In Mexico's burro capital, every donkey has his day
Thousands of people flock to the 16th-century town of Otumba for a festival of sport, savagery and beauty in what is probably the world's only donkey fair. They come for the donkey races, polo on donkey and bucking donkey rodeo, along with prizes for the best-costumed donkey - and, of course, the crowning of Miss Donkey
Otumba, Mexico - The AP
This mountain-pass town saluted international workers' day Monday with its annual homage to the hardest worker of all: Mexico's prized burro. Thousands of people flocked to the 16th-century town of Otumba for a festival of sport, savagery and beauty in what is probably the world's only donkey fair. They came for the donkey races, polo on donkey and bucking donkey rodeo, along with prizes for the best-costumed donkey - and, of course, the crowning of Miss Donkey. Imbued with tradition and more than a dose of tongue-in-cheek, the 36th annual National Donkey Festival drew a record crowd to Otumba's tree-lined central square northwest of Mexico City.
"Donkeys serve us all day, so we have to realize that they deserve their fiesta," said Martin Coyote Balderas, 70, who traveled 60 miles (95 kilometers) with his family to see the festivities. The day started off eruditely enough with the polo match. The players, four on each side, were mounted on a mangy assortment of donkeys. They used brooms to hit both the beach ball and their trusted steeds. Much of the game was spent motionless, as only two of the eight players seemed to have even minimal control of their notoriously stubborn animals. Spectators hooted as the goalie's mount - a particularly ornery white burro - bucked him to the asphalt as the ball rolled into the goal. And there were the costumes: donkeys decked out as everything from presidential candidates to Pikachu, the Pokemon monster. One burro pulled a wagon in which another donkey represented Mexican pop singer Gloria Trevi, who is jailed and awaiting extradition from Brazil to face charges of corrupting minors.
The pop-star donkey wore lipstick, pantyhose, a wig and a bra. But the highlight for most spectators was the donkey race, in which a sturdier group of beasts tore around the plaza, their riders beating them with wooden sticks. The favorite was Gateado, a gray burro that had won the race for 10 years running. Asked why the animal runs so fast, jockey Adrian Hernandez boasted: "Because I beat him harder." He came in second Monday. Some parts of the festival were a bit of a letdown. One of the festival's tradition highlights, the beer-guzzling donkey, is no more: Organizers say the burro took ill after a previous year's binge and never recovered. Otumba earned its reputation as Mexico's donkey capital while it was a way station on the route from Mexico City to Veracruz port.
Donkeys carried much of Spain's colonial loot over the route in the 16th century. The donkey festival started as a religious celebration in which people brought their animals to church to be blessed. The festival has grown year by year, especially after the donkey race appeared in a 1970s movie starring "Maria the Indian," a popular recurring character in Mexican comedy. This year's donkey queen - as the young lady with the crown proudly called herself - said there had never been such a big crowd. "This is fantastic, an unforgettable experience," said Lorena Vianey, a 23-year-old college student who sold the most raffle tickets to earn her crown. "I'm just so happy."