
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Serrita
  • Book page no: 128

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  • Sport and Leisure
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  • Pole to Pole