Moonshine turns Mayan horse race in Guatemala rowdy

TODOS SANTOS CUCHUMATAN, Guatemala Tue Nov 3, 2009 2:47am IST

1 of 6. A rider takes part in a traditional horse race on All Saints Day in Todos Santos, Guatemala November 1, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Daniel LeClair

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TODOS SANTOS CUCHUMATAN, Guatemala (Reuters Life!) - Despite a drinking ban mayhem erupted at a traditional Mayan horse race on Sunday with riders falling off their horses and drunken spectators stumbling through the mountain village.

Hundreds of tourists and locals gathered for the annual spectacle in Todo Santos Cuchumatan on Sunday to cheer the dozens of riders charging back and forth along a 330-foot (100-meter) length of road for up to seven hours.

But the macho test of stamina was marred, as it has been in the past, by the copious amount of homemade spirits the riders consume, sometimes for days before the race.

At least two Mayan riders fell off their horses during this year's race, and one was carried away by bystanders after being trampled in the mud. Another man walked away from the track with a bloody face.

"People here aren't able to hold their drink, if they have one drink, they just continue until they're so drunk they want to hit someone," said Modesto Mendez, the mayor of the village.

Mendez banned the selling of hard alcohol in the village in May of last year to cut down on accidents, deaths and fighting.

But 18 months later, on the Day of the Dead celebrated throughout Mexico and Central America, drunken people were seen staggering through the village.

Sometimes the dead body of a drunken villager would show up the next morning, the victim of sub-zero temperatures in the cloud-covered mountain ranges.

Mendez admitted that the ban had not curbed the heavy drinking before and during this year's race.

"You need to have a couple of drinks beforehand to calm your nerves," said 21-year-old Isabel Calmo, wearing the traditional costume of red and white stripped cotton trousers, an embroidered white shirt and straw hat stuffed with brightly colored feathers and ribbons.

"If we're drunk we can fall off the horse," he added.

The race, which is hundreds of years old, traces its roots to before the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500s. Local lore says the tradition began when 13 Mayan riders galloped for more than 60 miles to a nearby town arriving November 1, for the funeral of a local holy man.

After colonization, the race survived as a show of indigenous strength to the Spanish conquerors.

The narrow streets are decorated with colorful flags and bands playing marimba music for the weeklong party, the most important day of the year for the town and surrounding area.

Mendez admitted it's difficult to curtail the drinking.

"It's a holiday," he said.

(Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Patricia Reaney)

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