The monkey’s teeth clamped down on the soft skin between my thumb and forefinger as I tried not to panic. He was a mean little bugger dressed in orange overalls. While I smiled at the group gathered in the shade of the awning I tried to convey a worldly air of someone who is perfectly accustomed to being bitten by monkeys.
“Smile,” “ Act calm,” “Don’t let him smell your fear”. These and other clichéd bits of advice from the Discovery Channel ran through my head as I took stock of the situation. My hand was imprisoned in the jaw of a small primate at a Brazilian rodeo in a remote town that, as the locals said “had a sun all it’s own”.
All these years later and I cannot remember the name of the town in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil where I attended the annual rodeo years ago. I do remember that I slept in a hammock and loved the fresh milk from the cows and warm cornbread with with whole kernels of corn in the mornings. And I fully agreed with the locals – this town was so hot that it had to have a sun all to itself. The dust, kicked-up from the rodeo, mixed with the intense heat and stuck to everyone’s sweaty bodies while we sat under the shade of a thatched roof drinking tepid beer on plastic stools and ‘playing’ with the monkey.
A Brazilian rodeo, or at least this Brazilian rodeo, didn’t seem to have many rules. There was a long corral with a pen of cattle at one end. At the shot of the gun a steer would be released from the pen into the main area and two men on horseback chased it down the ring. Pretty simple, right? Except that about 2/3 of the way along the ring there was a pair of white lines on the ground a couple of meters apart. The goal of the rodeo, as far as I could tell, was to grab the steer by the tail while riding your horse and flip the steer upside down in between the two lines, not before and not after. Ideally the rider would flip the steer in a way that at some point between the two lines none of the animal was touching the ground. Then you won. I think.
On my quest to see the world I thought this was a fairly exciting way to spend a weekend. The pictures, in retrospect, show some degree of animal cruelty. But the only animal cruelty that I was worried about at the time was the animal’s cruelty towards me – that monkey still had my hand! Not hard enough to break the skin, but with enough force to ensure that I would not rip my hand away from him, that evil little monkey was using me like a chew toy.