Rodeo in Santo
Being a ni-Vanuatu, and despite living in the capital city Port-Vila, I have a long-term bond with nature in my home country; be it the coconut plantations where my Tonkinese great-grand-parents worked as labourers at the beginning of the last century, or the horses which are part of the rural world.
I was two years old in the first picture showing me on a horse but did not start to ride regularly until the age of eleven, when my father and my younger sister joined as well on the horse riding journey at the Club Hippique. My first instructor was the now well-known ni-Vanuatu, Tom Namgam from Tanna Island, followed by Catherine Contant, Heloise Viart, Renee Jackson and Stephanie Caillaud and several others. I rode regularly there, on Club Hippique tame horses, before owning Nakaimas, Gibson then Fortune, till I moved overseas for studies.
Only Fortune was left on my return, and I started to ride him at The Riders’ Club and Bellevue Ranch. Despite his old age, over twenty years old, Fortune is still valiant and he continues to make it a personal affair when it comes to take part (and win!) in Wild West games.
When I first heard about the Santo Rodeo, back in 2010, I felt very excited as the last rural event I attended in Vanuatu was the Port-Vila Agriculture Show 1993 which took place on Club Hippique grounds. Unfortunately due to work commitments I haven’t been able to fly to our archipelagos largest island to check it out.
This year was different. My eldest sister, along with our riding friends, set-up a little Port-Vila delegation and organised a three-day trip to attend the Santo Rodeo 2015. I made some arrangements with my office, and off we went on an early morning Friday flight to Pekoa International Airport. While the Santo Rodeo was the main drawcard to Espiritu Santo, we took advantage of being on this beautiful island. We enjoyed ourselves on Children’s Day, chilling out at Champagne Beach, eating nice local fresh food at Towoc Beach Restaurant, and relaxing at Matevulu Blue Hole. We missed the Santo Rodeo Dinner Night, which was held the previous evening, but heard great things about it.
On Saturday morning, we went for breakfast in one of Luganville main street’s café in order to be well placed to see the Santo Rodeo opening parade. Since it was set on ‘Vanuatu time’, we had ample time to appreciate our breakfast and do some last minute shopping in the neighbouring shops. I am sure these ran out of 10-gallon hats pretty quickly! The float started from Unity Park, the central park in downtown, and went all the way up to Colmar Plantation, Chapuis. The Vanuatu Mobile Force brass band leads it, followed by the cowboys and cowgirls, the cattle trucks and the cheering crowd.
With the rented utes we took part in the convoy and parked near the corral, using the cargo tray as a viewing platform while the pedestrians either stuck to the fences or climbed Kavu Park’s numerous banyan trees for a better view.
The Vanuatu Mobile Force brass band opened the festivities with some musical and dancing items which make them appreciated throughout the whole South Pacific.
The presenter asked for one minute of silence in memory of a Kavu young son, one of the original main organisers, who tragically died just before the first event five years ago, and whose name was given to the park. The committee spokesperson welcomed the hundreds who were present, requested the New-Caledonia Bourail Rodeo Association chairlady to make a speech and thanked the sponsors.
Not long after, the cowboys warmed up the horses and started the games with pole bending and barrel racing. I was really amazed by the ability of those riding bare feet and without any saddle, using only some copra bags. Sausage rolls and soft drinks were available for sale on site for hungry folks. Luganville, being only a ten-minute drive away, was also easily reachable for the ones looking for more substantial food. We took the opportunity while in Espiritu Santo to have lunch at Luganville’s longest established Chinese Restaurant, which has the reputation of being the best Chinese outlet of Vanuatu.
When we returned to Kavu Park, the atmosphere was frenzied as kids were invited to take part in an apple bobbing competition.
This was followed by the wild broncos riding, then the steers riding competition which closed out the day, but not the festivities.
In the evening, cowboys and members of the public quench their thirst and recounted exciting memories at the Waterside Bar & Grill… the only bar in Vanuatu that I know accepting horses. On Sunday morning, despite the long night out for some cowboys (some international riders even didn’t sleep at their accommodation as they lost themselves at Banban on their way back… well, they were not lost for everyone!) all were back on their horses.
Once again the show started with the cowboy games.
The stockmen race saw everyone moving from the paddock area to a wider grassy area shaded by majestic banyan trees. Competitors gave all they can on the imaginary racecourse; with the public shouted at several spectacular out of the course exits or impressive falls. Luckily ProMedical Santo was on the ground and no major accident happened. The wild broncos, steers and a bull riding competition continued in the afternoon. I was so amazed by one fearless rider trying his luck with his broken wrist. The rodeo clowns did a great job warming-up the children and the young at heart with a sweet distribution; and the presenter screaming ‘Santo Rodeo… Yeees?!’ for the crowd to answer ‘Si, si, si!’
As soon as the prize presentation was done, we drove back to Pekoa airport were we managed to check-in our luggage in time and catch the last flight back to Port-Vila.
All in all, it was a very exciting weekend, full of fun and suspense. What I particularly liked in this event is its simplicity, its overall laidback atmosphere, and the friendliness of the participants and spectators.
Next year event will be, as usual, on the last weekend of July, and we are already planning in attending it with more friends and families. We may even consider recruiting more Port-Vila participants as this year we only had Renee Jackson, Dimitri Russet and Laurence Wyllie who took part in the cowboy games and the steers riding.
For equestrian passionate people don’t forget that the annual Kiwanis Charity Race Week will be on from Wednesday 12th to Saturday 15th August 2015. Come and support this charity organisation as well as enjoy some good time cheering our local jockeys and plantation horses. You may even spot a stranger in the Ladies Race.