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Reports

Sunday, 13 July 2003
--> Calgary, Alberta, Canada (2nd day)

After last night's party night out, I had such a good sleep-in that apparently because of that sleep-in I lost my hangover. Because there would certainly be one if I had to wake up at 7 in the morning.
I got out of bed just before noon, which was good timing. There was enough time for a breakfast bite, before my host Jeff Funnekotter and I had to get out.

Because today was the last day of the Calgary Stampede and of course that was an event I had to see while I was in Calgary!

It was Michelle Dubois from the Stampede headquarters at the Stampede Park who was pleased to assist us both with a free ticket to the fairground and the rodeo shows. Jeff has been to the Stampede fairgrounds a couple of times, but had never seen the actual rodeo shows.

The first Calgary Stampeded was held in 1912 when entrepreneur Guy Weadick put up $100,000 and attracted 60,000 people to the opening parade. Nowadays the events kick-off on Thursday-night in July with ten days' of events following up. There are parades, bands, mock gunfights, square dances, native dances and country bands all over the city. And then there is a lot of drinking, gambling, fireworks and general partying into the small hours.

The real action takes place at the Stampede Park, southeast of downtown. The vast area contains an amusement park, concert and show venues, bars and restaurants and a huge range of stalls and shows that take the best part of the day to see.

Jeff and I decided to skip this area and go straight for the rodeo competition as we got some front row seat tickets. And Jeff had never seen a rodeo in real life.

The opening ceremony at 1.30 PM was fascinating. Cowgirls on their horses were flagging the sponsors while fireworks were blasted in the sky. Shania Twain's (who's strangely enough exchanged Canada for a life in Switzerland) music cheered everybody up. Then the national anthems of the United States and Canada followed and the bronco-riding started an exiting competition.

I had experienced this before, only not at the famous Calgary Stampede. In 1997 I ended up having this vague summer job on a cattle farm in southeast Oregon (US). I joined the company in their tour around the state with their junior-rodeo show for a few weeks, before bailing out. I just didn't like the slavery (that's how they treated their mostly foreign, nave and rightsless employees) and I don't like people that degrade other people because of their colour of skin, culture background or language. I was 20 (and very nave myself) and met some of the world's biggest shallow-minded and brainless racists ever and learned my lesson there.

As suspected, Jeff was pretty amazed by the bronco-riding, where cowboys were going for big price money if they could hold on to a wild horse with only one hand for six seconds. The horses aren't wild anymore nowadays. The horses (breed for rodeos) only get this belt around their belly and when the doors of the rodeo-box opens, this belt gets tightens so tight than anyone would jump because of that.

So we saw tough cowboys fall off, being rescued by the by-riders and some even made it with some spectacular real aerobatics. However the two men hosting the show, the ones with the microphones on the stage, would talk and hype it all up. When a cowboy fell off and couldn't get up, the audience was asked to clap him back on his feet again. And there would always be loud music to emphasise the pressure for the contestants.

It was a real show!

What I did not really enjoy was the attitude of some of the winning competitors. They won loads of points to get to the finals or first place, and the audience cheered like crazy, but the cowboy would look as he was disappointed about this little scratch that just appeared on his leather jacket.

In the meantime a big dark cloud covered the Stampede.

Next on the programme was the calf roping. A calf was released and a cowboy on his horse has to catch this calf and rope it down as fast as possible. Jeff didn't like this part very much. "I find it cruel to these animals," he said.

Then suddenly, when some bronco-riding started again, it began to pour down the sky. Not just a little bit, no everybody who wasn't under a covered stage, got pretty wet in a few seconds. Jeff and I had to hide for the rain too and headed to the inside of the stadium, where televisions showed what you would be missing outside. Suddenly it was pretty busy in there.

After waiting and looking at the rain for a while, Jeff and I both decided that we had seen enough. If you have seen one bronco-ride you have seen them all and if you don't like the calf being roped, you won't like the rest either (buffalo riding, branding, steer-wrestling, cow-tackling, wild-cow milking and what else would you do when you have nothing to do on a remote ranch?).

We ran through the heavy rain through the deserted amusement park and ended up in a dry car.

Half an hour later we were watching the rest of the Calgary Stampede on the television (CBC broadcast the event nation-wide), where we actually saw way more than from our seats. And it was not raining in Jeff's living room.

I am thankful we got free tickets to the Stampede and I am happy I have experienced it, even though it wasn't for the full-afternoon show.

For dinner Jeff made some stir fry chicken curry and in the evening he had a lady friend coming over to burn some CD's for. For me it was a relaxing night. I watched some television and spent enough time behind that laptop again to tell you all about the last week.

Good night Calgary!

Ramon.