In June each year the streets of Villavicencio in Colombia’s eastern lowlands, known as the Llanos, are given over to “joropo,” a uniquely Colombian form of tap dancing blended with ancestral dance roots that are based firmly in Flamenco. Joropo music is undoubtedly the most authentic and representative of the Colombian Savannah since it is a result of mixing the cuatro guitar introuduced by the colonos, the harp brought in by the Jesuits, and small maracas which are a derivation of indigenous instruments. Like a bastard child from Andalucia, the music is played frenetically while the dancers seemingly try to keep up and the singers show their range.
In any case you can’t go too wrong at the Joropo Festival as locally the word “joropo” means “party” and together with its regional variants blends machismo desires through big-hearted Colombian-style passion. The music, while led by the harp mixes an almost joyous declaration of regional pride, punctuated with string and percussion-based choruses.
Villavicencio, the capital of the department of Meta, is known for its cowboy heritage and Wild-West feel. The whole town becomes an enormous “joropodrome”, where 1,600 couples from Bogotá and the departments of Meta, Arauca, Casanare, Guaviare, Vichada, and Cundinamarca take part in joropo-infused competitions. Such competitions include the beck and call of estimable Llanero vocalists improvising their verses, sort of like South American cowboy rappers, in a practice referred to as “Contrapunteo”. The strongest, most characteristic competition is the Festival has to be the “Careo,” a type of duel or dialogue in heel taps and stamps by couples face to face. The most technically gifted perform before a panel of judges in order to win this competition.
While it’s good fun to watch the dancing and parades, visitors can really get involved and try their hand at the “toro coleado” competition. Not for the fainthearted, the volunteer in question has to grab a bull and pull it by its tail in attempt to tip the bull over and escape before the antagonized longhorn attempts retribution. Obviously this can result in serious injury and we cannot in good conscience endorse this activity, but generations of rowdy Colombians have been participating under the influence of copious amounts of hard liquor and of course practice.
Other events all follow the similar creole rodeo theme, including bareback horse races, bull riding and so on. And in order to top it all off, the Llanero – as locals from the area are called – who manages to complete all of the aforementioned tasks, and others, gets to compete for the Llanerazo. His final act must be to show, after all of these displays of strength and cowboy abilities, his knowledge and mastery of the Llano folklore by playing an instrument, be it the harp, cuatro or maracas and dancing.
And while enjoying some of the extreme sports, visitors can sample the BBQ that defines Llano cuisine from the Meta region, in particular the Carne a la Llanera (an upright spit of eight spears with large hunks of grilling beef) or try the mamona (veal). If you are looking for something more sedate that will still get your pulse racing, head to the Joropo International Beauty Pageant where would be beauty queens strut their stuff in swimsuit competitions, don traditional dress and interpret the Llano folklore all for the honor of being voted Miss Joropo.
Beauty pageants, bull riding, BBQs and dancing make up the mainframe for this festival in Colombia’s eastern plains. To come would be to truly savor Llano hospitality and joviality while experiencing the lifestyle and practices of the creole Colombian cowboys and their kin.