In the coming weeks, one of the oldest colonial cities in the Western Hemisphere will again celebrate one of its oldest and proudest annual traditions.
Honoring Granada’s saint – the Virgin of the Ascension – for the next two weekends the city’s colorful streets will play host to a series of raucous street parades, equestrian events and carnivals.
The festivities begin Aug. 12, when a dozen bulls are sent charging down the city’s packed principal avenues, driven by a large group of equally thunderous cowboys.
Hundreds of Granadinos – including many young men emboldened by liquor – run through the streets alongside the bulls, slapping them as they run by or jumping into trees to avoid the reach of their horns.
The Granada bull run, though not the spectacle of its counterpart in Pamplona, is prone to a sense of unpredictable wildness not seen on the relatively contained streets of the famous Spanish bull run (see sidebar).
The following Sunday, Aug. 19, is the markedly safer horse parade, the city’s most celebrated annual event and tourist attraction.
The streets, hotels and restaurants of the city are packed all weekend with tourists, cowboys from all over Central America, Nicaraguans of all socio-economic levels and waving politicians.
Dionisio “Nicho” Cuadra, a veteran Granada statesman and horseman, says that the Granadahípica – the oldest horse promenade in the country – began at some point in the mid-18th century as part of the celebrations that surrounded the day of Ascension, Aug. 15.
The event, in addition to being the city’s popular religious festival, quickly became an annual gathering of all the powerful and wealthy families in Nicaragua.
“The hípica was a unifying event,”Cuadra said. “The richest, the poorest, everyone came together here in Granada, the center, the capital.”
Before Nicaragua’s capital was moved to Managua in 1857,Granada was the country’s largest business center, and vied with its rival León for political dominance. León, at that time, didn’t celebrate a hípica, making the Granada event all the more important.
Following the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, many wealthy landowners sneaked their purebreds out of the country, or had them confiscated.
Today, however, many have brought them back to Granada. Cuadra estimates that nearly 70% of the horses in the parade are descended from the Peruvian or Andalusian horses that were ridden here in the 1970s.
Though more than a dozen cities and towns hold their own hípicas, León included, none rival Granada’s tradition, or its drawing power, Cuadra insists.
“Granada has the best horse breed in Central America,” Cuadra said.
Visitors from all over the world line the streets to watch the richly decorated horses and cowboys promenade through the crowds. Some 40 Granada families, many long-established in other countries, return each year to participate in the hípica.
“They come back just for the hípica,” Cuadra said. “Some are in Miami, Houston, San Francisco; they keep horses here in Granada, just for this.”
That does not mean, though, that the hípica is only for the wealthy.
It is true, Cuadra notes, that money does create a distinction between cowboys.
“The more money you have, the better you equip your horse,” he said.
But that does not stop the lower and middle classes from participating. After all, the hípica is a “tradition that is in the Nicaraguan blood,” he said. “One that we consider very much our own, the best of the best in the world.”