In the remote village of Todos Santos, which sits nearly 10,000 feet above sea level in the northern Guatemalan highlands, Día de Muertos celebrations get really real: with a supremely drunken horse race.
Known as Skach Koyl, the Mayan racing tradition calls for male jockeys to stay up all night getting extremely, ritualistically lit, in order to jump on some horses in the morning for a flailing joyride down a dirt track. There’s lots of falling, drunken singing, and general chaos – and it can go on for seven hours. In reality, it’s not totally accurate to call it a race, because
there’s no winner everyone’s a winner.
While Todos Santos may be Guatemala’s most recognized site of the Skach Koyl tradition, drunken horse racing also takes place in other parts of the country throughout the year. Atlas Obscura recently visited Chiabal II, where a more than 600-foot long dirt track was cleared for the race. The riders and the spectators were separated by wooden fences, so that no one else could try to join in. It’s also probably a safety measure, as the races can turn deadly. For Mayans, the race holds a cultural significance akin to bullfighting in Spain.
The riders wear their everyday clothes – red-and-white woven pants and shirts with a wide collar – save for the racing hats they break out for this occasion. One of the other hard-to-miss parts of the race is that some of the riders have their hands tied to the saddle – because they’re so drunk that’s the only way they can stay on. Others who have been able to handle their liquor better, ride while holding a can of beer. The blog A Journey Through Guatemala, says that people drink at certain points during the race.
Read the Atlas Obscura piece here to learn more about how race day goes, and check out images from two different events below: