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North of the Tropic of Capricorn, in the northernmost Argentine province of Jujuy, the intrepid traveler can experience the fury of a two-ton bull while savoring the flavor of a centuries-old festival, all in one afternoon. The multi-day religious celebration culminates annually with the The Feast of the AsunciĂłn of the Virgin MarĂ­a SantĂ­sima, on August 15, in the small town of Casabindo, Argentina.

Located in the Puna, the high desert east of the Andean mountain range, at nearly3,657 meters (12,000 ft), Casabindo is a desolate yet provocative place. Unlike the Argentina of travel brochures, Casabindo does not feature infinite green pampas or glacier-carved crystalline lakes.

Nonetheless, once a year, the population swells from 150 permanent residents, primarily herders of llama and sheep, to well over 4,000. Locals, religious pilgrims and tourists alike descend on the town to celebrate the ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to partake in the primitive ceremonies and to witness the last remaining bullfight in Argentina.

Approaching the town via a bone-rattling, dusty road, one can spot a speck of white against the rust-colored hills. La Iglesia de la Asunción, a classic 18th-century church, is Casabindo’s most defining feature, and marks your arrival into town. The pueblo is steeped in history. A branch of the Inca road passed through this region. The first missionary arrived as early as the 1590s, defying ancient earth rituals with European Catholicism, a unique blending which survives in today’s customs.

Locals perform ceremonies such as the blowing of the erque, a long Alpine-like horn, and the Danza del Samilantes that mimics the sacred suri (ostrich), one of many symbols of Mother Earth. The morning’s events climax with the Procession of the Virgin.

Adjacent to the church stands a wall enclosing a rectangular “ring” about half the size of an American football field. This is the site for the afternoon’s bullfight, known as El Toreo de la Vincha (bullfight of the ribbon), and the most popular part of the festival. Each year dozens of young men vie for the coveted torero (bullfighter) spots. They are not professionals, but boys full of pride and honor. The role requires physical quickness, mental fortitude and a great faith in the Virgin.

In this version of a Spanish bullfight, brought to South American centuries earlier, the goal is to remove the coins and ribbons taped between the bull’s horns. The prize is later returned as an offering to the Virgin. Unlike the Spanish version, the Casabindo bullfight ends without the brutal killing of the animal. In fact, the bull is rarely harmed; the same cannot be said for the defenseless toreros. It is not uncommon for some of the bulls to leap up and over the 1.5-meter (5-ft) wall surrounding the ring and into the unsuspecting crowd of spectators.

The annual Casabindo festival will not disappoint anyone who makes this remarkable journey through the Argentine Puna. Just remember to wear a sun hat and take caution when choosing your seats for the bullfight.



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