A participant takes down a cow at the Barretos rodeo.
A bull rider barely hangs on as he participates in the Barretos rodeo in Brazil.
Julie McCarthy, NPR
The rodeo is not only for men. Cowgirls, seen here at Barretos, work the circut as well.
Julie McCarthy, NPR
Fernanda Jurca with one of her three horses. Jurca's father bought her a horse despite her fear of them; now, she rides on the championship circuit.
In Brazil, the small town of Barretos, tucked in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, has been hosting a foot-stomping spectacle: a rodeo that organizers call the biggest in the the world.
In its 52nd year, the event has become a showcase for Brazil's burgeoning country western scene, music known popularly as "sertanejo." A long-time staple in the interior of the country, regional music is now drawing city slickers.
"It's so sad losing love," says Sao Paulo University student Andre Machado, 20, "but everything in life is so good here in Brazil, that we can endure that little bit of sadness."
The twangs of the "lady done me wrong" songs boom from every corner of the 2-million-square-meter theme park dedicated to the cowboy.
At sunset, the horse-shoe shaped stadium seating 35,000 starts to fill. A video booming from Jupiter-size screens suspended over the infield beams — a tribute to the legendary architect who designed the arena, Oscar Niemeyer. The life-long Communist, who turns one hundred in December, could not have imagined the frenzy of advertising: beer, cell phones, health insurance.
Choreographed horses -– cantering to fiddles — open the rodeo. And close it. But you don't see much of them in between.
This rodeo is about bulls: bull riding, bull penning, calf wresting. If it weren't for the cowgirls –- there'd be no horses in competition.
One at time, women on horseback race around three barrels. Young beauties with bounding hearts tightly hold the reigns as their steeds kick up the red earth. Hats fly off in the rush of air. Ana Luiz Lobo took home $2,000 dollars for a third place finish.
"It's almost impossible to describe how it feels, because there is so much adrenaline. It's you and the horse running as one," Lobo says.
At the glamour event of bull-riding, a bull goes berserk, tossing off his rider like a Raggedy Andy doll.
"Sitting on a bull is like sitting on a chair," says Juarez Terra da Silva, 23, when asked if he's ever afraid.
Critics of the sport claim the strap that is put around the bull's flank binds the testicles of the bull to make it mad — and to enhance the bucking. Terra da Silva says it doesn't hurt them, "it just annoys them."
As for whether the level of noise in the arena annoys him, he says, "I don't know about anybody else but when I sit on that bull, I don't hear a sound."
By midnight, the vendors are doing a brisk business. With a national herd of 200 million cattle, cowboy culture runs deep in Brazil. There's every conceivable form of leather on offer from rawhide rugs to $400 pink ostrich boots.
When the rodeo ends, the stadium transforms into a rave, pop stars mixing with big names in sertanejo. Jamboree devotee Fabio Villella, a 21-year-old engineering student, says, "Sertanejo is the kind of music that most people like to say that they don't like, but actually they like, they just don't know it."
By the time Brazil's blockbuster 10-day rodeo draws to a close Sunday, organizers say some 800,000 visitors will have passed through the park's gates.